Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wheatgrass juice, the other green drink

Wheatgrass juice has long been popular in Japan as a health drink. Of course, small children run screaming from the stuff, but plenty of health-conscious people all over Japan gleefully quaff the beverage daily and swear by its health benefits, which include improving the digestive system, detoxifying heavy metals from the blood, cleansing the liver, and promoting general well-being.

(Barley grass is also popular, but since the two types of grass are very similar in nutrient content, taste, and purported health benefits, and since many grass juice products in Japan contain a mixture of two or more grasses, any reference herein to wheatgrass also applies to barley grass, and vice versa.)

Some folks buy fresh wheatgrass and juice it themselves, but many opt for powdered wheatgrass. This is made by drying harvested grass and then pulverizing into a powder, similar to what’s done when making matcha. Then you simply mix the powder with water and toss the funky green concoction down the hatch.

A popular brand of grass juice powder in Japan is Aojiru, whose name literally means “green juice.” One of Aojiru’s big selling points is it’s made from wheat and barley grass grown on small farms in a rural area renowned all over Japan for its pristine environment and delicious natural bounty.

That’s no minor detail, because if you’re going to grind up a plant and drink it down, then you probably want it to be grown in a nice environment, no? Clean air, clean water, and old-fashioned farming techniques would be nice, yes?

Well, you can find all those things in spades where Aojiru’s wheatgrass is grown. This land, whose blue skies and crystal-clear waters are featured in ads in print and on the Internet and TV, is none other than the Aso region, a large area centered around Mt. Aso, an active volcano. Aso is also where some of Japan’s finest teas are grown—such as ours.

Now for an aside.

One of the TV ads for Aojiru that San Francisco’s Channel 26 shows during its Japanese programming includes an interview with a wheatgrass grower standing in one of his wheat fields, with majestic Mt. Aso rising strongly in the background. The farmer speaks in a thick local dialect that is eminently familiar to me—as I lived there for a spell—and to my wife, who was born and raised there.

But like anyone who speaks with any kind of accent or dialect knows, even though you don’t think of yourself as having an accent, when you’re away from the motherland (wherever that may be), it’s always jarring to hear someone else speak it. When I lived in Japan, American valley speak stood out a lot more audibly in a sea of Japanese than it ever did back home.

That’s the same reaction my wife has to the Aojiru wheatgrass grower. So naturally, whenever we see the commercial, I always making a crack like, “At least this guy’s accent isn’t as bad as your brother’s.” (Which is true, by the way.)

But back to wheatgrass juice, a drink that’s getting more and more popular here in the U.S. Actually it’s once again becoming popular here. You can even get shots of wheatgrass juice at Jamba Juice.

Speaking of that juice bar chain, here in Livermore, California, one of their wheatgrass suppliers is Grassroots Organic Wheatgrass. I wonder if the proprietors there have ever tried a lawnmower.

If you don’t want to eat your veggies then you can drink your veggies.

—Mellow Monk

Go to the Mellow Monk tea page
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