If you’re planning a brunch over the Easter weekend it’s quite fun to lay on a DIY juice bar where your guests can run up their own fresh juices and smoothies. If you don’t already have a juicer you’ll probably have a couple of friends who have. Or you may feel that with the warmer weather coming up (though it’s hard to believe that today in the grey, drizzley UK) now’s a good moment to get into juicing.
Here are some basic tips on what to buy and how to get started - and just why juicing is so good for you:
To make the full gamut of juices you need a purpose made juicer which will tackle hard fruits and vegetables like carrots and apples.
Most juicers work by centrifugal action. You feed ingredients through a tube and a powerful motor spins them round. The juice is forced through a filter and the pulp is discarded. Machines tend to start at around 40 and go up to several hundred pounds for heavyweight American models that have the construction of a tank. But you don’t really need one of those unless and until you become a juice fanatic.
The big advantage of having your juice freshly made is that you don’t lose any of the nutrients. And compared to packaged or bottled fruit juice it gives you the most amazing lift. According to natural health expert Michael Van Straten, author of the best-selling Superjuice it’s because all the nutrients are digested immediately. “When you juice fresh produce you release all their ingredients in an easily absorbable form which goes straight through the stomach wall.”
“With sweet fruits you’re also getting a sugar explosion that gives you a burst of energy. It’s a bit like taking ten glucose tablets at once only much healthier. And because you get the pulp and fibre as well you get a secondary, slower release which boosts your energy over a longer period.”
As Van Straten points out that you couldn’t possible munch your way through the amount of solid fruit that you get in a glass. “A glass of carrot juice is equivalent to five or six carrots so you’re getting all that goodness in an instant hit”. And, he points out, raw fruits and vegetables offer significant protection against degenerative diseases like cancer and heart disease. “Citrus for example offers much more than vitamin C. There’s a substance called limonene which is a cancer and heart-protecting antioxidant which is very intensely concentrated in the pith which you get the benefit of if you juice whole segments rather than using a citrus juicer.”
It has to be admitted that there is a slightly anorakky tendency among hard core juicers who will pulverise almost anything including wheatgrass, a vile tasting, concoction which is enough to put anyone off juicing for life. It’s a personal view but with a few exceptions (notably carrots and tomatoes) I think most vegetables taste too bitter to be enjoyable though, as Michael Van Straten points out in his book, you can add them in very small quantities and still get a considerable health benefit.
If you’re a first time juicer though it’s better to concentrate on fruit juices which tend to have naturally sweet flavours. The trick is not to combine too many different kinds of fruit otherwise you can end up with a juice that doesn’t taste of anything in particular and which goes a strange muddy colour. (Remember mixing paints? Red and yellow is great. Red, yellow and green makes khaki) It’s hard for example to improve on the perfect pairing of carrot and apple or watermelon and strawberry, beautifully clean flavoured juices that enable you to really taste and enjoy the fruit at its best.
As you gain confidence you will undoubtedly want to invent your own concoctions though - not least to make use of the seasonal produce which is available. Here a few tips that may come in handy.Apples, pears and melons for example make useful bases because they produce a lot of juice. But because they don’t have a great deal of flavour of their own you need to add a lift with a more strongly flavoured fruit like strawberries or raspberries. If you need to add a touch of sweetness add a few grapes while a touch of of lemon or lime will add zest to a juice that is slightly bland. You can also add other ingredients for flavour like fresh ginger or mint and - though orthodox juicers might frown on it - even season them with a little sugar or, as I do with fresh tomato juice, salt, pepper and Tabasco.
You’ll undoubtedly get the best results (and save yourself money) if you use whatever produce is in season. For a start ripe fruit has more flavour. If you attempt to juice peaches or tomatoes right now in March they won’t taste nearly as good as a mixed citrus juice using ruby grapefruit or blood oranges. But vary your juices as much as possible to get the maximum health benefits.
Although you might think of juice as a natural breakfast time drink I drink it at any time of day - frequently as a meal replacement. If you’re working, a big glass of juice and a salad at lunchtime makes you feel much less sleepy than a carbo-heavy meal whereas if you’ve had a big boozy lunch with friends having juice instead of supper in the evening leaves you feeling bright-eyed the next morning.
And there’s no reason why you shouldn’t use your juices as the basis for some stunning cocktails or drinks when you’re entertaining. Fresh peach juice for example is sensational topped up with champagne - or any sparkling wine, tropical fruits like pineapple, papaya and mango are great with a dash of rum and a Bloody Mary made with fresh tomato juice is - well, like no other Bloody Mary you’ve ever tasted.
Top juicing tips and techniques
Here are a couple of easy juices and a delicious smoothie to get you going. All make 2-3 glasses.
This article was originally published in Sainsbury's Magazine