Food & Drink

Cold-pressed juice draws Sacramento health-seekers

Plants grow out of the tables at the Sun & Soil Juice Co.
Plants grow out of the tables at the Sun & Soil Juice Co.

At midtown’s Sun & Soil Juice Co., plants are everywhere. They’re sprawled across tables, draped over counters and spilling from wall fixtures, giving the shop an air of Jumanji chic.

More important, they’re in the drinks.

The company is one of a handful in Sacramento preserving nature’s bounty in a bottle of cold-pressed, unpasteurized, organic fruit and vegetable juice.

The premise is simple: Plants naturally contain enzymes and nutrients that promote health in the human body. Cold-press advocates – if not all nutritionists – believe these “living” ingredients are regularly killed by the harsh pasteurizing and processing of the modern Western diet. Even putting vegetables through your home juicer, they say, will rob them of some of their nutrient load.

To preserve them, Sun & Soil, which opened in June, has taken to the cold press. They’re joined by Wholehearted Juice Co., which began selling out of fitness studios in August; Liquidology Bar, which opens in East Sacramento in November; and Metro Juice Co., which plans to open a retail space for cold press in the R Street historic district in December.

The new technology crushes and presses the vegetables without inviting in heat or oxidation, protecting “those live enzymes, the living components that make cold press juice so medicinal and so nutrient-dense,” said Wholehearted Juice Co. founder Scott Estrada.

Peel’d, which opened in midtown more than two years ago, switched to a cold press earlier this year to up its nutrient game, said owner Brandy Neth. Even national chain Jamba Juice recently launched a line of “never heated” bottled cold-press beverages to “renew, restore and rejuvenate” customers.

Juice off the press, as green and formidable as it looks, has a bright, bursting quality that wakes up the taste buds and the brain, goes down smooth and does wonders for health, according to multiple customers interviewed at the Sun & Soil counter.

Heather Ditmars, a recent convert to cold press, has stepped up to the register every day for the past month to order the Green Queen – an emerald juice packed with cucumber, kale, cilantro, celery, lime and cayenne. Ditmars, who works in skin care, said her blemishes have fled the scene in the face of so many antioxidants.

“It’s breakfast,” she said. “It’s this or a salad, and this is a lot easier.”

But the science world is finding the theory difficult to swallow.

Liz Applegate, the widely published director of sports nutrition at UC Davis, said that though cold-pressed juices are a great source of vitamins and minerals, they’re not giving you anything a regular juice or a salad wouldn’t.

The “living enzymes” described by juice companies get broken down inside the human body anyway, she said, and do little to enhance the already-occurring chemical reactions of the digestive system.

“We don’t need that kind of help,” Applegate said. “So to suggest that drinking cold-pressed juice means you have a whole host of enzymes to digest things – that’s not scientifically plausible ... the enzymes are not a pertinent topic, and it misleads a lot of people.”

While it’s true that some nutrients are sensitive to heat and light, the amount “lost” in the cooking process is minimal, Applegate said, especially compared to the amount of fiber lost by discarding the skin and pulp of the vegetable. Many cold-press advocates actually promote fiberless juice, saying that it makes for more direct absorption of nutrients.

A January article from the Mayo Clinic states that there is “no sound scientific evidence that extracted juices are healthier than the juice you get by eating the fruit or vegetable itself.” It also warns that freshly squeezed juice can quickly develop harmful bacteria.

A better choice would be a pot of soup with kale and carrots cut in, said Applegate. Even so, she wouldn’t discourage someone from going to a juicery, especially if they wouldn’t be eating their vegetables otherwise.

A 2010 study conducted at the Ragle Human Nutrition Research Center at UC Davis found that subjects who consumed 1 to 2 cups of vegetable juice daily over a 12-week period reached the USDA recommended vegetable guidelines much more consistently than those who did not. Additionally, subjects who were pre-hypertensive before the study showed a reduction in blood pressure after drinking juice regularly.

Molly Brown, co-owner of Sun & Soil, said the staff juices about 2 pounds of carrots for a 16-ounce cup of carrot juice, a much larger quantity than is typically eaten solid. She said she founded the juicery so that people could come in and get all the nutrients they need on the go, any time of day.

“Instead of picking up a candy bar, come pick up a juice,” she said. “You’ll satisfy your body and your mind on a deeper level than just cutting the hunger.”

At Sun & Soil, drinks contain no processed sugar and rely on natural sweeteners such as fresh fruit and dates to balance out some of the more bitter drinks. Still, people looking to lose weight should be wary of the sweeter options, said Applegate.

“That sugar is a source of calories,” she said. “And if they think their watermelon cranberry cold press at 20 ounces doesn’t count – it counts. And they need to be aware of it in the scheme of their whole daily calorie balance.”

Another issue is whether juice should be a replacement for, or a complement to, solid foods. Multiday cleanses have been gaining traction in popular media from “Orange Is the New Black” to Beyoncé.

Wholehearted Juice Co. and Sun & Soil both offer a one-day cleanse for around $50, but Sacramento’s newest juicers don’t all subscribe to the cult of detox.

Sun & Soil also sells housemade, organic soups and salads and Liquidology owners Jeff Greco and Julie Braun have teamed up with chef Brooke Preston of the Green Boheme – a raw/vegan learning center on Del Paso Boulevard – to offer full entrees, including raw “burgers” and sandwiches.

“You can have this wonderful comfort food flavor and texture that’s deeply satisfying and be contributing more nutrients to your system.” Preston said. “Energy levels pretty much skyrocket when you’re doing a good amount of juice and choosing living food options to go with it.”

Greco said he sells about 500 bottles of Liquidology juice a week at the East Sacramento farmers market or through pre-orders.

Lisa Musilli Johnson, who started selling and sampling Metro Juice at markets this summer, said the fact that so many other shops are emerging is “a validation” that Sacramento is interested in the healthy product.

“(Cold press) is a beautiful way, in terms of developing a food or beverage, to highlight not only the nutritional qualities, but the flavors and the colors,” she said. “Sacramento is loving the juice, and we are super excited about that.”

Call The Bee’s Sammy Caiola, (916) 321-1636.