Above: The Pine Box with Light Action Productions at right have brought new energy to the 7th St. Peninsula. Photo by Joe del Tufo.

By Pam George

In 2008, Kamil Bass-Walker replaced processed foods with fresh, natural products, a practice known as “clean eating.” Soon after, his brother Hassan was diagnosed with diabetes, and Bass-Walker wanted to help the 10-year-old avoid insulin dependence. Not only did the food need to benefit the boy’s body, but it also had to taste good. Enter juicing, the practice of extracting the liquid from fruits and vegetables.

Today, Hassan is a regular “juicer,” and Bass-Walker owns Eat Clean Healthy Café, which has locations at 225 N. Market St. and in DE.CO Food Hall, both in Wilmington. Of course, Hassan can’t rely on juice alone. “He knows how to eat to take less insulin,” Bass-Walker explains. But the siblings have witnessed juicing’s benefits — and they are not the only ones. 

Lauren Crist, for instance, started juicing after being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, which can affect the body’s ability to absorb nutrients.

“I met with a nutritionist who recommended starting the day with juices,” recalls the Brandywine Hundred resident. As a result, she avoided infusion therapy.

Juices aren’t all about health benefits, however. Some people drink them because, well, they taste good. Regardless, produce-centric beverages are big sellers. To be sure, things have changed since 2015 when Alisa Morkides of Brew HaHa! fame opened and closed Sunna Juice & Café in Trolley Square. She was ahead of her time. Today the Brew HaHa! in Greenville carries Nourish, a Kennett Square-based maker of organic juices. And coffee shops, breakfast spots and grocery stores offer specialty juices — and their creamy cousin, the smoothie.

A Fruitful Start

Juicing involves the removal of nutrient-dense juice from fruits and vegetables. The age-old practice gained traction in the 20th century with the emergence of exercise trends. For instance, TV exercise guru Jack LaLanne, who died at age 96, had a juice bar in his first gym, which opened in 1936. In the 1970s, the popularity of health food stores offered juices as unappetizing wheatgrass. 

Kamil Bass-Walker, owner of Eat Clean Healthy Cafe, has seen family members benefit from juicing. Photo courtesy Kamil Bass-Walker.

In the 21st century, health-conscious baby boomers and Generation Xers turned to juices as an easy way to get vitamins and nutrients. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults should consume 1½-to-2 cups of fruits and 2-to-3 cups of vegetables daily, but only one in 10 meets the requirements.

Lanice Wilson appreciates juicing’s nutritional benefits. “While journeying to a healthier lifestyle, I became intrigued by the amount of produce that went into one 12-ounce serving,” says Wilson, who owns the Juice Joint 2.0 in Chancery Market Food Hall. “I quickly realized I could drink far more fruits and vegetables than I could ever eat. My love affair with juicing deepened.”

Fortunately, manufacturers now prioritize taste as well as the health benefits, notes Francine Covelli, a chef and the owner of Nourish, which wholesales USDA-certified organic cold-pressed juices. 

As a result, consumers “woke” to wellness have welcomed the addition of juices to mainstream menus. 

“The inspiration behind First Watch’s fresh juice program came from our team constantly traveling and identifying trends before they hit the mainstream,” says Shane Schaibly, senior vice president of culinary strategy for the chain, which has two Delaware sites. 

“Our team noticed the growing popularity of juice and saw an opportunity to broaden our beverage offerings and introduce guests to another, healthier option,” he says. In 2015, the Florida-based chain introduced Day Glow, a blend of carrot, orange and lemon juices with a hint of ginger juice. Next was the Kale Tonic with kale, Fuji apple, English cucumber and lemon. 

The Kale Tonic doesn’t taste like liquid greens, so it’s easy for parents to sneak healthy foods into their kids’ diets. Crist, for instance, now whips up drinks for her toddlers. Because they prefer less acidic flavors, she adds yogurt to create more of a smoothie. “It’s like sherbet or ice cream to them,” explains Crist, who also makes popsicles with the juices.

The Smooth Solution

Smoothies, meanwhile, hit the popular marketplace in the late 20th century. What’s the difference? The former is a blend of whole fruit or vegetables with liquid, such as milk, yogurt or plant-based milk. Consequently, smoothies retain fruit or vegetable fiber, which promotes gut health. That’s a boon unless you can’t tolerate a high-fiber diet. 

Smoothies aren’t as nutrient-dense as juice, which is concentrated, but many consumers choose a smoothie for the taste and texture. For instance, at Java Bean Café in Claymont, smoothies are an attractive option for guests who don’t want coffee, tea or sugary sodas, says partner Joe Pilkus. 

To-Go Juices

“Students at Archmere Academy and people on the go really enjoy them,” he says. “We also get a fair number of folks who finish their workouts with one of our smoothies.”

The café’s creations are named for their dominant color. For instance, the purple smoothie contains blueberry, strawberry, banana and oat milk, while the green has spinach, apple, banana and almond milk. No additional sugar is added. Excess sugar can also be an issue with some juices.

 “We don’t like to go over 10 grams of sugar — some of them are 8,” Covelli says.

Smoothies can be creative as well as colorful. For example, consider Eat Clean’s Smooth Chocolate with banana, cocoa powder, cayenne, peanut butter, agave and almond milk. Granola and honey are in the Green Dream, which includes strawberries, mango and spinach.

One of the Juice Joint 2.0’s most popular smoothies is the BPB&J (banana, peanut butter and house-made strawberry jam) — a throwback to Wilson’s childhood. 

If you’re watching your weight, determine a smoothie’s calorie content before ordering or assembling the ingredients.

Buy or DIY

For Crist, starting the day with juice is ideal. Others follow their inner guide. For instance, Bass-Walker says some Eat Clean guests order juice if they are on a cleanse to shed whatever toxin they believe has built up in their bodies. 

“Some have had a rough weekend with a lot of fun food, and they just want a green juice to start the day,” he explains. “It varies.” 

But most buyers understand the degree of nutrients they can get from a bottle of juice versus preparing fruits and vegetables, Covelli says. And like Bass-Walker, her target audience lacks time to do it themselves.

Nourish is available in a variety of locations, including Brew Ha! Ha! in Greenville and HiLo House in Wilmington, which carries all 10 flavors. Houpette sells a customized juice that Nourish made just for the Greenville boutique. Covelli explains that since the shop specializes in skincare and cosmetics, the juice benefits the skin. 

Eat Clean and Nourish make cold-pressed juices, which boast the maximum amount of liquid without traditional pasteurization. Since raw cold-pressed juice has a short shelf life — up to four days — the bottled juices are submerged in cold water under high pressure to kill pathogens. Because glass can’t withstand the process, manufacturers must use plastic.

Cold-pressed juicers are known as masticating juicers; an auger forces the produce against stainless steel mesh. Juice Joint 2.0 only uses Green Nature Juices, which produce a juice with a better color, higher yield and flavor, Wilson says.

 The machines are on the pricy side, and the process takes time. Crist uses the quick-acting centrifugal juicer at home to blend produce she’s grown in her garden or purchased at nearby Marini Produce. 

To serve two adults and two kids, she’s blended half a watermelon, half a lime, three apples, two cucumbers and a dash of turmeric for a “very refreshing juice.”

Her children aren’t the first to grow up with juices and smoothies. 

“We know Gen Z and Millennial customers, in particular, have a strong interest in purchasing our juices,” says Schaibly of First Watch. “These customers are almost equally split between men and women, across generations.”

Like lattes and espresso, juices and smoothies are part of the modern lifestyle and the culinary landscape. Covelli agrees: “Fresh cold-pressed juice — done well with good, clean, organic ingredients — is always going to be something that people are going to want.”

Pam George
Pam George has been writing about the Delaware dining scene for more than 15 years. She also writes on travel, health, business and history. In addition to Delaware newspapers and magazines, she’s been published in Men’s Health, Fortune, USA Today and US Airways Magazine. She’s the author of “Shipwrecks of the Delaware Coast: Tales of Pirates, Squalls and Treasure,” “Landmarks & Legacies: Exploring Historic Delaware,” and “First State Plates: Iconic Delaware Restaurants and Recipes.” She lives in Wilmington and Lewes.

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