This is This Is Now A Thing, where we check out the science behind new health phenomena.
The thing: Bamboo, a grass more likely to fill a panda’s plate than your water bottle, has now entered the realm of weird flavored waters. Bamboo Water is sugared, bottled H20 spiked with bamboo extract, a green liquid that forms inside bamboo leaves during photosynthesis. This potion costs about two bucks a bottle. It’s sustainable, too. Bamboo farmers often toss the leaves when they’re harvesting the strong stems that are often used in construction materials, so leaves are generally wasted. The company, Bamboo Beverages, says it uses the same species of bamboo that giant pandas eat. From what we can tell, it's currently the only bamboo water company on the market.
“Bamboo is my life,” says co-founder Vincent Villanis, who grew up brewing bamboo tea with his family in the Philippines, then later moved to Toronto and became a bamboo farmer. (He also created a bamboo beer.) “During high school in the Philippines, they’d teach you jungle survival," he says. "Splitting the bamboo, or creating a hole in the bamboo where there’s water, would be your safest bet to survive from dehydration.”
The hype: Villanis says bamboo extract has antioxidant, antimicrobial and even anti-halitosis effects—but not officially, not yet. “We won’t be making health claims right now,” Villanis says. “But my goal in the future is toward proving the health benefits of bamboo.”
The research: “For most plant extracts, the antioxidant level is high, mainly from polyphenols and flavonoids,” says Jun Panee, PhD, a researcher at the University of Hawaii. “It’s pretty much true to all fruits, vegetables and plants.” Bamboo is no exception: some of her small animal studies show anti-tumor, anti-inflammation and anti-anxiety effects of bamboo extract.
“One thing we couldn’t answer in animals or cells is the metabolism of the compound in bamboo extract in the human body,” Panee says. "There hasn’t been hard evidence showing that it definitely works in people.” But bamboo has been used for centuries in Chinese medicine for its cooling, anti-inflammatory properties, and it's still a popular supplement in places like China and Hawaii.
The taste: Panee says she sometimes makes her own bamboo water by mixing a few drops of bamboo extract into plain warm water. "The taste is not bad—it's actually pretty fragrant," she says. Even her friends like it, she says. "People who used my bamboo water told me it tastes like green tea to them." The bottled version is sure to taste a lot sweeter, at 16 grams of sugar per 350 mL bottle.
The bottom line: Bamboo water is coming to a bottle near you soon—if you live in Toronto or New York, that is, where the product will launch in July. It's too early to say if the bamboo extract inside of it will help your health (let alone cure your bad breath) and drinking so much sugar sure won't help. But can panda food become the next coconut water? Villanis hopes so. "On the marketing side of things, bamboo has the biggest potential," he says. "If you say it’s got bamboo in it, automatically there’s an emotional connection."