Water has gotten too complicated. It’s just two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, clear and basically tasteless. It is nourishing and life-giving. It is perfect.
But not anymore. What the fuck happened to water? It seems like half the time I go to a restaurant—and not just fancy coastal restaurants; this happens at laid-back Midwestern spots, too—the first thing I am asked by the waitstaff is which kind of water I’d like, or if tap water is okay. Of course it’s okay, man, I just want some water! I’m already paralyzed by all the choices on the menu; that shit doesn’t need to start five minutes earlier with my having to choose what water to drink before I’ve even taken my jacket off.
Sure, every once in awhile, I like the stuff with the bubbles, because it makes me feel fancy. And when I’m particularly thirsty, I can get suckered by marketing phrases like “mountain springs,” “sparkling,” and “glacier” into believing that putting tap water into a bottle and slapping a label on it makes it more refreshing than tap water. But tap water is just fine—good, even—and actually tastes better than bottled water most of the time, and you know that any product that describes itself as “artesian” (is “artisanal” too working-class?) is full of shit.
Which brings us to the frontier of the non-water water hype, the most ridiculous step in the quest to perfect an already perfect beverage: maple water. Maple water, I kid you not, is a real thing. It costs $2.99 for a 32-oz. box at my local Trader Joe’s, which doesn’t sound like too bad of a deal until you remember that the equivalent amount of tap water costs less than a penny. It’s as if the Canadians were jealous of the tropical monopoly on coconut water and thought, “Hey, we’ve got some good-ass stuff up here that we can turn into an inferior water-like product, too!”
The most interesting fact about maple water isn’t actually a fact about maple water, but about maple syrup. Apparently, maple syrup begins its life as maple water, before it is boiled down into the lovely sugary viscous goo that tops waffles and pancakes. Here’s the side of the box:
Maple water is the water-like sap that comes straight from the maple tree. This refreshing liquid was enjoyed as a hydrating beverage long before it became common practice to boil the sap down to maple syrup. Each year, as spring approaches and the days get warmer, the sap that has collected nutrients from the soil starts to flow, delivering nutrients and renewed vitality to the frees. This process awakens the tree from a long winter and supports new spring growth.
One concerning thing about this maple water is that it is not organic. If I’m paying a few bucks for a “water-like sap,” I kind of feel like I shouldn’t be at risk of drinking pesticides too, ya know? At least I don’t have to worry that forests of maple are being clearcut for my beverage, though:
Trees are not harmed producing Maple Water. They are sustainably tapped, allowing for many years of continued supply.
This stuff tastes alright, at best.
The actual drink is sort of an opaque clear color, with no strands or pulp in it, but clearly something is in this stuff. The smell reminds me exactly of coconut water—I suspect that if I conducted a blind smell test, I couldn’t tell the two apart.
This stuff is almost impossible to gulp. Not impossible impossible, but it would feel something like chugging wine. This is a product to sip, which is as good of a sign as any that it isn’t at all like water. The box recommends you “enjoy” it chilled, so I put it in the refrigerator overnight. When cold, it tastes like the final four ounces of water in a bottle that has been in your gym bag for a few days, combined with a scoop of the sugar substitute in your favorite diet soda. It’s dominating flavors are “stale” and “fakely sweet.”
I asked three other people for their impressions to temper my own bias: One of them, who swore she wasn’t fucking with me, said it tasted like “a breath of fresh air from a deciduous forest,” before deciding that she meant a coniferous forest and added that it reminded her of pine needles. While I can respect the opinions of others, there is no way this maple water tastes like “a breath of fresh air.” It is the opposite. The other two people’s opinions ranged from “it’s alright” to a face that immediately curdled into disgust.
Maple water is better—though to be clear, still not any good—at room temperature. The three-day-old taste disappears, replaced by an almost disconcerting tastelessness followed by the rush of imitation sugar. It’s what I imagine the perfectly neutral but still somehow off air that’s pumped into airplane cabins would taste like.
Don’t buy maple water, or any water, really. The stuff that comes out of your tap is good, and if it isn’t, that’s what a filter is for. Maple water is only good when the water part is boiled off and it becomes syrup. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Welcome to the first installment of Bougie Food Review, an irregular series where we review the most highfalutin products available in the grocery store. If you’ve got an idea for a future review, email the author here.