Can’t we all just give the poor artichoke a break? It’s been maligned as an “acquired” taste, more trouble to prepare than it’s worth, and just-plain scary looking. And don’t even get the wine geeks started on what it does to an oaky Chardonnay. But despite all the smack talk, the spiky thistle has its devotees, and thanks to Howard Ketelson, PhD, and the crew at ARTY Water (Newport Beach, CA), artichoke fans now have yet another option—besides deep-fried hearts and dip—for enjoying this remarkable vegetable. And it’s as easy to do as taking a drink.
As perhaps the first commercially produced, ready-to-drink artichoke water on the market, ARTY takes its place alongside all those other “natural hydration” products that have become such a sensation lately—including, but not limited to, coconut water, aloe water, et al.
And, admits Ketelson, CEO and founder of ARTY Water, “there is a huge battery of water products on the market. It’s been interesting to watch the significant acceleration of innovation over the past year with maple, birch, watermelon, and other products emerging to provide consumers a wide range of choices.” But while he gives props to them all, ARTY Water, he says, is different.
For starters, it transforms a notoriously imposing produce item into a beverage that’s 100% consumable. As Ketelson notes, “Artichokes are one of the most underused and misunderstood vegetables,” with roughly 30%–40% of the plant going to waste in the course of preparation. “It’s difficult to, essentially, squeeze artichokes into a bottle,” Ketelson concedes. So he and his colleagues developed a proprietary process—and a “strategic intellectual property plan to make sure our process stays unique,” he adds—that uses the whole artichoke—from stem to tip—to make ARTY Water.
The product made its mass-market debut at the 2014 Natural Products Expo West trade show, and the months since have “been an amazing experience, and the momentum keeps building,” Ketelson says. The team first tested the product in small groceries and at Equinox fitness clubs where Ketelson teaches indoor cycling, but it was really that showing at Expo West that generated what he calls a “tremendous response” and gave the team the chance to distribute more than 3,000 bottles to eager samplers. “This event was the pivotal point to invest money into the company and plan a path forward,” Ketelson says.
The subsequent buzz has been inescapable both within the industry and with consumers. Ketelson notes that the product received a “best of” new-product nomination at Expo West, and that the company was invited to participate in a Food Navigator entrepreneur beverage forum. Meanwhile, a Q by Equinox blog posting got picked up by Details.com and spread news about the product’s benefits to other media. “And we received a tremendous reception by the vegan community at the recent SEED Event in New York,” Ketelson adds.
Yet the question remains: Why artichokes? “We were initially driven by the artichoke’s unique nutritional value,” Ketelson explains, which comprises basic vitamins and minerals as well as key antioxidants and electrolytes. “Artichokes have one of the top ORAC values,” he notes, which is a measure of a substance’s oxygen radical absorbance capacity and, thus, its antioxidant potential. “When most people think of antioxidants, blueberries come to mind,” he notes. “Artichokes are the blueberries of the vegetable world per antioxidant levels.” Even the drink’s green/yellow color reflects its phytonutrient content.
Among those phytonutrients are luteolin, known for its anti-inflammatory properties; silymarin and cynarin, both of which have “hundreds of papers discussing their benefits,” Ketelson says; and caffeic and chlorogenic acids, with documented anticancer, antimicrobial, and antiviral properties. “Obviously, more studies are needed to see if incorporating artichokes into a water and using the product for these positive benefits has merit,” Ketelson admits. “But regardless, ARTY Water contains these nutrients and brings them in a delicious, nutritional product to consumers.”
The team spent “considerable amounts of money” testing for more than 50 constituent nutrients, Ketelson says. But they also spent considerable time and effort testing for consumer palatability, which is the bottom line with any beverage product. Not coincidentally, it’s the bottom line for Ketelson and his colleagues, too. “The ARTY Water team loves food,” he says, and coming up with the formulation and flavor profile “was the most fun time for us.”
That doesn’t mean it was easy. He calls the product’s profile development “a huge challenge” involving many months spent “hammering away—literally—in our test kitchen to produce several variations of the current product.” An earlier iteration was heavier and “meatier—similar to coconut water in consistency,” he says. Aiming for something lighter, more refreshing, and amenable to frequent consumption, especially pre- and post-workout, they eventually landed at the texture on display today.
As for the hints of mint, apple, and lemon, they chose them to “catch you by surprise,” Ketelson says. “It’s balanced with key flavors of subtle fruit sweetness and vegetable artichoke notes on the back end of the taste profile. It’s easy to drink daily and goes great with lunch or dinner. I love it with fresh salads or as a complement to sandwiches. It’s also great in smoothies.”
That’s what you get when you gather a group of passionate foodies, scientists, and athletes to design a next-generation beverage. But Ketelson is also quick to credit their farmer partners at Ocean Mist who supply the California-grown raw material for ARTY Water. “Ocean Mist has a 90-year heritage of farming artichokes,” he says. “We feel strongly about working with U.S. farms and suppliers, and Ocean Mist has a contagious passion for providing great fresh produce” that fits with ARTY’s mission.
As the team starts testing a new version of ARTY made with ginger root—not to mention two non-water concepts using artichoke matter left behind after bottling—Ketelson and crew take pride in giving consumers a water that “comes from ‘the hands of the land’ to the bottle directly from fresh California artichokes in a very short period of time,” he says. “We feel very strongly about what we produce and value what ARTY brings to the table.”