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    With premium bottled water targetting both wellness and fine-dining segments in the country, experts in the field share their plan of action.

    Enhanced water,  a modern need
    vitaminised water: non-alcoholic water or beverage enriched with ingredients like herbs, vitamins, minerals and amino acids

    WHEN biomedical engineer Deepthi Anand returned home to India from the US, she discovered a lack of nutrient-fortified drinks or ‘functional’ beverages with a health twist. Anand launched her company, Valencia Nutrition, offering  hard-core health buffs VitaMe, a nutrient-enriched water. ‘‘Drinking healthy isn’t a fancy option, it’s an informed choice.We meet the gap between carbonated drinks and plain water, which is often considered boring,” she begins. VitaMe positions itself as a healthier option over other flavour-added waters, energy or sports drinks. And Anand belives it could well be the ‘‘next best thing for busy modern people who work, play and travel hard. ’’
    In the mix
    VitaMe has launched in four variants that are FDA compliant:
    ?  Antioxidant Apple Twist—to reduce oxidative stress to internal organs and boost immunity
    ?  Unwind Litchi-Mint—containing the amino acid L-theanine, along with multivitamins to reduce stress
    ? Electrolite Guava—with electrolytes, minerals and multivitamins
    ? Watermelon—with dietary fibre
    Nutrient-added waters like VitaMe have to fight general perceptions of the presence
    of high sugar in sports
    drinks, which impact the benefits of the product.
    ‘‘Sugar exists in fortified beverages,’’ says Anand, explaining, ‘‘but VitaMe
    has just 1.25 grams sugar
    per 100 ml, compared to
    sports drinks with 1.50, carbonated and energy drinks with 2.75 and sweetened fruit juice with 3.75. Provided you exercise, the sugar can be burned off. Functional drinks are growing at 25 per cent faster than carbonated beverages.’’

    AVAILABILITY: VitaMe is available in retail and health stores in Karnataka and Chennai from `35-55/300 ml. Other brands include Wild Vitamin water and  Gatorade.

    HOW well do you know your H2O? Enough to swirl, sniff, savour and swallow the premium stuff like a wine connoisseur? Fortunately, you are not alone. With the concept of water sommeliers and menus finding favour abroad, bottles from France, Fiji, Germany and Denmark are showing up at top bars. Terms like mineral and nitrogen content, pH level, calcium and magnesium and virginality are gaining currency. And water gurus like Michael Mascha, who runs the portal FineWaters.com, a veritable Bible on premium bottled water from around the world, are being approached to connect brands to prospective consumers. Equally popular is water sommelier Martin Riese from Los Angeles, who has designed extensive water menus in the US and offers water tastings at $50 per head. Back home, we are opening up to choosing a water to go with salad or dessert. At The Leela’s iconic Le Cirque, natural spring water from Tuscany, Acqua Panna, is recommmended as a pairing with the Italian food on the menu. Aishwarya Nair, who heads Food and Wine merchandising at the luxury hotel, names Bisleri’s Vedica, a natural mountain water from the Himalayas, as a preferred Indian brand. ‘‘I like the idea of using a brand that supports our country’s ecological system in a natural indigenous manner,’’ she says. Mulshi Spring Water and Veen are some of the other high-end spring water brands available in select restaurants. Add to this list vitaminised waters like VitaMe (enhanced with nutrients) and sparkling water and you will have a better understanding of the bigger role water is to play in both wellness and fine dining.

    Back to the future2
    While Mascha (right) shares interesting stories on water, sommelier Riese wants to make water accessible. His favourite is Iskilde from Denmark, which has oxygen bubbles. Ironically, back in September 2009, Chennai had a water bar with 12 premium bottled waters. It was at Absolute restaurant owned by Atul Malhotra (from multi-designer boutique, Evoluzione) and friends and introduced by the late Jeffrey Lord (Betelnut in Thailand). Iskilde was one of the waters on the menu. The bar shut down and the restaurant changed hands. ‘‘Lord was ahead of his time,’’ says Malhotra in retrospect.


    A nutritionist’s take1
    Ryan Fernando, nutritionist to some of India’s top sporting stars, is clear on the correlation between water and wellness. “Water is  a must for health, While nutrient–added water is not harmful, it alone will not correct nutritional imbalances of the body. Health aids can only align imbalances and there is  the danger of overdoing it—a common fallout in today’s age where everything is fortified.” He goes on to explain that fortified waters and sports drinks have added sugar. ‘‘Always read labels. Since I work with athletes, I think sports drinks work as long as you work off the excess sugar.”
    Many Indians today are nutritionally unsound, he feels, ‘‘because of our stressors in everyday life and the type of food we eat.’’
    While he feels that artificial nutrients must be used judiciously, he believes in the benefits of spring water. “Monks living close to such water sources have demonstrated for centuries how the oxygen-carrying properties of natural spring water can heal, strengthen and energise. It is naturally balanced in terms of nutrients. Yes, it’s expensive, but if you can afford it, it’s beneficial. However, it’s not necessary to spend seven times the cost of a regular bottle of water. With a balanced diet of fresh vegetables and fruit,you don’t need add-ons,” he says.

    Mulshi Spring Water3
    MULSHI Spring Water is India’s first natural spring water, sourced from a biological hotspot in the Sahyadris, a surprise discovery by entrepreneur Naveen Luthra on his property in Mulshi. It was launched as the preferred water for Indian celebrities and industrialists. Despite being from India, a country where hygiene is considered an issue, Mulshi features at Le Water Bar Colette in Paris known for stocking only the world’s best water.It’s the second highest selling water at Colette, priced third highest on their menu, and costing three times what Evian does.
    Luthra explains the difference between spring water and other Indian purified or mineral waters, “TDS (total dissolved solids) is lower in spring water than mineral water. Packaged water everywhere is artificially made, either by adding or removing minerals. Water tastes the finest at low TDS levels, which should ideally stay between 60 and110 mg/l. Indian mineral waters have much higher levels (200 to 300 mg/l), which is why they invariably leave an after-taste.” Highly alkaline, close to green tea in its detoxifying effect, Mulshi is also pesticide free. Luthra believes drinking spring water for just six-eight weeks can demonstrate differences among types of water. ‘‘Many ‘pure’ mineral waters have pesticides present (which contribute to cancer) , but aren’t required by law to display this on their labels,’’ he cautions, adding, ‘‘higher the alkalinity in water, the better. Nitrates in water are an indication of source contamination.’’ While Mulshi may be on Colette’s list, the entrepreneur admits that the water bar trend may not catch on in India anytime soon. ‘‘Indians do not consider water important unlike the Japanese or Europeans. Strange—as the importance of water is strongly emphasised in Ayurveda. But water menus might soon be seen in top-end hotels and restaurants,” he allows.

    AVAILABILITY: Currently in select luxury hotels and restaurants. Plans are on to enter the retail market soon. Mulshi Natural Spring water
    at Rs.75/ 750 ml glass bottle.


    WITH government restrictions making it tough for connoisseurs to access specialised mineral, spring or sparkling water, Veen brought us hope. The Finnish natural spring water company had a co-bottling arrangement with Nilgiris-based Blue Mountain Spring. ‘‘We have since moved to our own facility and spring 4in Bhutan, which now supplies to the Indian market,’’ explains Aman Gupta, CEO, Veen. Observing that the premium bottled water segment is only just emerging in the region, they are aware that one big challenge is to educate the consumer on the basic difference between a processed water product and a natural product, which is source dependent. Likening fine spring water to growing different grape varieties in different regions, Gupta, 38, adds that Veen has distinctive products. ‘‘Our spring in Finland produces Veen Velvet and Veen Effervescent, which have a low mineral content, making them the perfect complement to the fine dining experience. Our spring in the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan produces Veen Still and Veen Classic, high in minerals like calcium and magnesium, ideal for daily hydration,’’ he explains. The placement of Veen in London department store, Harrods, has spearheaded expansion from Europe into markets in the Middle East, Asia and Russia. ‘‘My most memorable experience was visiting the Claridges Hotel in London when they introduced a water menu, where I was exposed to water from icebergs, Tasmanian rain water, spring water from Lapland, artesian well water and so on,’’ he recalls.
    AVAILABILITY: In select restaurants and hotels.

    Ruma Singh and Rosella Stephen


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