Let’s be real: coconut water was never really that good. Drinkable and necessary for a bad hangover, yes. But save for the health benefits, it doesn’t have what it takes to be my drink of choice. Luckily, there’s another superfood extract on the horizon—cactus water.
In her Snaxshot newsletter, food trend clairvoyant Andrea Hernandez deemed cactus water the new coconut water. And I took it upon myself to test this claim, assessing the drink in terms of its nutritional value and taste.
“The concept of cactus water is absolutely bubbling up,” says Kun Yang, CEO and co-founder of Pricklee, a cactus water brand that launched last year. “Vanessa Hudgens launched her cactus water in April of last year. Travis Scott launched cactus hard seltzer that March. People are really looking for plant-based hydration, and cactus water is something new to add to their diet.”
The founders of Pricklee are a group of five healthcare workers. The idea for the brand came about when Yang’s partner, Mo Hassoun, travelled back to his childhood home in Lebanon, where he was reminded of summers spent drinking cactus water with his grandmother. When he came back to share the drink with his friends, they took it upon themselves to research all of the benefits. The crew was recently featured on an episode of Shark Tank, where Barbara Corcoran invested in the product.
Cactus water is derived from the edible, pink fruits of the prickly pear cactus. Native to Mexico, prickly pears have long been used for their natural healing properties. Given that they are an invasive species, and require a very low water footprint, prickly pears are also a very sustainable source of nutrition.
Coconut water and cactus water share a lot of plant-based benefits, from antioxidants to electrolytes. But the biggest difference between the two is that cactus water has half the amount of sugar and calories. Plus, cactus water has some benefits that are uniquely its own.
“The prickly pear cactus contains betalains which are derived from it’s beautiful pink color,” says Nikki Ostrower, nutritionist and founder of NAO Wellness. “It’s a natural plant pigment that has powerful anti-inflammatory properties and helps to fight pain. It also helps to balance blood sugar. That’s why cactus is my preferred drink right now.”
The pink drink also offers a natural energy boost. “Prickly pear has taurine, a powerhouse antioxidant that gives us a plethora of energy to enhance athletic performance and cognitive function,” Ostrower explains. “The best time to drink cactus water is anytime, but especially before, during, and after fitness.”
As for the taste, cactus water has a tart watermelon flavor, with hints of bubblegum. It’s got this nostalgic juicebox quality that keeps getting better with every sip. Pricklee comes in three varieties—Prickly Pear, Strawberry Hibiscus, and Mango Ginger. I very much enjoyed each one over ice, and I can see them quickly turning into a new obsession. But as a long-time kombucha fan, I think these drinks would be even better if they were carbonated.
Ostrower advises to look out for cactus water that is processed, checking the ingredients and making sure there are no additives. This is where Pricklee really shines, as the simple ingredient list consists of real fruit puree, agave nectar, and lemon juice.
While Pricklee is great on its own, it can also be added to smoothies or used as a mixer. It might seem counterintuitive to mix it with alcohol, but there’s a chance the electrolytes will work to curtail a hangover the next day. “There have actually been a lot of clinical studies that look at the benefit of prickly pear on liver health, especially after consumption of alcohol,” Yang says. “They saw a reduction of liver enzymes when people were consuming prickly pear beforehand, which is why you’ll see it in a lot of quote-unquote hangover products.”
However you drink it, cactus water is definitely a fun source of hydration worth trying this summer. Yang adds, “People are so familiar with coconut water, its benefits, and all the things that you can do with it. Cactus water is a novel way of consuming those same things, but with less sugar, and for a lot of people, a better taste.”