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November 22, 2011 By:
Bitter Herbs? Smiles All Around at This Kitchen Table
If you've wandered the aisles at Whole Foods or Wegman's, you've probably passed brightly labeled bottles of Ayala's Herbal Water.
You might have even paused and wondered what in the world "lemongrass mint vanilla" tastes like.
"Some of the flavors people initially looked at and said, 'I don't have the guts to take this off the shelf.' But I think the American audience is getting more interested in herbs," says their creator, Ayala Laufer-Cahana, 47, an Israeli who lives in Wynnewood with her husband, Albert, also Israeli, and their three children, students at Barrack Hebrew Academy.
Laufer-Cahana started concocting the calorie-free, all-natural, herb-fused water in her kitchen several years ago, serving it to thirsty guests at her Shabbat dinners. The drink was a hit, and friends were disappointed whenever winter rolled around and there were no fresh homegrown herbs for Laufer-Cahana to use.
"We missed it, our guests missed it. It's just a great, tasty alternative for when the palate seeks something more interesting than water," she says.
In 2007, with Albert, whom she calls a "serial entrepreneur" lending his business expertise, she began selling the water in stores. It's now sold in all 50 states and Canada.
Every bottle carries an O.U. from the Orthodox Union. Earlier this month, her new line of single-serve sparkling herbal water won the Best New Beverage award from Kosherfest, an international kosher-food trade show. (The sparkling water was previously available only in restaurant-sized 750 ml bottles.)
The New York event showcases thousands of kosher products and services, with only one new item in each food category earning an award.
Flavorful, aromatic herbs are a staple of the Mediterranean cuisine Laufer-Cahana grew up on, she says. The ones her water is infused with -- from cardamom to thyme -- meet the USDA definition of organic: no chemicals or pesticides, no genetic modification, no contamination of watersheds.
"Organic means a certain way of treating the land," says Laufer-Cahana, who is vegetarian and keeps a kosher home.
"It's more than what you put into your body -- it's your contract with the earth, keeping it as a renewable, clean source."
Once a Doctor ...
Ayala's Herbal Water also has no sugar, sodium, carbohydrates, artificial ingredients or preservatives -- just what you'd expect from a former pediatrician looking for a way to keep kids off sticky-sweet sodas and other empty-calorie drinks.
Laufer-Cahana came to this area for a fellowship in medical genetics at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, after attending Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine in Jerusalem, though she now focuses on the beverage company full time.
"I've been advising parents for many years to stay away from sugary drinks. They're not only one of the biggest sources of extra calories and sugar, but they also habituate the palette in such a way that they create a 'sweet expectation,' " she explains.
The herbal water, which comes in six flavor combinations, is sold in stores throughout the Philadelphia area (www.HerbalWater.com).