Lemon and Cucumber Water

Urth Caffe

A discussion on lemon and cucumber water.

A good friend of mine and I had a discussion over some tea and coffee about the ubiquitous use of lemon in water, cucumber in water, and now strawberries in water (like found in Yogurtland chains across the U.S).

The first thought that comes to mind is that these fruity applications give a slight flavor to the water. This is true; simply based on the leakage of volatile plant compounds into the water…there’s not much to figure out there. But what about an explanation for the use, perhaps? A less noble reason would be that local tap water has a “taste,” and restaurants, in order to hide this taste, disguise their water up behind these fancy ornaments called lemons, cucumbers, and strawberries. After all, everything is better with a little suga’, no?

If we move into the realm of marketing, adding fruit (and ice) allows a pitcher or cup of clear water appear “refreshing,” both in color and presentation. The addition of ice allows condensation (gas to liquid phase of water) and dew formation, both which hold a strong association with adjectives such as “crisp, cool” and supposedly relieving thirst, which is satisfying, especially if one is thirsty. Ice also has the effect of numbing your taste buds, which also may inhibit volatile off-tasting compounds present in normal tap water. Combine these effects with the addition of a fruit flavorant, and one might as well begin charging higher fees to drink water from the kitchen sink (you pay the service fee for the effort required to hide the bad taste). Not a bad profit margin for something so readily available (relatively).

My friend brought up the point that cucumbers were supposed to have some sort of effect beyond flavoring the water; he also brought up the topic of why he doesn’t like adding lemons to his water, two topics that I would like to briefly cover here.

There are absolutely no controlled scientific studies involving lemon and cucumber water; in all honestly, it probably would receive no funding. There’s plenty of hypothetical claims of how lucumber (my word for lemon and cucumber) water “detoxifies the body,” or “cleanses the liver,” but I call bullshit, as the liver isn’t simply “cleansed” by the ingestion of one or several compounds (fasting confounds the variable here). Our metabolisms have their own built in methods for cleansing and detoxification. There are things we can do; eat well (according to our evolutionary milieu), avoid pathogens (salmonella), and minimize exposure to exogenous nasties (caustic fumes, radiation, and estrogenic compounds found in cheap plastics), but copious amounts of lucumber water isn’t going to have a significant effect. Drink your water, add lemon or cucumber if you want, but there isn’t any sort of magic behind it; the vitamins and minerals that one supposedly obtains from the minute amount of fruit that we put in is not, in my opinion, significant. It’s really just a matter of taste.

THE liver cleansing duo.

Articles on the supposed “benefits” of cucumber water include places like these or these, which are sort of hilarious, since I don’t particularly believe being “silica replete” is going to enact any drastic changes in health. The vitamins and potassium obtained from a “cup of cucumber” might be significant, but then again, I’m not quaffing water that’s been sitting with a cup or two of cucumber. This isn’t even mentioning how soluble any of these vitamins and minerals are in a pure aqueous solution and if the supposed benefits are confounded from just drinking more water (which actually isn’t too bad a piece of advice). Yeah, cucumber water is cheap, yeah it’s low calorie, yeah it’s easy, but “good for the skin? Good for the muscles? Everybody loves it?” Debatable.

That being said, this piece of news was what made my friend a bit wary about lemon use in restaurants. I too, received a similar email (in frantic, exclamatory Mandarin) from my mother warning me I was going to die if I dropped anything remotely resembling a lemon into my water. So no, I don’t usually like putting a slab of lemon in my water, now (THANKS…world). However, if the lemons were locally sourced and clean, I wouldn’t mind a slice of lemon for taste. The same goes for cucumbers, as long as they’re pesticide free, otherwise I would be adding unwanted ingredients to my water; hence the importance of local, washed produce. My mother has recently commented that the healthy potency of lemons can be extracted if both the peel and the flesh of a lemon is steeped in hot water. I told her I would call bullshit (again) unless she could provide me scientific studies on such practices. Apparently, the evidence exists only in Mandarin. I went through the motions and looked it up myself; the presence of phenolics and coumarins are indeed present in the peels of citrus, as witnessed here and here. Extraction and subsequent testing of said compounds for potential benefits were performed using an aqueous format (ok fine) with the help of Celluzyme MX (er…not something I want in my mug, thanks). Furthermore, these tests were run in-vitro (outside the human body), so whether or not it has a significant effect for general health is dubious. Not to mention a minimal effective dosage of such compounds may involve amounts of lemon that I am currently unwilling to consume, unless I was paid, bribed, or held at gunpoint.

All of this “healthy” discussion eventually led us to discuss the presence of rotten strawberries in Yogurtland’s free water dispenser. In actuality, the water chamber itself looks very clean, seeing as the water runs down the sides like those constantly churning lemonade machines, until you find out that the fun-spray apparatus is simply there to distract you from the rotten fruit floating in the middle. (Your experience may vary). Therefore, even if you didn’t learn any definitive science in this post, the one thing people should do is to go to Yogurtland for the yogurt, not the “fruit” water.

My friend SWEARS this is what happened.

Stay hydrated.