Flavor Meets Function

Curious about Caliwater's unique vision or the science behind Cactus Water? Dive into this excellent interview with our co-founder, Matt McKee, featured on Nutraceuticals World.


Move Over Coconut Water, Here Comes Cactus Water

by Lisa Olivio

With the rapid success of electrolyte and nutrient rich coconut water, a variety of new healthy plant-based beverages have made their way to the market. Coconut water's meteoric rise - growing from nothing to a billion dollar market in the West within the last seven years - has led the way for new healthy drinks boasting natural functionality.

One such product is Caliwater Cactus Water, which offers a wild prickly pear beverage in  1 liter Tetra Pack. The brand's "not from concentrate" formula is NON-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free, vegan and certified OU Kosher. Additionally, it contains zero fat and 100% natural ingredients with no preservatives, according to the company. 

"Because Caliwater is even lower in calories and sugar than nearly all coconut water and aloe juices on the market, it's struck a chord with health-minded individuals," explained Matt McKee, co-founder of the Los Angeles, CA-based company. He said this was especially true for parents seeking out beneficial alternatives for their kids.

Mr. McKee said the company found inspiration for the beverage from the exotic cactus fruit growing in its own backyard in southern California. "My Mexican friends have grown up eating prickly pear cactus fruit at family gatherings and summer events. They're so well versed in the cactus fruit's health benefits, but also associate it with a party. " With this fun, wholesome concept in mind, the company launched Caliwater Cactus Water. "We were excited by the idea of launching an innovative, healthy product that has ancient roots," he said. 

Functional Benefits

While the drink offers a pleasing taste, which Mr. McKee suggested many consumers compare to watermelon or kiwi in flavor, the real draw of the product is the functional benefits provided by cactus

"I think coconut water brands have redefined customer expectations with regards to beverages," stated Mr. McKee. "Flavor is no longer enough. We all want functionality and the marketing behind coconut water has taught us to think that way, even outside the health food store."

The benefits of Cactus Water are manifold, he explained. Caliwater contains prickly pear cactus, which is the only superfruit that contains all 24 of the rare and potent antioxidants known as betalains. Betalains support skin health and beauty, according to the company. Additionally, Caliwater delivers five naturally occurring electrolytes.

In a 2004 clinical trial conducted by Tulane Health Sciences Center, prickly pear cactus (Opuntia ficus indica) extract was found to reduce the symptoms of a hangover, Mr. McKee noted.

In the double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover trial, which was published in Archives of Internal Medicine (now JAMA Internal Medicine), 64 healthy, young adult participants were randomly assigned to receive prickly pear extract (1600 IU) or placebo, given five hours before alcohol consumption. Over the course of four hours, subjects consumed up to 1.75 g of alcohol per kilogram of body weight. Hangover severity (nine symptoms) and overall well-being was assessed, and blood and urine samples were obtained. Two weeks later, the study was repeated with prickly pear cactus extract and placebo reversed. 

Three of the nine symptoms - nausea, dry mouth, and anorexia - were significantly reduced by the extract. Overall, the symptom index was reduced by 2.7 points on average, and the risk of a severe hangover was reduced by half. The researchers also found C-reactive protein levels were strongly associated with hangover severity; finding these levels were 40% higher in subjects who consumed the placebo.

The trial concluded that hangover symptoms are largely due to active inflammation in the body from alcohol. Prickly pear cactus extract produced a moderate effect on reducing hangover symptoms, by inhibiting the production of inflammatory mediators. 

"The array of distinct health benefits of Cactus Water, whether it's skin revitalizing antioxidants, hangover relief, or naturally-occurring electrolytes to support hydration, has proven to be an attractive option next to other functional beverages," Mr. McKee said. 

Spotlight on Sustainability

The company also takes great care to produce its product in a sustainable way in order to ensure the future of its product.

"We have a direct relationship with farmers who wild-harvest the cactus fruit in California. I like to say that 'No cacti are harmed in the making of Cactus Water,' as the cactus fruit is handpicked seasonally from cactus plants that grow wildly and are centuries old," explained Mr. McKee.

In addition, the company harvests and manufactures the beverage in California, to minimize its carbon footprint. "With Caliwater we worked to launch a comparable product that's locally, fairly and sustainably sourced in California, instead of being shipped across the ocean for manufacturing." As the company grows, he pledged to continue to look for ways to reduce the company's environmental impact.