We're big fans of aloe vera, but if you've never had it before, you may be hit with one thought when you try it for the first time. One question stands out above all the rest.
"Why does it taste so bad?"
The truth is, aloe vera has one of those flavors that is very much an acquired taste. You may like it, you may not. There are ways to adjust the taste to your liking as well. We'll discuss all of that and more today, so strap in and join us on the journey to the wonderful world of aloe.
What is Aloe Vera?
Aloe Vera is a succulent, one of those strange little plants that require fairly little water and thrives in arid, desert climates. It grows in clumps of tall, spiky fronds, and was originally native to the Arabian Peninsula, though it has since spread around the world.
Aloe is very commonly used as traditional medicine or remedy for a wide variety of medical and health concerns. Of primary use is the gel. Inside each frond, the bulk of the "meat" of the frond, is a gel substance. This gel is cooling to the touch and has a wide variety of potential health benefits.
For example, it has been used to cure digestive ailments, to soothe burns and sunburns, and even to detangle hair.
If we're being honest, there's not really that much scientific evidence as to whether or not aloe vera gel has any real medical properties. Some studies are positive, some are negative, and many are performed on such small sample sizes that they're inconclusive. That said, we believe there's some truth to the matter, which is why we promote its use. At the very least, it has vitamins and minerals in it, and it's healthier than a lot of alternatives you could be consuming.
What is Aloe Water or Aloe Juice?
Aloe can be prepared in a bunch of different ways, but they all start by harvesting the gel of the aloe plant. This gel needs to be harvested and purified properly because in the hard outer leaf of the fronds is something called aloe latex, which contains a compound called aloin. Aloin is a toxic substance and can cause everything from stomach cramps to anemia if you consume too much of it.
Note that it doesn't take any special machinery to harvest aloe; you can do it at home if you're careful. You're unlikely to consume enough aloin to have strong negative effects unless you're very reckless.
The aloe gel, when harvested and processed, can be turned into a variety of different substances. It can be added to skin creams and topical lotions. It can be muddled up and used as a hair conditioner. And, of course, it can be consumed.
Aloe water is the gel of the aloe plant, blended up and mixed with water. It generally tastes like water with aloe in it (which we'll get to later, don't worry) and not much else. Sometimes, you'll find "aloe water" beverages that have added ingredients like sugar to give them a better taste.
Aloe juice, meanwhile, is aloe water with the addition of various fruit juices. Usually berries, but occasionally citrus can be found mixed with aloe for an aloe juice. These can come in "drink a bottle" beverage form, or in a concentrated form where you only take a tablespoon of the juice and use it as an ingredient in other mixtures, like smoothies.
We wrote more detail on the differences between aloe juice and aloe water over here. Feel free to give that post a read.
What do Aloe Drinks Taste Like?
Aloe drinks can taste like just about anything, but the one core taste we know you're asking about is the aloe itself. So what does aloe taste like?
At its core, aloe tastes like a bitter, almost acid-like taste. Some people notice the bitterness more, while others primarily notice the sweetness that comes at the end as an aftertaste. Overall, it's not really that pleasant!
This is why aloe water is a relatively rare beverage, diluted enough so that you don't get the main acidy taste, and that you can add it to other mixtures or flavor it with sugar or something like a protein powder.
It's also why aloe juice is so common. Aloe on its own isn't a flavor most people would consider good (though it's used more in some other countries). Rather, it's mixed with fruit juices that have stronger tastes. In those cases, the aloe juice tastes like whatever fruits you've mixed in. Our aloe juice, for example, uses citric acid to give it a tangy, sour flavor that overwhelms the bitterness. This one uses fruit juices instead, including grape, pomegranate, cranberry, and black cherry.
One thing we should note here is that just because aloe is edible does not mean anything with aloe in it is edible. There are a lot of aloe-containing skin products that are meant for use on skin, in hair, or elsewhere on the body, and are not meant for human consumption. It might sound like something obvious, but we've heard several stories of people seeing aloe on an ingredients list and assuming it made a product edible and using a skin cream as a frosting or something. Never underestimate how people can be complacent with what they see and assume about the world around them!
How Much Should You Drink?
The amount of aloe you should consume depends a lot on how you're consuming it.
- Whole leaf aloe should be consumed in moderation, usually in just a few hundred milligrams. This is because whole leaf juice can contain aloin, and you don't want to take too much and poison yourself.
- Aloe extract, which has had the aloin removed, can be consumed in quantities of about 2-4 oz. per day. We recommend starting with a small dose and seeing how your body reacts to it, before increasing to larger doses for more therapeutic effects.
- Aloe juice and aloe water, so long as they have had the aloin removed, are safe to drink in as much quantity as you want. We don't recommend drinking too much aloe juice simply because a large component of fruit juices is fructose, and you don't need more sugar in your life. That said, the aloe is safe to consume in as much or as little a quantity as you want, so drink what you like.
We discuss the benefits of different kinds of aloe, as well as how much you can take during a day, in much greater detail here.
How to Make Aloe Taste Better
Aloe is an acquired taste for many, which is a polite way of saying "it tastes bad until you get used to it." Coffee is the same way, believe it or not, it's just much more broadly accepted in our society than some other forms of acquired flavors. Blue cheeses, alcohol, and many other fermented or "spoiled" foods are the same way. There should be no stigma attached to not liking the initial flavor of aloe. You like what you like!
The first way to deal with the flavor is simply to get used to it. Some people will try it a few times, grow to get used to it and start to taste the more subtle elements of the flavors of the aloe plant itself. Other people will simply grow to hold their nose and down a bit of juice as a supplement the same way they might a medicine they don't like. Either way is fine.
Another option is to adulterate it with fruit juices or buy aloe juice. You can take aloe and mix it with whatever fruit juices you want, to create your own fruit cocktail or punch. We think it goes great with some already-bitter juices like grapefruit, or it can have its bitterness hidden by the sourness of pungent berries. If you want a sweeter fruit punch beverage, you can feel free to make that as well.
Another option is to buy processed aloe. The funkiest and hardest to stomach part of the aloe comes from some of the latex getting mixed in with the aloe, and without it, you're left with an earthier, greener tasting bitterness rather than the astringent stomach acid kind of taste. Processed aloe is likely to have most or all of this stuff removed when it's harvested.
If you want to handle aloe by hand, you're going to have a harder time of it, but you can still do it. Using a sharp knife, cut off the left and right spiky sides of the aloe frond, and then filet off the top, exposing the gel. Ideally, you will have removed all of the latex and the yellow-orange stuff that attaches to it. If any is left, cut it away.
From there, simply cut or scrape out the gel, careful not to get any of the latex from the bottom. This gel should be clear and slightly green, with none of the orange latex or the milky sap. We highly recommend rinsing this off with water before using it, just to make sure you've gotten everything.
You can also try other more exotic ways of adulterating the flavor of aloe. We've seen everything from aloe salads (where you cube up small chunks of aloe gel and mix them with greens and mint), to aloe cocktails (where you add aloe juice to something like a martini). Really, the sky is the limit; add aloe to whatever you want, as long as it tastes good to you.
If you want more ideas, we compiled a bunch of them, along with some other resources, in this article.
Is Aloe Dangerous?
You may have heard that aloe can be dangerous, and the truth is, it kind of can be, in some circumstances. We usually recommend that you buy aloe juice instead of harvesting it yourself if you intend to consume it. Harvesting it yourself is fine for topical applications.
As we mentioned above, the problem ingredient is in the outer leaf and latex of the aloe frond, called aloin. Aloin has itself been used as a medicine, usually to treat constipation, but it fell out of favor when stimulant laxatives were replaced by other kinds of laxatives. Aloin is generally removed from aloe products because the FDA removed its classification as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) a while back (in 2002). A small amount of aloin can work as a laxative, but a larger amount of it can cause painful stomach cramps.
Aloin can also cause uterine contractions, which are dangerous for pregnancies, so pregnant women are advised to avoid it.
Thankfully, because of the FDA regulation, any product you purchase made with aloe is guaranteed to have the aloin removed. Thus, any aloe drink you buy anywhere commercial (that is, not from a street vendor) is safe.
If you want to get into the healthy habit of eating more aloe, we highly recommend starting with an aloe juice that is concentrated and flavored. Mix this juice in with smoothies or take it as a medicinal supplement each day, and eventually, you will start to get used to the bitterness it brings to anything it's in.
Once you've gotten into the habit of taking aloe in that manner, you can start to broaden your horizons. It's the same way someone who starts to like coffee-infused mocha frappes can start experimenting with stronger coffees. Try aloe water, try aloe juice without all the extra stuff in a smoothie, try aloe gels or aloe gummies. There are tons of options out there for you to experiment with.
Aloe is one of our favorite healthy ingredients, and we believe in the right form, it will be one of your favorites too. All you need to do is get past the taste.
Have you ever tried aloe vera juice or water before? What are your thoughts on the taste? Be sure to let us know in the comment section below!