A nearby Wegman's grocery in Southeast Pennsylvania paid off again. Among other treasures, their foreign food aisle yielded up a couple of Polish juice (soft) drinks. I quickly snapped them up.
Normally this is the paragraph where I would give a brief background about the company that made the products I was trying. Alas, I can't really do this in a very detailed way today. I looked up the company in question, Vavel, and couldn't find much. A few other products, but that's about it. So, in addition to fruit drinks, Vavel makes a variety of jams, marinated vegetables, pickles, sauerkraut, and at least one kind of cream fudge. As for the juice drinks, other than the two I tried, the carrot and black currant flavors, they also make tomato and cherry versions.
Carrots are one of the older vegetables that people have domesticated and cultivated. They are believed to have first been grown in Iran and Afghanistan by at least 5000 years ago. Their original colors were red, yellow, and purple, with the now common orange kind being a relatively recent development, about 400 years old. They're probably most renowned for being an excellent source of the nutrient beta-carotene, which actually gets part of its name from carrots. However, one claim about carrot's health benefits is now known to be false. During World War II, English Royal Air Force pilots and crew seemed to be doing unusually well during air fights at night. The reason for this was said to be their diet heavy on carrots. Which, it turns out, is a wild exaggeration. Vitamin A (which is also present in carrots) does help a person's vision if their diet is deficient, but it won't make a normal person see almost supernaturally well at night. The RAF's real secret was that they'd developed radar, but didn't want to admit this, for obvious reasons. Also, if a person eats huge amounts of carrots (or other beta-carotene rich foods) their skin may turn orange. It's called, carotenodermy, and is usually harmless, although surely off-putting to witnesses.
Black currant is a plant, and correspondingly, an edible berry of this plant. They are thought to have first been cultivated in the 11th century, in Russia. Now they can be found across Northern and Central Europe and Asia. Raising them was actually banned in the U.S. in the early 1900's, because they're a vector for a type of fungus that harmed the American logging industry. The federal ban was lifted in 1966. Since then, some states have legalized it again. The berries themselves are considered to have a very strong and tart taste. As such, they're usually not eaten raw, but are made into juice additives, jams, sauces, or dessert additives to things like cheesecake, yogurts, and ice cream. The British sometimes use them in a couple of beer cocktails (see August 31, 2014 post for more information on these). A lager 'n' black is black currant juice mixed into that type of beer, and a "black 'n' black" is the juice in a stout.
Also, on a personal note, if I haven't already made it clear in past posts, I despise carrots. Along with hot beverages, soups, and lima beans, I hate carrots with every cell of my body. It drives me crazy when salads or entrees have carrot shavings scattered within them. I'm sure I've embarrassed many dining companions at restaurants when I painstakingly try to remove every last carrot shred. But, I was willing to "take one for the team," so to speak, for the purposes of this post.
On that note, let's get to the drinks. Each bottle was a robust 750 milliliters, or 25.36 ounces. The carrot drink was made with 35% juice, while the other one was made up of 25% black currant juice. Each was fairly high in calories--the carrot kind was 270 calories for the entire bottle, and the black currant one was 390. The carrot drink was orange in color, of course, and had an unpleasant odor. The taste was a bit sweeter than a regular carrot, presumably due to the presence of sugar and fructose/glucose syrup in it. But I thought it was pretty bad. I did manage to choke down 8 ounces of it, so it was barely drinkable. In damning it with faint praise, it was not literally vomit-inducing, as I feared. On the other hand, I won't have this one again, unless someone's life literally depends on it. (And I'd probably still have to think long and hard about it.) Fortunately, the black currant one was much better. It was purple, and didn't have much of a smell either way. It was tart, as advertised, but still pretty good. I'm guessing the added sweeteners cut the black currant's tartness enough. So, for this category there were no surprises. I hated the carrot one, and enjoyed the black currant one.
Finally, to throw out some food/beverage trivia, I learned that vodka is thought to have been invented in Poland, sometime in the 8th century. And, more definitively, bagels also hail from Poland originally. Jewish communities there created them in the early 1600's or so.