From California "juice bars" to the kitchens in your neighborhood, interest in fresh-squeezed juices is growing -- and not just in orange or grapefruit. These days, it could just as easily be carrot, wheatgrass, strawberry or peach.
"The cocktail for the '90s is juice," says Barbara Westfield, director of marketing and product development for Salton Housewares, which makes juicer equipment. Most of the more exotic juices can be made only with hefty juice extractors.
Juice enthusiasts say raw fruits and vegetables are among the most healthful foods people can eat, and that juices provide a concentrated source of vitamins and minerals in an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest form.
Dietitians agree juice can be nutritious. But, "there's nothing super-special about getting your nutrition from juices rather than eating the fresh fruits and vegetables," says Jo Ann Carson, associate professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center.
That hasn't stopped consumers -- including Randy Travis -- from snapping up juicers and extractors.
The country crooner told Bon Appetit magazine recently, "I'm really into this juicer I just bought." He says he uses it on the road.
Once a specialty item available only at health food stores, juicers and extractors are found at most department and discount stores.
A citrus juicer -- an electric version of the old hand juicers -- costs about $20. But to make non-citrus juices, shoppers need a juice extractor, which generally sells for $40 to $100, although some models cost far more.
Juice extractors will make juice from carrots, cabbage, strawberries, peaches, apples, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, peeled citrus and many other fruits and vegetables. A pound of carrots makes about a cup of juice.
Some models, such as the $200-plus Champion, also do nut butters, ice cream and grated vegetables.
The question for consumers: Is it worth the investment to drink your vegetables and fruits?
The answer is yes -- if you believe television juicer salesman Jay "The Juiceman" Kordich or authors such as John B. Lust ("Raw Juice Therapy, Drink Your Troubles Away"), N. W. Walker ("Fresh Vegetables and Fruit Juices: What's Missing in Your Body?") and Laura Newman ("What Must I Do? Make Your Juicer Your Drug Store").
Besides extolling the virtues of drinking your fruits and vegetables, they also suggest specific juices to ward off or help cure various ailments, from headaches to multiple sclerosis.
Ms. Newman writes: "Instead of reaching for the bottle off the drugstore shelf and thus suppressing disease, make your juicer your drugstore and eat and drink your way to health."
Dietitians caution that consumers shouldn't expect medical miracles from juice.
"If people think they're going to be able to cure all their health problems by using juice and not getting proper medical care, that could have a very negative effect," says Neva Cochran, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
Also, she says, juicing fruits and vegetables removes their fiber -- something most Americans need more of in their diet.
Still, UT-Southwestern's Ms. Carson believes juicing is "a reasonable way to get more vitamins in your diet," noting that dietitians are urging people to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
"It's whichever way you prefer it," says Ms. Cochran. "Do you prefer drinking orange juice or eating an orange?"
All juice extractors work pretty much the same way. Most use a sharp shredding blade and centrifugal force to separate the juice from the pulp.
The differences among the models include their capacity -- how much they're able to hold or extract at one time -- and their extraction speed.
Some models have variable speeds, allowing slow juicing for soft fruits and vegetables and faster juicing for firmer ones.
Shoppers also might want to compare models to see which seems easiest to clean or to use. If they have an unusual item they want to juice -- wheatgrass, for instance -- they should make sure a particular model is up to the task. Wheatgrass is a hard wheat berry sprout, and wheatgrass juice is believed to remove toxins from the bloodstream.