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    January 08, 2024 6 min read

    From Eric - Creator of Wehl

    I am the label reader in my house. After 15 years spent working to build sustainable and transparent food systems, I ask a lot of questions about the food I feed myself and my family. I cook at least five nights a week. I eat organic. I love my CSA. I grow what I can in my little Boston yard. 

    Like many, I was bit by the flavored seltzer bug. It brought new fun to my daily hydration. Then La Croix was sued over their “all natural” claims. The suit claimed they were using synthetic ingredients, most of which fell under the umbrella of natural flavor. I realized I had a lot to learn about how flavors are made and dove down a deep rabbit hole.


    After talking to flavor experts, collaborating with bartenders and flavorists and developing a growing understanding of herbalism and phytonutrients, I was convinced…there is a way to make flavors truer to nature, avoiding mystery ingredients with plants that have real benefits. 

    Wehl Plant Drops was born.

    After 100+ tests and a season of feedback from customers in markets around Boston, we have eight delicious flavors (ninth flavor coming this week!) using nothing but whole botanicals, fruit, citrus and water.

    Real Flavor


    I snack on fresh fruit, I put fresh herbs in my cooking and enjoy grown up flavors in an after dinner drink. So why do water flavors either taste like bubblegum and Jolly Ranchers or some poor copy of the real thing? Take the example of vanilla…

    vanilla beans

    Anything but vanilla…


    Cheap vanilla flavor turns to a synthetic taste-a-like - vanillin. Vanillin is readily derived from wood pulp. Pure vanillin gets you 70% of the way to vanilla. But one taste tells you something’s not quite right. So add in a dozen other chemical constituents and you get closer, but somehow you’re still stuck in the uncanny valley.


    For the past 100 years, scientists have been trying to figure out what makes vanilla taste like vanilla. At this point millions of dollars of research has identified molecules in the several parts perbillion that have a significant impact on flavor. And most experts would acknowledge they still don’t have the full picture.

    The Hard Road...


    How do you capture the complexity of real plants? Do you start with a chemical cabinet full of flavor components or start with the whole plant, full of thousands of flavonols and constituents and preserve as much of the flavor as you can? 

    For Wehl, it’s a clear choice with big implications. 

    Rather than turn to chemical derivatives, we work with organic, whole - and when it matters, fresh - ingredients. This takes more time, more effort and more complexity. Is it worth it?

    Hard Work, Big Payoff…


    whole grapefruits in morning light


    We work hard to find quality ingredients. We get fresh green herbs as straight from the field as we can and produce at their flavor peak. What happens in the winter when we can’t get ingredients like the fresh lemon balm in Center? We’ll be out of stock until our farmers can get us more in the spring. 

    If flavor varies from batch to batch, we carefully reserve and blend multiple batches to make sure you get a consistent product. If our still runs too hot, too cold, too long or blows a seal, that delicate fresh flavor turns to something more like stewed green beans and we start over again.

    In the world of food processing, where salt, fat, sugar and synthetic flavors are the main paint brushes, it’s easiest to stroke broadly and just turn everything up to 11. It’s what food manufacturers do to get us hooked on their creations. The result is that we are broadly desensitized to how things naturally taste.

    What starts to happen when you consciously avoid processed foods? If you say “no” to things like canned soups, TV dinners and sodas, your taste buds will change. Packaged foods may taste much saltier.  Everything tastes too sweet.

    Your Taste Buds Are Waking Up


    The same thing can happen when you taste flavors true to nature. If you avoid reductively derived flavors, you start to realize the strawberry in that flavor packet tastes nothing like any whole strawberry you’ve ever tasted. 

    Crack open your Plant Drops and take a sniff - no chemical smells, no tutti fruity candy, just the essence of real plants. You’ll be amazed at what’s captured in the bottle - fresh mint, refreshing ginger and zesty limes. Our flavors are the most beautifully concentrated tastes nature can provide. Replace your powdered drink flavors and see what it does for your taste buds.

    Made Simply


    Aside from the flavor, what else is in your drinks?

    Two carriers feature prominently in many water flavors.

    Most liquid flavor drops contain propylene glycol. If you drink flavored seltzer or other drinks with natural flavor, propylene glycol is also probably included within that label. 



    Propylene glycol is typically derived from petroleum. It is allowed under the umbrella of “natural flavors” in spite of the FDA’s own acknowledgement that there is no “natural” form:

    (a) Propylene glycol (C3H8O2, CAS Reg. No. 57-55-6) is known as 1,2-propanediol. It does not occur in nature. Propylene glycol is manufactured by treating propylene with chlorinated water to form the chlorohydrin which is converted to the glycol by treatment with sodium carbonate solution. It is also prepared by heating glycerol with sodium hydroxide.

    Sugar in sheep’s clothing


    Maltodextrin is a starch derived sugar. Due to the quirks of FDA’s labeling laws it can be counted as a complex carbohydrate and thus features in many “Zero Sugar” drink powders. The problem is, your body still treats it as sugar. In fact, the same qualities that make it readily dissolve in water make it easily absorbable in your blood stream. The result? It has double the glycemic index of table sugar (sucrose).

    maltodextrin glycemic index

    At Wehl, we don’t use carriers because our process is water based from start to finish. We don’t spray dry our ingredients into a powder that needs to be dissolved or start with alcohol or oil based flavors that don’t readily mix with water.  Squeeze our drops into your water and you’re on your way.

    We don’t use any sugars because there’s no need to mask off or bitter notes or give an extra jolt to flavors lacking nuance.


    Real Benefit


    Plants are powerful and they have real benefits. Beyond macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, there is a whole world of phytonutrients with profound implications for our health. Research is increasingly confirming what herbalists, homeopaths and holistic practitioners have known for centuries. Every new discovery about phytonutrients reinforces the importance of a plant based diet.

    While the food industry has started to take notice of beneficial compounds found in plants, “functional” ingredients are usually an afterthought - powdered components thrown in a mix to the detriment of flavor and divorced from the context of the whole plant they came from.

    While essential oils contain many more of the constituents of beneficial plants, products containing essential oils are dubious from a health and safety perspective. One leading essential oil brand makes a concentrate recommended for use in oatmeal and teas alongside a bold lettered warning“For Topical Use Only”.

    Our blends use botanicals with solid research regarding health benefits. We also focus on ingredients that are generally recognized as safe for inclusion in food and we produce Plant Drops with stringent food safety standards.

    Our next step at Wehl is to delve into what plant components can have a meaningful impact on your daily health. In the next few months we’ll be rolling out more info on what compounds our drops contain and what research says about their impact on your daily health. 

    More to come…

    One Step in the Right Direction


    Life is about a series of small steps on a journey of discovery. It’s what led me to found Wehl and I hope it’s what convinces you to give Plant Drops a try.

    Wehl is one step towards better flavor, one step towards a more honest way of doing things, one step towards a better you.