Aloe is a great plant with so many uses. From soothing your skin to comforting your gut, aloe is your friend. But unfortunately, there are some considerable problems in the aloe vera market.
Adulteration, poor processing methods, oxidation, compound spiking, thickeners, and unnecessary preservatives plague nearly all aloe products.
I hope you are ready for some at-home chemistry work because you can see a lot of (unfortunately, not all) aloe problems at home. So bust out those test tubes.
When looking at aloe products, first up is the ingredient list. Many contain unwanted preservatives such as potassium sorbate and sodium benzoate. These are unnecessary and only needed because of lazy manufacturing and processing techniques. There are much better ways to preserve aloe without using these ingredients. Some companies claim they have to use them to prevent mold growth, but that is bunk. A small amount of citric acid or organic lemon juice can be used to stabilize properly made aloe juice without the use of any preservatives. Just say no to aloe with added preservatives.
Another labeling issue to look for is added “active” compounds.
Companies add things like polysaccharides for two purposes. First, to make people think that it is better because it has more of whichever compound they are adding and to make the product appear to have higher levels of a compound when testing. Isolated compounds do not function the same as a constituent when it is part of the whole food. It's pure marketing. Some companies also add additional compounds because their heavy processing damages fragile components. Aloe is great on its own; it does not need its levels of polysaccharides or other compounds artificially increased. Say no to spiked products.
Avoid products with added thickeners, such as carrageenan, xantham gum, and guar gum. They make the products appear gel-like, and the companies like to claim that it is somehow better; however, there is no proof that it's better. It also allows them to reduce the amount of aloe in the product. Those thickeners make people think the gel is just the filet out of the aloe life in the bottle, which is not what it is. It's heavily filtered and processed aloe mixed with thickeners, so say no to aloe with added thickeners.
Next up is the color of aloe juice. It should look similar to the inside of an aloe leaf, with perhaps a few flecks of green. You only want the inner part of the leaf used in your aloe juice, as the outer leaf contains some compounds, such as aloin, which can cause some real problems. It should contain bits of pulp floating throughout it.
Your aloe should not be brown. Brown aloe means that it has been oxidized because of poor processing and manufacturing. It is one giant red flag that shows a company does not understand how to process and manufacture aloe properly.
Some companies call their brown aloe juice golden in color because they use some of the sap under the leaf. I don't know about you, but brown and golden are very different colors to me.
Time for your first science experiment. Cut open a fresh aloe leaf and see if you notice a big brown area on the inside of the leaf. You won't find it unless your leaf is old and dead. Aloe juice is not brown because of some sap; it's brown because of oxidation. Those companies are full of s**t.
It often happens with companies that do not make or grow their own aloe. If you cut into an aloe leaf and it was brown inside, you would rightly throw it away. The same applies to your aloe juice, so say no to oxidized aloe.
That's not golden, Carol, it's brown.
Your aloe should not look and taste like spring water. Clear “aloe” means that it has been distilled or very heavily processed. Some companies even advertise their aloes as fractionally distilled. This process removes nearly all beneficial aloe compounds, leaving behind just low-sulfur water. That’s why it tastes like spring water. A recent independent test of a popular fractionally distilled aloe showed it contained none of one of the most important compounds found in aloe. Much of aloes benefits come from it being a digestive bitter. Without that taste, you lose those benefits, so you should also avoid aloe in pills. So say no to aloe that tastes like water.
Never buy powdered aloe. The processing required to turn it into a powder is harsh and damages many of the fragile, beneficial constituents.
Get ready for your next science experiment. This test will show whether your aloe has starch adulteration, usually maltodextrin. You will not see this starch listed in the ingredients list, as it is a very common adulterant. It's done because it makes the product appear to have higher levels of polysaccharides when tested, which helps poor-quality raw materials pass inadequate quality control testing.
Grab a glass jar or test tube and pour 15 ml (that's half an ounce in freedom units) of unflavored aloe (you cannot use aloe with fruit juices added) into it. Then you will need to add five to seven drops of this iodine (regular iodine drops cannot be used for this type of test) and shake it up. If the aloe turns purplish, it's adulterated with starch, most likely maltodextrin.
So what should you look for in an aloe product?
First up is the source. Aloe juice should be traceable back to the farm it came from (check out our farm-to-bottle project to learn more about why this is so important), and the company should be the one making the aloe from leaf to bottle. Don’t buy from companies that don’t make their own aloe.
Aloe juice should be made simply. No heavy processing or drying of the aloe. The processing plant should be located right on the aloe plantation to ensure freshness, to prevent nutrient loss and oxidation.
Aloe juice should:
Be similar in color to the inside of an aloe leaf, not brown or clear, with bits of pulp in it
Contain no more than a trace amount of aloin
Should be unfiltered and contain some sediment
Not have any added thickeners
Unpasteurized, unheated, and non-irradiated
Be transparent about the processing method
Not have added preservatives, such as sodium benzoate and potassium sorbate, just a bit of citric acid or organic lemon juice.
Not have added polysaccharides or other compounds that seek to artificially boost the levels of certain constituents
Be traceable back to the farm it came from and the facility it was made in
Be packaged in dark glass, not soft plastic. While clear glass is better than soft plastic, light can degrade many of the nutrients, and beneficial compounds found in aloe, so dark glass is best.
Free of added starches and maltodextrin adulteration
Be entirely made from the Barbadensis species
Not have added water
Not be concentrated or from a concentrate
Made from fresh aloe inner leaf, not the whole leaf
Not be made from dried, reconstituted powder
Not be decolorized - Decolorization is a heavy filtering process that removes harmful compounds. However, it also removes a number of beneficial compounds as well. Better initial fileting and handling of the aloe leaf removes the need for decolorization.
Be grown without the use of synthetic pesticides and herbicides in a way that protects the environment and improves the soil
Be made from only mature four-year or older plants. It takes time for the beneficial compounds to form and get to a concentration that offers benefits. Young plants simply do not have high enough levels.
Be grown by farmers who are paid a fair price for their crop and harvested by laborers who are well taken care of
We looked and looked for an Aloe Vera product in the United States that met all of our criteria, and we simply could not find one. So we had to look outside of the country. After an exhaustive search and testing lots of aloe vera products, we finally found one.
It comes from a plantation in the beautiful Andalusian region of Spain. It is biodynamically grown and Demeter-certified. Biodynamic is a much stricter standard than organic and requires the soil and planet to be well taken care of.
Andalusian aloe plantations are the oldest in the Western world and perhaps the last to still have non-hybridized aloe vera plants.
The aloe is produced on demand, not stored in tanks for long periods of time, where it can lose much of its potency and become oxidized.
Here is how they produce it:
The leaves (only from plants that are at least four years old) are cut at the rate of 3 or 4 per foot and processed within 24 hours of picking.
They are brushed, washed, and peeled meticulously to eliminate aloin, a laxative substance.
The pulp (called mucilage) is crushed and pressed to extract the juice, following a special protocol.
A small amount of organic lemon juice is added to stabilize the juice and prevent mold growth.
Bottling is done immediately to avoid any alteration and oxidation of the product.
No heating or pasteurization
The end product is just whole, raw, fresh juice that retains all of its beneficial properties. It doesn't get any better than that!
The video is in French, but you can see the whole process from the leaf to juice.
Hopefully, this article answers all of your aloe questions. However, if we missed anything, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will do our best to get you the answers you need.