Watermelon and black pepper juice at Rasika in the District, where executive chef Vikram Sunderam flavors juices with spices. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

You don’t need to do a cleanse. You don’t have to Instagram it with the hashtag #cleaneating or #fitspo. You don’t have to say a word about toxins or inflammation or “rebooting your system.” And for God’s sake, no one wants to hear you utter the word “colonic.” You can just drink it: It’s juice.

But thanks to the staying power of the cleanse-diet trend, the freshly squeezed fruit-and-vegetable beverage has seemingly become something more loaded: at best, a status symbol, and at worst, an accessory to martyrdom. Whatever happened to drinking juice because it tastes good?

The concept of premium juice may be due for its own cayenne pepper-scented reboot.

“When we started the company, I don’t think we realized how strong of an association there was [between] cold-pressed juice and cleanses,” said Ann Yang, co-founder of Misfit Juicery. “Fighting that association has been something that we’ve had to do.”

Misfit, which utilizes “ugly” produce that would otherwise go to waste, describes itself as a “body positive” company and does not make the popular blend of lemon juice and cayenne pepper found at many juice shops. That combination of ingredients is the foundation of many cleanses, such as the Master Cleanse trend that became popular in 2006 after Beyoncé lost 20 pounds for her role in “Dreamgirls” by drinking the spicy lemonade. The fact that the singer’s juice-enabled slimdown made news is part of the problem, said Yang.

Misfit Juicery founders Philip Wong and Ann Yang sell four flavors of vegetable juices intended to accompany, not replace, solid food. (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)
‘Please don’t only drink juice’

“When you think about cleanse culture, it’s about fitting into a specific body type, and it is targeted at women,” Yang said. “Neither of those things are something we particularly support.”

So, along with co-founder Philip Wong, Yang has taken an unusual position: that of the anti-cleanse, cold-pressed premium juicer. Wong and Yang prefer that their four flavors of fruit and vegetable juices be enjoyed as an accompaniment to solid, chewable food.

“Anyone that goes on a juice cleanse for five days, you’re clearly not getting all the nutrients you need,” said Yang, whose juice ranges in price from $5 to $7 a bottle — below the usual $7 to $12 for a premium juice, as a signal that it’s not intended to be a meal replacement. “Please drink our juice once a day, or several times a week, but please don’t only drink juice.”

Her opinion echoes the professional advice of nutritionists.

“There’s no clinical evidence to say that any of these modalities actually work,” said Roger Clemens, a nutrition expert and associate director of the regulatory science program at the University of Southern California School of Pharmacy, who added he cannot believe that in 2015, he is still having this conversation.

“We have undernourished and overnourished people. That’s much more of an issue, in my mind, than people who subscribe to a detox regimen,” said Clemens. But he said he continues to speak out because he wants to protect consumers from what he sees as fraud.

“Our bodies are wonderfully made. We eliminate toxins on a regular basis,” said Clemens. “[If] you have a working liver and kidneys, you’re going to be just fine.”

Clemens lives in Los Angeles, a hotbed of competitive juicing. It’s a place where, he noted dryly, some people spend a small fortune to inject toxin into their faces in the form of Botox, then eschew food in favor of juices they think will eliminate other vaguely surmised toxins from their G.I. tract. “I’m in the epicenter of controversy,” he mused.

That said, he’s a fan of juice when it’s consumed in an appropriate balance.

“Juice fits into every diet,” he said. “It fits into the bacon diet, it fits into the vegetarian diet.” It’s a tasty, efficient source of nutrition, but it’s not a silver bullet.

Clemens’s prescription? “We need to get back to common sense.”

Glasses of mint lemonade and strawberry lemonade at the Peacock Cafe in Georgetown, which sells house-made juices and other drinks as alternatives to bottled beverages. (From Peacock Cafe)
‘It’s like creating a dish’

Common sense looks a lot like the offerings at Georgetown’s Peacock Cafe, which has been making juice, lemonade and smoothies to order since 1992. Chef-owner Maziar Farivar launched the juice bar as an alternative to the bottled beverages such as Snapple that were popular at the time.

“We were just doing simple carrot juice and orange juice, selling maybe a handful a day in those early days,” he said.

But in recent years, he expanded his menu to include more vegetables such as kale, a concession to the current trend. Still, he sees the juice as a component of a meal, not a meal replacement. Over the past 20 years, he has seen diet trends come and go: “In the ’90s it was no-fat, and then low-carb/no-carb became the thing for a while.”

When he develops his juice recipes, which include the apple-beet-carrot-ginger drink he calls Red Zinger, he focuses on taste, something that can fall by the wayside in the cleanse craze. It’s as if we’ve forgotten that juice isn’t merely a liquefied vehicle for superfoods and greens; it can be a composed drink with ingredients that lend themselves to pleasure as much as to nutrition.

“Juice is absolutely delicious,” said Ryan LaRoche, executive chef at Blue Duck Tavern in Foggy Bottom, where the menu offers a number of fresh juices that go beyond your basic orange and grapefruit but not too far into superfood land, with flavors including pineapple-mint and honeydew-apple-honey-mint. He lightly carbonates some of his juices, which can stand in as an all-natural alternative to soda at lunch.

“It’s like creating a dish. You have to have balance between sweet, sour and acidic,” said LaRoche.

Rasika executive chef Vikram Sunderam offers a blend of cantaloupe and cardamom. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Sunderam’s watermelon-black pepper juice. He flavors his juices with the same spices that are used in cooking. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Juice can also be a window into another culture’s flavors. At Rasika in Penn Quarter and its West End counterpart, a rotating selection of small-batch specialty juices appears on the lunch menu, and also on the brunch menu at the latter. When he juices fruits such as watermelon and cantaloupe, executive chef Vikram Sunderam adds a bit of spice to connect the drink to the meal.

“We use things like green cardamom, black pepper” in juices, said Sunderam. “These spices are also used in cooking.”

The Royal, a new Latin-inspired restaurant in LeDroit Park, also uses juice as a continuation of its food and cocktail programs. A menu of arepas and other South American fare is complemented by lulo, passion fruit, tamarind and guava juices, which rotate through the menu. They do double-duty as cocktail mixers at night. Owner Paul Carlson says it’s too costly to fresh-squeeze fruits that travel such a distance; instead, his team uses frozen pulp. (More-common juices, such as grapefruit and orange, are squeezed fresh.) Carlson said he was inspired by a childhood spent drinking those juices in Colombia. (Aguas frescas, also popular in Latin America, differ from premium juice in that they incorporate water blended with fruit, and sometimes added sugars.)

“It’s something that was part of our lifestyle,” Carlson said. “It’s such an attractive thing to have each [juice] used with spirits. For us, it was kind of a win.”

‘Juice has replaced the Starbucks cup’

Some consumers are finding that juicing has another attraction. Like SoulCycle and Lululemon, a premium juice (no Tropicana or Minute Maid here!) tells the world that a person is health-conscious, fit — and flush with disposable income. At Fruitive, a juice and health-food restaurant set to open this summer in the upscale CityCenterDC complex, a single day of six Total Detox juices and a shot of wheatgrass starts at $78.

“Absolutely, cold-pressed juice has totally become a status symbol, especially if it’s locally sourced, organic, non-GMO and in a glass bottle,” said Danielle Charboneau, director of operations at L.A.’s Juice Served Here, which offers a $20 glass-bottled juice made of vanilla, honey, bee pollen and colloidal silver. “The people who really get our brand and understand our product is the fashion crowd.”

That’s because Juice Served Here was founded by Greg Alterman, former chief executive of Alternative Apparel, and entrepreneur Alex Matthews. Cleanses are the foundation of their business — “The best way to drink a cold-pressed juice is on a empty stomach,” said Charboneau. “Whether or not you eat during the day, before or after that, is entirely up to you.” — but Charboneau says they have plenty to offer the casual, flavor-invested juice fan as well. Their downtown L.A. location offers juice flights: colorful, Instagram-worthy shot glasses of various juices “developed with the foodie in mind,” she said.

“It’s incredibly visually appealing; it’s very beautiful,” she said, noting that the flight makes a popular post on Instagram. “It’s presented to you in the same way that maybe a fancy cheese plate would be presented to you at an awesome restaurant.”

The downtown L.A. shop (near the fashion district, naturally) is a partnership with Verve Coffee Roasters, even though caffeine is one of the substances that cleansers say they want to purge from their body. But juice and coffee have come to serve the same social function: They’re beverages that people obsess over, command a premium and signal the consumer’s taste and status.

“I think juice has replaced the Starbucks cup,” said LaRoche. Although as a chef, he believes strongly in eating food with your juice — at Blue Duck, “I am so far from the health food trend,” he said — he did try a cleanse once to see what all the fuss was about.

It didn’t go well. “You can’t do that in a kitchen, because you get the hangries,” he said. “So hungry that you’re angry.”