Citrus fruits have been used historically as a souring agent to balance a sweetness, adding freshness, fruity flavours and aroma to your drink.
Citrus fruit is a necessary part of day to day life of every bartender and usually appears in the drink as a freshly squeezed juice or garnish. So, it’s important to know how to choose the right fruit for your drink, how to handle it and how to preserve its freshness.
Level of acidity and sweetness
Import factor of every fruit before we decide to squeeze it in our drink is the level of acidity(sour) and the level of sugar.
What is it that gives lemons, limes and other citrus fruits their sour taste?
The answer is Acids which occurs naturally in the citrus fruit.
We use pH measuring system to test the level of acidity by a digital reader or pH strips.
”Remember the lower the pH means the sourer the ingredient.”
Below you can find common citrus fruits and other sour ingredients with their predominant acids and pH number.
Lime: Citric and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), pH around 2.1
Lemon: Citric acid, pH around 2.5
Orange, Grapefruit: Citric and ascorbic acid with pH around 3.5
Green apples: Malic acid with pH around 3.9
Grapes: Tartaric acid with pH around 4
Vinegar: Acetic acid depending on the style with pH around 3. As strange as it sounds, vinegar when used in the right quantities and properly balanced, can add amazing depth to a drink.
As we can see the pH level of orange and grapefruit is identical so why does it taste so different?
It’s the amount of sugar in the fruit that makes a difference. and has a strong suppressive effect on acidity.
THE SUGAR (BRIX)/ACID RATIO
This is basically relationship of sweetness(measured by refractometer) to tartness that helps us to get a single number which determines the acidity of the fruit.
There is one small issue because at the beginning of the ripening process the sugar/acid ratio is relatively low, because of low sugar content that makes the fruit taste sour. When the ripening process of the fruit begins the sugar content increases and the sugar/acid ratio achieves a higher value.
The ratio can differentiate depending on the particular fruit. So we will use it just as a comparison of acidity between the fruits.
In the table below, I’ve included also some other fruits that are used commonly in cocktails and might be used also as a sour ingredient. Just bear in mind that if you use a commercial product and not freshly squeezed juice then the juice might be sweetened with some kind of sweetener.
Getting the most from Citrus fruit
To get the most juice from a citrus fruit is to keep it in the refrigerator, other techniques such as rolling or warming up the fruit are not effective as explained through the series of tests by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, The Bar Book: Elements of cocktail technique. You can save yourself some time and effort.
Choosing the right fruit: When we choosing are fruit for juice it should be soft, smooth and thinnest skin possible which is the indicator of more juice and it’s easier to squeeze.
Choosing the right juicer: For the small scale bar or just using at home I would recommend using a hand press juicer which gives the best results in terms of freshness and quality. Or you can invest in mechanical or electric juicers where the biggest advantage is obviously the time spent and the amount of juice produced.
When you build a cocktail recipe it’s essential to know how much juice in average you can expect. Obviously different species of citrus and in different time of the year will yield a different amount of juice.
Preservation of juice
Freshly squeezed juice will change over time there is no doubt about it. Strangely, the best peak quality(meaning the time when should be used) is not right after juicing but several hours later. Dave Arnold run several taste tests of lime juice at different ages. Surprisingly, the hand squeezed lime juice that was 4 hours old was the winner, not the freshest or the one made with the electric juicer.
That said, there is nothing wrong to juice your fruits ahead of time but bear in mind how long it will last at the best peak quality after juicing and the freshest. Also, how much juice do you actually need to avoid any wastage?
Lemons and limes will typically last 1-2 days, oranges and grapefruits 2-3 days before they will get off taste. But it has nothing to do with the shelf-life which is for lemons and limes 1-2 months and for grapefruits and oranges 2-3 weeks.
The best peak quality for all juices apart from grapefruit will be usually a couple of hours after juicing(2-12hours), for grapefruits, it’s a bit longer (2-24 hours).
TIP: Squeeze a bit of essential oil (from the skin) in the juice before use. If it’s not in the peak quality, it will return the aroma of your juice.
JUICING OTHER FRUITS
Apples and Pineapple
There are two options that you can use: Juice extractor (more expensive option) or Blender.
The fundamental steps for juicing apple and pineapple will be the same for most fruits:
- Remove any seeds and rinds (no need to peel the skin of apples)
- Cut into smaller pieces for blender or larger chunks for the juicer
- Blend and strain or put into the juicer
Rhubarb and Ginger
Essentially rhubarb and ginger are more difficult to juice. You can either use Juice extractor to get the most flavour out of it or you can follow these steps:
- Rhubarb – cut into small pieces, Ginger – peeled and grated
- Place ingredients into the pot along with water that cover ingredients completely
- Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for a couple of minutes
- Strain liquid through fine-mesh strainer or cheesecloth, pressing on the solids to extract as much juice as possible.
- Let it drain for a few minutes and store the juice in the refrigerator.