Kola\Coca Soda

In the years after the Civil War in the United States, nostrums and remedies began to appear for sale in the cities and towns throughout the South. One of these was invented by a war veteran who had been injured in battle, and subsequently found himself addicted to morphine, which he had been using to relieve his pain. Marketed as Pemberton’s French Wine Coca, it was touted as a cure for the blues, as well as for morphine addiction. The alcoholic version of the drink was reformulated in response to temperance legislation enacted in the area, and eventually became the world’s top-selling soft drink.

Pemberton's French Wine Coca

Pemberton’s French Wine Coca

This recipe for a drink that contains both coca leaf and kola nut extracts looks particularly pale when compared to commercial cola products. That is because the coloring agent in those versions is caramel. Commercial caramel color is created by heat-treating sugars such as glucose in the presence of acids, alkalies, or salts. It’s there pretty much only for the color. Leave it out and you get a pale golden drink colored, in this case, by the kola nut, coca leaf, and raw cane ingredients. Lime juice and six essential oils complete the formula.

Kola\Coca Soda tastes amazingly like a fresh version of the familiar cola practically everyone knows. It is very aromatic, thanks to the fresh lime juice and combination of fruit and spice oils. If you add a shot or two of dark rum to this beverage you will undoubtedly find yourself soon shouting “¡Cuba Libre!”

Ginger Peach Peppercorn Pop

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Ginger and peach are two flavors that seem to be just meant to be together. Ginger peach tea is very popular, the flavors mixed with black tea, or without, as a tisane. There’s ginger peach pie, ginger peach hot sauce, ginger peach ice cream, even ginger peach soap!

Aromatic, spicy and pungent ginger has a long history of therapeutic use, especially in the treatment of gastrointestinal maladies. Ginger contains anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols, which may explain why osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis patients experience reductions in pain and improvements in mobility when they consume ginger. Chamomile also has anti-inflammatory effects, while its use as a calmative and anxiety reducer is well known among herbal medicine practitioners.

The peach (Prunus persica) is native to Northwest China, from whence comes the world’s largest crop. In Chinese mythology certain peaches confer immortality on those who consume them. This recipe calls for a commercial 100% peach-pear juice combination. If it is unavailable in your area you could substitute a mix of pureed very ripe peaches with about double the volume of pear or white grape juice.

This pop recipe makes the most of the ginger-peach romance, and kicks up the spiciness with a hint of cayenne and a modicum of green pepper. The amount of cayenne is just enough to suggest a chile pungency in the back of the palate without burning the entire mouth.

The Pepper Harvest in Marco Polo's Day

The Pepper Harvest in Marco Polo’s Day

Green peppercorns are the same unripe drupes from the pepper vine as are black peppercorns, but they are processed differently. Highly prized for their aroma and flavor of lemon grass and bergamot, the organic variety are gently washed after harvest, and then freeze-dried to retain their essential oils and true flavors. They contribute a subtle but deep spicy warmth to the beverage.

White mulberry is apparently the latest dietary sensation, if you are to believe television health-food pundits. White mulberries are indeed rich in antioxidants, protein and fiber. In dried form they have less than half the sugar of raisins, yet are still nicely sweet, with a flavor similar to figs. The fruit is a component of traditional Chinese medicine, where it is used to treat diabetes.

Enjoy this healthy and restorative drink over ice, or chilled and straight. A chunk of candied ginger makes a tasty garnish. Add a bit of your favorite white liquor to make a tasty summer cocktail!

Tamazcal Opotunia

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The tamazcal (Nahuatl for “house of heat,” or possibly Aztec for “bath house”) is a sauna-like structure invented by the pre-Columbian inhabitants of Central Mexico, and the region south to present-day Costa Rica. These structures are still in use, performing a similar function as that of a sweat lodge or steam room.

Starting around 7000 BCE, complex agrarian cultures began to form in this region, along with the creation of sedentary agricultural villages, and ceremonial centers. Purification rituals were among the curative ceremonies performed by these indigenous people, designed to rejuvenate the body after battle or a ball game.

Tamazcal: Aztec Sauna or Sweat Lodge

Tamazcal: Aztec Sauna or Sweat Lodge

The way in which these therapies cleanse the body is believed to involve “heat shock proteins” (HSPs) that are created in response to environmental stresses, in this case the high temperature and humid environment of the tamazcal. HSPs are involved in binding antigens and presenting them to the body’s immune system. They also provide an essential role in the formation of other proteins, and in the body’s cellular repair system.

Along with the heat therapy provided by the tamazcal, many practitioners suggest imbibing in another source of HSPs: Opotunia-Ficus-Indica, or prickly pear cactus. The fruit is high in antioxidants, particularly betalains (betanin and indicaxanthin), two molecules that give the juice its nearly fluorescent red color. With a flavor reminiscent of watermelon, the juice is rich in Vitamin C, and is one of the first cures for scurvy! The plant also contains at least five other antioxidant flavinoids. The pulp of the fruit contains the carbohydrates glucose, fructose and starch, proteins, and fibers rich in pectin.

Eleuthero root (Eleutherococcus senticocus)is a medicinal plant native to northeast Asia. It is often referred to as Siberian Ginseng, as it is widespread in North Korea and throughout Northeastern Russia. It is not the same as Panax ginseng, the more common Chinese herbal medicine. Eleuthero is considered an anti-oxidant “adaptogen” that reduces the impact of stress, while stimulating the central nervous system.

Rooibos or “red bush” (Aspalathus linearis) is a broom-like legume growing in the fynbos (shrubland) of the Western Cape of South Africa. The leaves of the plant are used to make a bush tea, which has been popular there for generations. Rooibos leaves are oxidized (“fermented” in tea parlance) to create their red color and complex flavor. They are high in Vitamin C and antioxidant flavonoids. Cinnamic acid gives them a honey-like aroma. Rooibos has a bitter/sweet taste that has been described as slightly pungent and “warm.”

These three ingredients combine in Tamazcal Opotunia with citrus juice and zest to create a potent tonic, cleansing indeed but also a refreshingly cool end to a steamy session in a tamazcal, a hammam, or just a hot August night.

FAQ: AKA The Umami Factor Elevator Pitch

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It’s two things. It’s the title of my new book, and it is the principle for making fermented beverages that provide a complex, mouth-filling, satisfying flavor sensation by balancing multiple aromas with the five tastes: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami.


Umami is the taste sensation of savory foods. The word is Japanese for “delicious” taste. It’s provided by receptors in your mouth, throat, esophagus, and even stomach that detect the presence of glutamates, which are derived from amino acids. The umami sensation is pleasant for the same reason that “sweet” is pleasant.

The body is cued to detect vital, high-engergy nutrients: carbohydrates with sweet taste, and proteins with umami taste. Natural, unfiltered fermented beverages are packed with umami-producing compounds from the fruits, grains, and yeast they are made of.


Full-spectrum fermentation describes a process of techniques combined with intricate ingredient formulas that create complex flavor arrangements evoking the response “There’s so much going on there! How did you do that?”

Full-spectrum beverages are complex and improbable, but ultimately well-balanced drinks.


It takes a full-spectrum look at beverages from soft drinks to hard liquor. It thoroughly discusses the components necessary for flavor balancing. It examines related spectra, such as the inebriation spectrum and the commitment spectrum. It has a textbook approach to data, with a multitude of tables for ingredients and supplies. It provides recipes and detailed instructions, but more importantly it is a call to chefdom for aspiring fermentation artists. Tally Ho!

Buy The Umami Factor now for a substantial pre-release discount here.

Triple Twichell

TripTwichWInspired by the type of strong Belgian brews known as “Dubbels” and “Tripels”, Triple Twichell takes the idea of a Mandarin/Seville orange soda and multiplies the amount of ingredients–except the water–by three.

As with the original Orange Twichell recipe, this drink blends two kinds of orange juice, and two kinds of orange zest with raw cane juice, ginger, Veronica spicata, and Sedona juniper berries.

The result is an intense, yet well-balanced soft drink that is bursting with flavor and orange aroma. The drink is made with a fruit syrup and herb infusion, finished with sparkling mineral water. It will improve noticably with an aging period of several weeks in the refrigerator. Aging allows the fruit pulp to settle out, and this can be suspended again with gentle agitation. Alternately, the drink can be carefully decanted off the settled pulp to provide a clear, golden yellow beverage.

Jamaican Ginger Beer

Jamaican Ginger

This is an extra-spicy, alcoholic ginger beer, with an addition of traditional Jamaican roots wine. Ginger beer was once a staple of British households, often potent as Porter, but miraculously free–or a few pence a gallon. For more than 100 years ginger beer, made from ginger, lemon juice, cream of tartar, sugar and water, was coaxed into life by an symbiotic fermentation community called a “ginger beer plant”. No one knew what it was or how it worked, but, like sourdough starter, these “plants” were passed down among families and friends.

In the late 1800s the responsible organisms were identified: Saccharomyces florentinus and Lactobacillus hilgardii. Along with its resemblance to the sourdough fermentation agent, a ginger beer plant is also like the komboucha organism. These are all combinations of fungus and bacteria that live and work together, much as does the familiar lichen (fungus and algae.) Unless you have a great-aunt in Yorkshire though, an authentic ginger beer plant can be hard to come by, though there is at least one online source. This source claims to offer a descendent of the pure strains isolated in the original research into its composition.

While pedigreed ginger beer plants are rare and expensive, several sources offer instructions on making your own. Success depends on what organisms are living naturally on the ginger root, as is the case in making chhaang yeast balls. In his 1963 book Home Brewed Beers and Stouts C.J.J. Berry suggests using ground ginger and bakers yeast obtained from a bakery.

Today’s hyper-clean supermarket ginger has failed to provide me with the necessary ingredients. Instead I’ve taken a different tack, forgoing whatever sourness the lactobacillus might contribute, and substituted Lallemand Windsor ale yeast, known for its fruity fermentation characteristics. As I wanted a ginger beer that was quite spicy, I used about 66 grams of fresh grated ginger per gallon. Since this was a Jamaican tribute, I used demerara sugar together with lime juice and zest. Instead of the cream of tartar called for in conventional recipes, I included wine-grade tartaric acid which dissolves more readily.
Roots Man

To atone for my blasphemous use of commercial yeast I added Roots Wine, at a rate of one ounce per gallon. These are legendary Jamaican tonic drinks, purported to increase vitality, strength, and “go-power” particularly among men.

The names of their root ingredients are wonderfully evocative: Tan Pan Rock, Search Mi Heart, Poor Man Friend, Nerve Wisp. Some drinks contain more than 20 ingredients, creating a complex flavor sensation.

Brands seem to come and go, with Baba Roots a recent market leader. Mandingo appears to be the latest drink darling. Of those I have tried “Natural Vibes” has been my favorite, but it is evidently out of production. In any case, the addition of a small amount of one of these tonics adds a mysterious background note to the ginger beer that combines smoky aroma with tart, tangy and sweet tastes.

While ginger beer made in this way ferments out very dry, it is far better when it has been sweetened a bit to taste. I have tried mauby syrup with good results. Agave nectar and raw sugar syrup also work well. Jah Guide Protek I&I.

Ashwagandha Ale

Ashwagandha Ale Sometimes when I am browsing the web site of an herb merchant, a name strikes me as interesting. At Wild Weeds I came across Ashwagandha root. An intriguing name that sounded rather Ayurvedic, I looked into its properties. It turns out ashwagandha has some well-documented health advantages.

That’s a nice side-benefit, but for my purposes I was interested in the taste. I found that Ashwaghandha tastes quite a bit like ginseng, and indeed, it is sometimes called Indian ginseng. It’s also called “poison gooseberry” because it is a member of the nightshade family, but then so are potatoes. The poisonous alkaloids of these plants are concentrated in the leaves, flowers and stems. Ashwagandha’s taste reminded me of that of another root I had on hand, Astragalus, one of the 50 basic components of traditional Chinese medicine, where it is called huáng qí. I use astragalus in the winter to ward off colds, but here I thought was an opportunity to make an interesting soft drink like ginger ale.

Recipes for ginger ale are pretty common on the web, and they are all very similar. I like the flavor of ginger, but I wanted to add a twist to the usual, by employing my formula for soft drinks that calls for a root, an herb, a berry, an acid, an oil, a sugar, and a juice. I guessed ashwagandha berries were out.

The recipe for Ashwagandha Ale turns out to be rather complex, and in consequence so does the flavor. Starting with a generous amount of freshly grated ginger root, I added ashwagandha, astragalus, lemon, key lime and Seville orange juices, Inca berries, passion flower leaf, and the zest of lemon and Seville orange. Evaporated cane juice provided the sugar, and for additional flavor complexity I included some grape tannin, and finally potassium bitartarate that I had collected by cold conditioning chenin blanc and sauvignon blanc wines.

This is really tasty stuff, and an immune system booster as well! Very aromatic as you would expect a ginger beer to be, but with citrus overtones. The tartness of the citrus juices and berries can carry a lot more sweetness than my usual recipes, without becoming cloying. I only regret that I made just four liters!