Tamarango: Tamarind Mango Soda

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In addition to the creative factor in selecting beverage ingredients for their flavor balance, it’s interesting to add an overall theme to the selection process. The following recipes establish a thematic spectrum that develops the “idea” or state of mind that the beverage expresses. Tamarango suggests a trip to the Tropics, where all of its ingredients are well-established culinary items.

The tamarind fruit is a common beverage ingredient there. It is actually a legume, not a berry. Tamarind trees originated in North Africa, but because of their value as food and a provider of building materials, cultivation has spread throughout the tropical regions. South Asia and Mexico are the two areas where tamarind is most popular as a food item; there it provides a sweet but tangy contribution to sauces, curries and beverages. It also forms an important part of the flavor of Worcestershire and steak sauces said to have originated in India.

The pulp inside the tamarind fruit is the edible part, but most types are very sour. A variety of tamarind has been developed in Thailand, however, that is quite sweet, and used for snacking right out of the pod. It is this variety that goes into Tamarango.
Sweet tamarind
Mango provides the second most prominent flavor component in the beverage. Indeed, it can be found sold as dried slices mixed with tamarind paste and dusted with sugar to make a sweet and sour confection.

The mango puree in this recipe is from the Ataulfo variety discovered in the Chiapas state of southern Mexico. They are seasonally available in Western supermarkets, and can be identified by their moderate size, lozenge shape and golden-yellow skin. While any well-ripened variety will work, this one is known for its exceptional sweetness (15-18 percent sugar), and lack of fibrous interior. Ataulfo mangoes are also quite aromatic. The larger Sindhi mango would be another excellent choice.

Galangal is a spicier relative of ginger, featured in many examples of Thai and Indian cooking. Galangal and lime juice tonic is well known in parts of Southeast Asia.
The wild herb epazote is a nod to the popularity of tamarind in Mexico. This weed is quite common throughout Mexico and the American Southwest, and adds a peppery, minty flavor to Tamarango.

Clockwise from top left: Tulsi Krishna, Tulsi Rama, Epazote

Clockwise from top left: Tulsi Krishna, Tulsi Rama, Epazote


Tulsi, sometimes known as Holy Basil, is a plant held sacred in Hinduism. It is known in Auvedic medicine for its ability to protect against the effects of stress on the body. The recipe calls for two varieties of tulsi, purple-leafed Krishna, with a peppery crisp taste, and Rama, with a mellower, minty flavor.

Top it off with a twist of lemon peel. Fantastic.

Apple Pie Sweet-Sour Soda

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Jolly Rancher candy inspires this drink. Founded in 1949, Jolly Rancher was a Colorado company that sold ice cream, candies and sodas in its shops around Denver and Golden. Their sour apple hard candy is something of a benchmark in early 1950s extreme flavor experimentation. The Jolly Rancher brand ended up in the hands of Hershey, but the flavor of their sour apples lingers on. Sweet and sour can do an intriguing balancing act on the palate.
Apple pie is another sweet-sour flavor standard. This Apple Pie Soda takes the sharp tang of the best tart pie apples, Granny Smith, and adds a crusty spiciness to make a smooth mellow drink. The Granny Smith apples are left to sweat a good month or more after their purchase, to develop umami flavor through ripening and partial fermentation. When they are ready they will start to turn slightly yellow and yield easily to a thumb pushing down on their surface.
Grind the apples to a pulp in a food mill or processor, put the pulp in a fruit press bag and squeeze out all the juice. Heat this with the honey to 75C (167F), add roots, herbs and spices. Cover cool and strain.

Use the frozen syrup method with club soda to bottle the drink, age refrigerated for two weeks, serve with a scoop of ice cream if you like pie a la mode!

True Root Beer

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Eight roots, two barks, one leaf, and one seed pod make this one true root beer. Start with a root tea, sweeten and carbonate it, it’s as easy as that. True root beer has been around for millennia, but gathering roots and berries is too time consuming for the commercial producer–hence the renaissance of artificial flavor and color.

True root beer flavor can be tweaked to an infinity of preferences. Large portions of sarsaparilla and birch bark make a classic base. To this you add sassafras and wintergreen to establish the distinctive high notes. In between can be as many interesting and subtle flavor layers as you like.

The results will resemble the pop-shop stuff you remember. But as with crafted versus commercial beer, the flavor will surprise you with its complexity. It has been rumored to transport maidens into sublime repose.
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There are two parts to the root beer tea brewing process. First, simmer the roots and bark for 20 minutes and remove them from heat. Then steep the herbs for another 20 minutes. Strain the decoction/infusion into a pot, then add sugar. Heat the syrup to 70C, add vanilla pod, cool to room temperature, and freeze 150 ml in each 500 ml bottle. Top up with club soda.

Traditional home made root beer relies on baker’s yeast, with its low alcohol tolerance, to create the carbonation and umami taste of classic examples without fermenting out all the sweetness. It is true that yeast in the beverage provides a real roundness and fullness.

The problem with this method is that the carbonation results are very unpredictable. Gushing out of the bottle is almost inevitable, as baker’s yeast continues to slowly ferment over time, even under refrigeration. It does produce a great creamy root beer head though!

The club soda top-up method yields a mildly carbonated drink in the English style, with a minimal head. On the other hand, there’s no surprises when it’s time to crack open a bottle.

Blackberry Brojash

BlackberryWBrojash is an attempt to remember the seven ingredients of a full-spectrum soda: berry, root, oil, juice, acid, sugar, herb. Sometimes you just need an acronym. This soda brings the berry idea way forward, taking advantage of a sale on usually quite expensive blackberries.

The root in this case is the very mild astragalus, which provides a creamy, smooth background note. The oil comes from fermented cacao nibs, which offer a slight but noticeable chocolate cast, and Seville orange zest. The juice is also from Seville oranges, and it provides an acid tang. Raw cane sugar adds restrained sweetness and apple mint a diaphanous herbality.

Either fresh or frozen berries can be used, as the fresh ones are frozen anyway to help extract juice by breaking their cell walls. If they are fresh, they can be processed just before they start to turn overripe. They are pulped and strained to remove the seeds, and the pulp is macerated with the nibs, juice, and herb for 48 hours in the fridge. It’s heated to 65C and the sugar and astragalus are stirred in. The syrup is cooled and the soda is bottled with the frozen syrup method. Pour it over ice, stir it with a cinnamon stick, it’s a softly minty blackberry chocolate delight.

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.

Lime N.D. Coconut

Lime N.D. CoconutLime N.D. Coconut is a soda that is also a health drink! N.D. stands for “New Dimension.” (It’s also a sideways hat tip to Harry Nilsson.) It is a new direction in taking the Umami Principle to soft drinks. It tastes like nothing I’ve ever had in a traditional soda, and qualifies as a true umami flavor bomb. It is also the most nutrient-packed tonic drink I’ve devised so far.

This idea started when a friend encouraged me to try coconut sugar, because it was delicious. I did, and it was. Much coconut sugar comes from Indonesia with Thailand also an important producer. This suggested to me a Southeast Asian flavor theme, one that might produce in a soda, perhaps the enjoyment that comes from a well-made Tom Kha Gai.

My formula for a full-spectrum soft drink calls for a juice, a root, an oil, an herb, a sugar, a berry, and an acid. Here’s how those ingredients combine for Lime N.D. Coconut.

Faddish coconut water seems to crowd the health-food section lately. High in potassium and other minerals, it’s the latest trend in hydration and tasty too. Twenty years ago on a Mexican beach I bought a green coconut, the top lopped off with a machete, for a few pesos. The water inside was sweet and refreshing. The Whale Watcher Bar in Cabo would put in a shot each of rum, vodka, tequila, gin and Pernod—a Coco Loco. Twenty years later, Thai coconut water seems to be everywhere.

Shredded coconut, not the baker’s kind, just plain, unsweetened meat, adds to the coconut aroma of the drink, with a good dose of glutamate as well. Coconut milk, made from shredded coconut meat and water, contains about 0.37 percent glutamate. The amino acid is the most abundant of those in coconuts.

Key limes are easy to get now too. Their juice provides acidic sourness to balance the sweetness of the coconut water and sugar. The key lime zest provides citrus oil aromatics on top of the coconut aroma.

Fresh, thinly sliced galangal, a rhizome reminiscent of ginger, but with a stronger, more peppery taste, is the root component, with strong medicinal properties. Galangal and lime juice are mixed as a tonic in some Asian countries.

Lemongrass is a well-known tonic herb from India, now widely cultivated in Southeast Asia. Lemongrass provides this drink with both an aroma of lemons and a taste mildly reminiscent of them, without the sourness.

Coconut sugar is produced in Southeast Asia, on organic palm farms. Creamy and caramally sweet, it’s drawn from the flower buds of cocos nucifera. Coconut sugar contains minerals, B vitamins, and a large amount of glutamic acid. Glutamine is the largest constituent among the 16 amino acids found in coconut sap sugar, more than double the amount of the next highest, threonine.

Goji berries (wolfberry) go into Chinese tonic soups and herbal teas. Some Chinese wines also use goji berries. They contain about 500 times more Vitamin C than oranges, and befitting an umami bomb, the ingredient glutamic acid. At the same time polysaccharides from wolfberry protect neurons against the overstimulative effects of too much neurotransmitter such as glutamate.

A garnish of Thai basil and Kaffir lime leaves creates an amazing cloud of distinctive aromatics surrounding the glass. While Lime N.D. Coconut is refreshingly complex in flavor, this healthful tonic can be further tweaked with a shot of white rum and a twist of lime. Served on the rocks it is a great summer quencher.

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!

Ruby Gush

Ruby Gush I’ve never been a fan of cola drinks. I’ll have one occasionally, but never understood how my cousin can have a Pepsi instead of her morning coffee. For as long as I can remember the tart/sweet drinks have been my favorite. My earliest recollection of this goes back to the time my Dad was buying his brand-new 1954 two-toned Dodge sedan. There was a pop machine that sold grapefruit-flavored Squirt in the dealership. Dad bought me one. I loved it.

The grapefruit is a hybrid of sweet orange and pomelo, developed in Barbados (where great rum is made, but I digress.) When I was growing up, yellow grapefruit halves sprinkled with sugar were a staple on our breakfast table. These have been almost completely replaced in the marketplace by the ruby variety, for good reason.

The ruby grapefruit has a distinctive smell, and a taste sweeter than the yellow grapefruit.
When our family recently acquired a case of Texas ruby grapefruit as part of the school band fund-raiser I decided to make a soft drink reminiscent of the Squirt I used to love.

Ruby Gush starts with 1.25 liters of grapefruit juice and the zest from two grapefruit for a 4 liter batch. I let the grapefruit rest in a cool room for two weeks to develop the flavor. To the juice I added 400 grams of evaporated raw cane juice. Next came 12.5 grams of fresh grated ginger, and 1.5 grams of lemon balm. I heated the syrup to steep out the flavors, strained and pasteurized it. I measured 150 ml into each of eight 500 ml swing top bottles, froze these, then topped them up with carbonated water. A total success, Ruby Gush is better than Squirt, though I remain enamored of the memory. Tasty indeed, I might even try adding a shot of spirits to the glass to make a Ruby Greyhound or even a Red Dog.

Sparkling Meyer Lemonade

Meyer Lemonade
Some recipes are a description of a state of mind. Sparkling Meyer Lemonade is one of those. Meyer Lemonade. To me that recalls the dwarf lemon tree Mom had in the back yard. When we moved to California from Ohio, things like year-round bearing citrus trees were a wonder. Mom said the best tasting lemon was the Meyer, a cross between an ordinary lemon and probably, a Mandarin orange, and that was the variety she planted first.

Mom was right. Cuisinistas like Martha Stewart and Alice Waters discovered the Meyer lemon a while after Mom did. Dad would pick 20 of them, perhaps some time around July, cut them in half, mash them in a bucket, add sugar, ice, water, and a good handful of the fresh mint that also grew abundantly in the wondrous California garden. The aroma was spectacular.

The taste was also refreshing, more tart than the concentrate that came in the six-ounce cans of the day. That thought reminds me of Schweppes Bitter Lemon, a lemon-quinine tang that I came to love perhaps 20 years later than those backyard picnics. Alas, it appears that Bitter Lemon is not made any more. I thought I’d make my own.

First of all, there is the joy of fizz, and that is accomplished using the frozen syrup method for mixing sparkling water with juice and sweetener. Secondly, this recipe furthers the idea that a good soft drink should contain a juice, a root, an herb, an oil, and a sugar.

Sparkling Meyer Lemonade starts with 150 ml of Meyer lemon juice per liter of lemonade. Before squeezing the lemons I peeled the zest from 6 per liter (about 5 grams) and set that aside. The sugar is 100 grams per liter of evaporated raw organic cane juice.

For the root, this recipe has 3 grams per liter of ginger. The herb is 0.3 grams of lemon balm per liter. I heated the juice, sugar, herb, zest, and root to infuse and pasteurize the ingredients, and let them cool for 12 hours. I strained the brew, pasteurized it again, cooled it and dispensed 115 ml of the syrup into each 500 ml swing-top bottle. After I froze these bottles I topped them up with carbonated water, and kept them cold.

This drink is Huckleberry Finn meets Dom Perignon. Aging it in the fridge really makes a difference. Less than 0.3 percent alcohol I estimate, but still full of a richness coming from the raw sugar, the herby, citrus aromatics, the mandarin-meets-lemon flavor and the tingle on the tongue that Huck rarely if ever tasted.

Orange Twichell

jigger The concept of full-spectrum fermentation and the incorporation of umami-producing flavor sensations in beverages suggests that these concoctions should be balanced in character. The concentration of complex tastes and aromas exist for each creation in varying amounts depending on the nature of the drink.

Orange Twichell is an example of a fermented beverage that is extremely low in alcohol–so low in fact as to be considered “non-alcoholic” under the law. Actually, it contains something between 0.1 percent and 0.3 percent alcohol, and at that level the body metabolizes it faster than it can be consumed.

Naturally occurring yeasts and bacteria live on the skins of fruits, a fact experienced in ancient times when humans felt kind of funny after drinking grape juice that had been sitting around for a while. Oranges, in this case, contain about 0.1 percent alcohol when they are picked, and this rises during the time they are stored.

A couple of years ago in a specialty store I came across an attractive bottle labeled Fentimans Orange Jigger. I bought a bottle and tried it out. It was nice, but expensive. I thought I’d try to make my own. It turned out nice too, and quite a bit less costly. The idea was to create a balanced drink combining sweetness, bitterness, sourness, saltiness and umami.

The ingredient and nutritional labeling for Orange Jigger contains plenty of clues to its composition, and a look at the Fentimans website provided more information. There’s Mandarin orange juice in Jigger, and as I recall Seville orange juice too, although the drink is now described as having Seville Orange zest in it. The label also mentioned ginger, juniper berry, and speedwell. The nutritional information told me how much sugar was in it.

It was enough to have a go at it, and even make some tweaks along the way. My recipe starts with 30 percent fruit juice. The trick to this blend is to wait around until the Seville Oranges and Mandarins come into season, around January or February in the Northern Hemisphere. Mandarins are easier to come by during the rest of the year, but to make Orange Twichell in June I need to squeeze and zest the Sevilles and freeze the result.

The Fentimans website suggests that its beverages are fermented with brewers yeast. I tried brewing with ale yeast and wine yeast for a couple of batches but I found the yeasty flavor overpowering. For my latest batch I tried a different approach. I let the oranges sit in cool storage for a week, then squeezed them and refrigerated the juice for another four days. This resulted in a more subtle flavor change.

I needed a few tries to settle on the right amount of ginger and juniper too. For the ginger about 2.5 grams per liter of finished drink seems about right to me. Raw ginger contains about 2 percent protein, enough to give the umami sensation a bit of a boost. It also contains potassium, for a very subtle salt taste.

The juniper berries are an interesting story. I’ve tried the commercially available ones with success, but the best so far were ones that I happened to have picked in the mountains behind Sedona Arizona, quite on a whim. They’d languished in a bottle in the spice cabinet for 25 years when I rediscovered them. They were still in perfect condition–soft, spicy, and intensely sweet. The piney characteristic of fresh berries had turned into more of a citrus flavor.

The “speedwell” addition took a bit of research. I’d never heard of it, but it turns out to be a common botanical in England. Almost a weed, Veronica Officinalis seems to grow everywhere. I couldn’t get any, but the local nursery had the related ornamental variety Veronica Spicata. I grew some, dried the leaves and used about .25 grams per liter of finished beverage. In the intervening years I’ve tried both and I find the Spicata flavor much nicer.

I took all the ingredients plus organic evaporated cane juice (another source of glutamic acid) and heated the mixture to steep out the flavors, strained out the berry husks, shredded ginger and citrus zest. I reheated it to pasteurize the juice and let it cool. I dispensed 150 ml of the juice blend into each of 20 half-liter swing top bottles and put these in the freezer. When the juice was frozen I topped the bottles up with carbonated spring water. I keep the bottles chilled until I’m ready to serve the excellent results.

A note on the name: If Fentimans has not trademarked “Orange Jigger” they should, as it is a great name. Fentimans says “jigger” refers to an old English term meaning “good measure.” Seeking a name that would suffice while respecting the Fentimans brand, I saw that “jigger” can also refer to an alleyway in Liverpool. In Nottinghamshire an alleyway is commonly called a “twichell.” I liked the word twichell, so there it is!