In our last blog, we introduced “shrubs,” the very interesting fruit (or vegetable), vinegar and sugar combinations that have re-emerged on the culinary and mixology scene. In this piece, we will talk about the trends that shrubs are enjoying and why you might want to pay attention to them.
Lemons and limes have long been a staple of the mixology scene, however due to rising costs, substitutes needed to be found. In fact, according to buyers of Mexican limes in the South Texas area, limes have risen in cost approximately 500 percent— from around $20 for a case to more than $100. While that may not be such big news at the grocery, for foodservice and food processors, that is a huge jump. As restaurants began to seek citrus alternatives, a whole new area of flavors and vinegars emerged.
In an article in the Herald News (March 26, 2014) entitled: “Vodka and Vinegar,” they showed that across the country, shrubs are not only providing a lime and lemon substitute, but the infinite combinations of sweet, sour, fruits, berries, flowers and vegetables have made for exciting combinations.
On the east coast it has been reported (referencing article above) that:
“Shrub recipes can vary widely…as with the pomegranate, cabernet vinegar, water and sherry at one Manhattan restaurant versus dark rum with cider, ginger, molasses and apple cider vinegar at another.”
Again, we must note that shrubs can be made with any kind of vinegar, any kind of sweetener and a huge variety of fruits and vegetables. In fact there are now mixology and culinary books on shrubs (“Vinegar Gets Popular in Cocktails”, Nation’s Restaurant News, April 17, 2014).
On the west coast, we are seeing a wide range of fruit and vegetable schrubs. For example, Ricker's Portland restaurant features the "Heat Ray," an attempt at vegetable vinegars, which has a celery flavor with gin, chilies and lime juice. ("Tend: Tangy Vinegary Cocktails", Food & Wine)
In Los Angeles, mixologists are creating summer shrub cocktails of all varieties of vinegars and fruits, for example: “…a tiki-inspired shrub made with coconut vinegar at the Spare Room; a cider apricot bourbon shrub at the Hudson; a strawberry balsamic pisco shrub at the Churchill…new downtown restaurant called Baco Mercat also features rows of jars filled with novel shrub flavors—e.g., persimmon, tangerine-Szechwan, lime-chile and grapefruit-canela.”
San Diego eateries have seen an explosion in the use of shrubs combined with simply syrups, and flavors for cocktails and mocktails include strawberry, rosemary, tangerine, lavender and bay leaf.
Several establishments on the west coast are also displaying jars of shrubs and they even sell shrub flights. At the Zymology 21 restaurant in San Diego customers can order exotic drinks such as a gin and an apple-blueberry shrub topped with meringue and lemon honey. They even have a Bloody Mary drink made with a shrub from balsamic vinegar, beets, carrots and jalapenos.
The shrub is not a new phenomenon; indeed, shrubs allowed sailing ships and merchants to preserve fruit. However, the unique blends and flavors have caused a new class of flavored products. Obviously for distributors and processors, small batch production is not possible; nevertheless, under controlled conditions, using premium vinegar and natural flavors, a whole new category has opened.