We will be presenting a three part blog series on “Shrubs.” In part one we will define shrubs, in part two we will be showing shrub trends and in part three we will give you some interesting shrub uses in recipes.
The first thing we need to establish is that a “shrub” is not the Yew tree in your back yard or the Boxwood hedge in front of your office!
According to the Orlando Sentinel (September 30, 2014), a shrub is fruit combined with vinegar and sugar. However even that definition is too limiting.
Shrubs originated as far back as the 1600s. According to the website liquor.com (November 13, 2013), shrubs were originally used to preserve fruits on long voyages or in storage in Colonial times.
They have come back into prominence for many reasons. First of all, shrubs taste remarkably good; they stimulate the mouth and are refreshing in hot weather. Second, there has lately been a lot of publicity about the health benefits of apple cider vinegar and people who have tried this vinegar found it doesn’t taste as bad as they had feared! Vinegar consumption is quite common in countries such as Japan and as Japanese culinary trends have expanded in the west, vinegar tasting has become more accepted.
An article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times (May 26, 2012) entitled: “What’s Shaking in the Cocktail Scene? Shrubs.” Indicates that shrubs may have come into greater prominence because there has been a shortage and hence a price increase in limes! Limes are a staple of the mixology scene and bars have been looking for a replacement.
While shrubs are a blend of vegetation with vinegar and sugar, there is quite a bit of variation. The finished ratio of sugar to vinegar is typically between 3:1 and 4:1. This creates a thicker syrup.
In terms of “vegetation,” shrubs can be infused with berries such as blackberries, raspberries or blueberries, “stone” fruits such as peaches and plums or it can be a vegetable infusion such as celery, cucumbers or beets. Shrubs can also be infused with more delicate flavors such as flowers. Lavender is widely used in shrubs, or they be most any kind of herbal flower. It is simply limited to the imagination of the developer.
Vinegars can range from balsamic to apple cider vinegar and sugars can range from honey to white sugar, to molasses to turbinado sugar. Virtually any kind of sugar or vinegar can be used in a shrub and in fact, the flavor profile will change dependent on the mixture. The combinations are limitless.
While shrubs can be homemade in limited quantities, they are typically processed under very rigorous manufacturing practices. In a larger scale manufacturing process there can be much tighter control; a fruit essence can be specifically tailored to an expected flavor profile. Whole fruits or berries locally purchased may show wide variation in flavor. A high quality shrub needs to deliver consistent flavor; this is critical in developing the shrub for wider distribution.