Is all Lime Juice the same?

There seems to be some confusion for the newly enthusiastic home bartender as to what exactly is meant by lime juice – do we literally mean only the freshly squeezed juice of a lime or could you use one of the green lime bottles littering the shelves at the supermarket?

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Why use lime at all?

When we make cocktails we are aiming to take a selection of different ingredients and mix them together, producing something that (hopefully) tastes better than when we started. To get good flavours we need to make balanced use of some of the 5 primary tastes – sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami. I’ll go into a detailed explanation of each of these in an upcoming post but for now we are interested in the main taste associated with lime – sourness.

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When drinking freshly squeezed lime juice you notice a strong sour taste on your tongue – this is because limes contain a relatively high level of citric acid which our bodies note as being sour. A sour acidic flavour, when balanced with other tastes (such as sweetness from sugar) adds to the overall depth of the cocktail so if we use it correctly we can give our drinks a crisp, refreshing flavour.

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Fresh squeezed Lime

Easily the most important lime for us – the vast majority of cocktails that you’ll come across on this blog referring to lime juice are asking for freshly squeezed lime juice. Buy a bunch of limes from your local grocer, wash them, cut them in half and squeeze with a citrus press or reamer to extract all the juicy, natural goodness. Real, fresh limes will provide the acidic bite that we are looking for and provide a more natural flavour in the final drink.

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Depending on where you live these can be pretty costly so try and buy a citrus press to make sure you can get as much juice as possible out of each lime. A tip; use the palm of your hand to push on the lime and roll it around on your bench a few times before juicing and you’ll get more out of it. Expect to get around 15ml juice per half lime/ 30ml per lime.

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‘Fresh’ Lime bottles

Often found in the soft drink section of your local convenience store or supermarket, these squeezed lime bottles tend to contain concentrated lime juice that has commonly had preservatives and other bits and pieces added. While these bottles may save a few seconds over the hand-squeezing of a real lime, unfortunately they tend to fail on the taste test, generally lacking the true sour or acidic bite as fresh lime juice and are therefore best left on the shelf.

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Roses Lime cordial, other brands of Lime cordials

Lime cordials were originally a mix of concentrated lime juice and sugar although the ingredient list on many modern bottles seems to have grown somewhat with a mix of added preservatives and colourings. Hmm. But anyway…

 

The original and best known is Rose’s lime cordial, invented by a Mr Lauchlin Rose in 1867 in part as a way to help British sailors in their fight against scurvy, a nasty disease bought on by a diet lacking vitamin C.

 

Sensible medical types had discovered that limes and other citrus fruits were a good natural source of vitamin C and therefore helped in the fight against scurvy and quickly pushed for laws to ensure that all ships carried a ready supply of citrusy goodness for their sailors. While good in theory, problems arose quickly – citrus fruits were not always easy to source, and even when you could find them they were not particularly appetising when they’d been stored in the hold of a ship for a few weeks. Added to this, drinking straight lime juice is not particularly appealing at the best of times and while it could (and was) made more attractive by adding it to the daily rum or gin rations it was still something to be drunk out of necessity rather than choice. Time for Mr Rose.

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Lauchlin Rose had a business supplying provisions for ships and after a bit of experimentation discovered that a mix of concentrated lime juice with sugar allowed him to create a cordial which would provide the necessary vitamin C but in a sweetened, more palatable form than simple lime juice. Added to this the lime and sugar combination was stable when bottled and could be stored for lengthy periods without going off. Created just in time for the Merchant Shipping Act of 1868, which made the carrying of citrus a legal requirement, Rose was on to a winner.

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Nothing is perfect however. The sugar that helped so much in creating the cordial is often its downfall when used in cocktails. Remembering from earlier, the main reason we use limes in good cocktails is to add an acidic bite from the citric acid contained in the juice. Unfortunately the sugar that is used to help stabilise the cordial weakens this acidity, ultimately giving a kind of sweet general lime flavour but without the acid that we really want. This results in an unbalanced and (often) unpleasant drink when compared to fresh squeezed lime.

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Conclusion

Unless specifically stated, use freshly squeezed lime juice for cocktails – your drinks will taste better. Avoid buying pre-squeezed as squeezing by hand will result in better juice and a better drink.

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Lesson – Making a Gimlet

A real classic cocktail now, we are going to start by going against what I’ve just been telling you and using Rose’s cordial rather than fresh lime.

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You will need

  • 50ml Gin
  • 20ml Roses Lime Cordial

Gin and Rose's

Method

Stir in glass

Nice and easy, this can be made in the glass or stirred in your mixing glass and strained into a cocktail glass. We are going to do the ‘stir in glass’ method today.

Take a rocks glass, old fashioned glass or similar and fill with ice. Measure in your gin and lime cordial and use your bar spoon to stir the ice and liquid until it is well mixed and cold – this should take around 30-40 seconds. Garnish with a lime slice and drink, feeling happy in the knowledge that you are tackling the fight against scurvy head-on.

Finished Gimlet.

 

Variations to try

After making a traditional Gimlet, make another but replace the Roses lime cordial with freshly pressed lime juice. Prepare in the same manner and taste the difference. You should notice that the new fresh lime Gimlet is very sour from the citric acid in the lime juice. To improve the taste add a small amount of simple syrup and stir – the sugar should help bring the drink back into balance and improve the overall taste.

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There you go – more than you’d expect to read about lime juice on any given day. Try making the drinks and let me know in the comments section how they turned out.

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// David