Elderflower, lemongrass and other once exotic flavors are now routine ingredients in cocktail creativity, coming either from house-made infusions or industry supplied spirits and cordials. And while many contemporary bartenders steer clear of flavored vodkas, there’s no denying their influence on mixology and vice versa – does anyone doubt that the recent move to cucumbers as a summertime ingredient influenced Effen to launch a cucumber flavored vodka?
While few bartenders seem to work with acai and pomegranate, for instance, two fruits that a few years ago were touted to be sweeping the nation, the increasing availability of curious and flavorful ingredients are making an impact. Check out any new high-end “ethnic” restaurant: cocktail menus that include coconut milk and water, star fruit and curry leaves are not uncommon anymore.
What’s next? Let’s look at what Sensient Flavors, one of the world’s leading flavor companies, has announced as flavor trend predictions for 2011.
Sensient Flavors' list includes:
Aguaje, (shown at right), a fruit popular in Peru with a bright orange flesh, loads of vitamin A and a sweet taste that has been compared to a carrot;
Berbere, an Ethiopian spice blend of cayenne pepper, allspice, cardamom, cloves, fenugreek, ginger, black pepper and salt;
Borojo, (shown at left), grown predominanty in Colombia and Ecuador, borojo is high in acid and protein, has a dense brown pulp and has been rumored to have aphrodisiac qualities;
Ceylon cinnamon, used widely in England and Mexico, Ceylon cinnamon has a citrus note and is less sweet than cassia cinnamon;
Cherimoya, another South American fruit, has a tropical, custardy flavor and a creamy quality;
Grains of Paradise, a familiar ingredient in gin botanical mixes native to Africa, are dried seeds that offer a complex flavor profile with earthy, woody and citrus notes;
Hibiscus, commonly found in tea mixes, offers a tart, tangy berry flavor;
Pandan leaf, grown in the tropical areas of Asia, is routinely used in Southeast Asian cooking, often with coconut milk;
Yacon, another Andean ingredient, is a tuber related to the Jerusalem artichoke, is fruity, earthy and low calorie, and is often used in teas and syrups especially good for diabetics, as its fructose is indigestible;
Yumberry, the commercial name of the Chinese Yang Mei, the super anti-oxidant yumberry has long had a reputation as a healthful plant in Asia, high in acid and sugar.
What’s in this for the bartender? Well, cherimoya has always been a popular batida ingredient in Dominican restaurants, and many bars already smartly see the allure in fruit-based drinks; the menu from Fruit Bat in Washington, D.C., not only offers virgin and spiked batidas, but also suggests a build-your-own method - select a spirit base, add a modifier and a fresh squeezed fruit juice from a broad selection and bartenders create a made-to-order concoction.
Hibiscus already has a place on many summer drink menus, either as an iced tea or lemonade adjunct, and word is that fresh versions only require the correct spirit to become fast selling adult refreshers. The other flavors above may seem unlikely ingredients at the bar today, but I’m guessing that as soon as someone figures a way to source and serve one of them properly, we’ll be hearing more about some of them soon.