Maximizing Citrus, Part 2: Artificial Juice
Updated: Feb 20
PLEASE NOTE: These recipes have been updated after experimenting with Super Juice. This original article is here mostly because of the deep dive into acids and the R&D process, but if you want to jump straight to the Pseudo Citrus recipes for Lemon and Lime, check out the 2023 recipes!
Note: Part 3 of my Maximizing Citrus series has dropped which updates these recipes and provides additional recipes for yuzu, Meyer lemon, and more! I recommend you read through this article before jumping ahead.
In my last post, I promised to show you how to yield 8 ounces of "juice" out of 1 piece of citrus. After weeks of experimentation, I landed on a solution for both home bartenders and sustainably-minded cocktail bars. While I'm not the first to figure out ways to lengthen citrus or acid-adjust water to emulate juice, I do believe I've created the best tasting, most versatile, and one of the most straightforward solutions to date.
With bars closed and most of us forced to concoct libations for ourselves, the home bartender's most significant hurdle comes in the form of citrus. Lemons and limes aren't cheap, and not everyone loves or needs the tactile ritual of juicing, especially with its subsequent cleanup. Maybe you don't want to spend as much time prepping and cleaning as you spend enjoying your cocktail. Perhaps you want a daiquiri, but the only limes you can find are overpriced, out of season, and may not even yield enough juice for a single cocktail.
Ah yes, now I see why people go out to bars.
But wait, you can't even do that right now in most places due to Covid-19. Many bars and restaurants have scraped by in recent months by selling pre-diluted, bottled cocktails either in single serving or large batch format. Many of these establishments are selling shelf-stable, juice-less, stirred drinks as citrus also happens to be a challenge for even the professional bartender. Citrus is expensive, and the labor required for juicing it even more so. Bars and restaurants without the means to serve individual drinks for carry-out have generally avoided batching cocktails with citrus because of the way oxidization changes their flavor.
Enter: Operation Lemon Aid and Lime Support.
Citrus fruits consist of more than just citric acid. Lemons also contain malic acid, ascorbic acid, oxalic acid, tartaric acid, and lactic acid (as do limes, oranges, and grapefruits in differing ratios). There's also salt, sugar, and sulphides. Most importantly, citrus contains citral and limonene, which give the fruit, juice, and oil its scent and flavor.
Here's a quick guide to the acids and oils we'll be discussing. Keep in mind; a lower pH is more acidic than a higher pH. For example, citric acid (pH 2.2) is more acidic than malic acid (pH 3.3).
Citric Acid: Tart and tastes like lemon. This is a common additive in many processed foods with any citrus or acid component. (pH 2.2)
Malic Acid: Tart and tastes like green apple. (pH 3.3)
Ascorbic Acid: Best known as Vitamin C. (pH between 1.1 and 2.5)
Oxalic Acid: Sour and generally flavorless. It's responsible for the gritty feeling you get on your tongue and teeth from rhubarb and spinach. (pH 3.3)
Tartaric Acid: The acid found in grapes, bananas, and tamarind. It is often used to enhance the flavor of grape and citrus-flavored products. (pH 3.9)
Lactic Acid: A sour acid found in yogurt, cheese, and other dairy products. It can provide a smooth, almost creamy texture. (pH 3.5)
Phosphoric Acid: A flavorless, odorless acid which provides neutral acidity. Most commonly found in carbonated sodas. (pH relative to dilution, typically sold at 85% with pH 1.5)
Citral: A terpenoid with strong lemon odor and flavor. Found in citrus fruits as well as lemongrass and lemon balm. (pH between 7.4 and 7.8)
Limonene: Smells of tangerine and lemon, tastes of grapefruit. The main component of citrus peel oil. (pH relative to dilution)
To give you an idea of how much of these acids various fruits contain, refer to this chart from the International Journal of Life Sciences. Measurements in this chart are in grams per liter (g/l).
Problems and Solutions
Let's take a look at three popular methods for creating artificial lime juice. The first and simplest is Dave Arnold's lime acid solution, a 2:1 combination of citric acid and malic acid in water. The second, Ryan Chetiyawardana's White Lyan fake lime juice, takes the acid solution approach to the next level with the addition of tartaric and phosphoric acid plus a bit of salt. The third is Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffith's Trash Tiki citrus stock, which boils citrus husks, acid-adjusts the water, and hits it with a bit of sugar.
You ask: if there are already several different ways to create artificial citrus, why bother with this project? Because none of these work well as a consistent, stable substitute for fresh juice.
A simple acid solution is one-dimensional in flavor and lacks texture and viscosity. It just isn't complex or convincing enough. It omits several acids found in real citrus, has the texture of water, has no odor (which is critical to taste), and no citrus oils to provide distinct flavor. It technically works, but it's never satisfying. This Punch article on acid-adjusted citrus even makes a note of the thin texture and suggests adding curacao, an orange liqueur, to fake lime juice to compensate. Delicious, yes – but lime juice doesn't have orange juice in it, so I consider that an entirely different compound juice alternative.
White Lyan's fake lime solves some of the issues of the simple acid solution by much more closely emulating the variety of acids found in real citrus. Using tartaric acid amplifies the perception of “real” citrus on the palate while the flavorless phosphoric acid lengthens the other flavors. The addition of salt is genius, as it improves mouthfeel slightly and tempers some of the “attack” of the concentrated acids. Still, this recipe more or less tricks your brain into thinking you're tasting lime juice without providing actual lime flavor.
Trash Tiki's citrus stock addresses the most significant complaints of the previous two options. Boiling citrus husks extracts actual citrus flavor, and adding sugar provides viscosity. This is the method I'm most familiar with, as Pouring Ribbons adopted their lime stock recipe – though, full disclosure, I often doubled the amount of sugar, citric acid, and malic acid they call for after tasting it against real juice. While this recipe only uses citric and malic acids, the stock base provides enough residual acid and oil to much better emulate real juice. It won't fool anyone in a blind taste test, but at least it contains real citrus aromatics and flavor.
The biggest problem with the citrus stock, and a common complaint about many Trash Tiki recipes, is by design. Their recipes focus on reusing spent product or making use of components typically considered waste in bars, not necessarily creating the most delicious products from the start. Trash Tiki was created to provide solutions to problems that shouldn't exist in the first place – namely, the gross waste and lack of environmental consideration in cocktail bars. Their recipes assume bars will always produce a certain amount of waste, and their solution is to wring every last bit of flavor from this waste and have fun with it, as per their branding.
That's cool, but because their recipe requires you to boil citrus husks to get all the good oil in the peels, you also get leftover juice and boiled pith, which adds bitterness to the stock. These more volatile components will change flavor over time as they oxidize.
I love the idea of stretching produce to maximize its potential, but the citrus stock was designed as a band-aid to cover a wound that plagues the food and beverage industry. It's a good solution for a particular kind of bar program, but less so for the home bartender. Still, Trash Tiki's work is inspiring, and my frustrations with using their citrus stock at Pouring Ribbons led to the creation of my own artificial citrus juices.
Acid solutions aren't great, but they're always consistent. Trash Tiki's stock, much like real juice, will become bitter and acrid within a week. Neither is ideal.
Most fake juices work best in punches where acid plays more of a balancing role, and texture won't matter as much. Some common uses for these artificial replacements include frozen drinks, drinks with fatty coconut cream or heavier fruit purees, and carbonated, batched drinks (which typically prohibit the use of fresh, non-clarified juice). Artificial citrus juices are punchy, direct vehicles for concentrated acids that get the job done in balancing cocktails, but lack realistic viscosity and authentic fruit flavor.
To review: simple solutions are too simple, provide no real fruit flavor, and lack viscosity. White Lyan's super-solution is an improvement, but still lacks authentic fruit flavor and only incrementally improves the texture. Trash Tiki's citrus stock is an improvement over both, but still falls short and lasts less than a week.
My Solution: Oleo Saccharum
As I discussed in my previous post, the flavor of citrus comes from its oils – mainly the terpenoids citral and limonene.
By using an oleo saccharum to extract those oils, you start with the thing every other solution lacks: concentrated real fruit flavor which won't oxidize or change. Trash Tiki's citrus stock requires you to boil the husks, but will start extracting a bitter pith flavor before the oil in the peels is fully extracted. Beginning with an oleo saccharum solves that problem by focusing on the only thing of worth: the peels.
From there, I experimented with several acids (purchased from Bell's Brewery, which changed my life with their Two-Hearted Ale 15 years ago).
I immediately nixed oxalic acid: there's less than 1g/L in both lemon and lime juice, and I wanted to avoid reproducing the gritty mouthfeel it can give. I dropped ascorbic acid from the mix as well since it's also less than 1g/L in either fruit. Next, I eliminated phosphoric acid (as called for in White Lyan's recipe) since it provides no flavor, and I still had plenty of other acids to work with.
That left me with citric acid, malic acid, tartaric acid, and lactic acid.
Citric and malic acid are the two most abundant acids in any citrus, so they were bound to provide my foundation. While lemons and limes contain less than 1g/L of tartaric acid, the fact that it enhances the flavor of real citrus meant that it was worth keeping around to amplify my oleo saccharum.
I experimented with lactic acid up until the end but ultimately found it unnecessary considering the amount of sugar I used provided a satisfying, authentic texture.
Also, everything is better with salt, and I found it essential to both help the citrus oils pop and dampen the bite of the pure acids.
Once I narrowed down my acids, determined their ratios, and created my oleo saccharum, the next step was to combine everything with boiled water and steep it. This both emulsified everything and extracted the maximum amount of oil per citrus peel. After a few weeks and lots of failed attempts, I finally landed on a recipe for both lemon and lime juices.
The major difference between my recipes and many other alternative citrus solutions is how successful they are in shaken sours without having to rebalance or rejigger your recipes. The juices are sharp, but this actually aids in shaken sours remaining bright and balanced as they warm. My recipes won't noticeably oxidize or change flavor over time, and they have a shelf life of at least two weeks.
These artificial juices are not a substitute for fresh-squeezed juice, but they're the best option out there, easy to make, and they're damn tasty to boot.
The following recipes will yield over 16oz of juice each.
Lemon Aid (2023 recipe)
30g lemon peel
27g citric acid
3g malic acid
1g sea salt
Lime Support (2023 recipe)
30g lime peel
24g citric acid
12g malic acid
1g sea salt
The first thing you'll need to do is create a small oleo saccharum. I recommend doing this in a mason jar or other glass vessel. I didn't have access to one at the time, but a 16oz container is ideal.
When peeling your fruit, aim for zero to minimal pith. After peeling, you won't have further use for your real citrus, so go ahead and juice it, juggle with it, etc.
Combine your peels with sugar, powdered acids, and salt, then seal the container. I suggest using about 30g of peels, but as fruit can be variable, you should be fine with the peels of 3-4 pieces of fruit – the more, the better.
Allow your oleo saccharum to sit for at least 6 hours.
When your oleo saccharum is ready, combine it with 500g of room temperature water. Stir until sugar has dissolved.
Combine everything in a blender and blend for 15–30 seconds depending on the blender. Strain the peels through cheesecloth, bottle your juice, and refrigerate. It will keep fresh for at least two weeks. Now, go enjoy a Jack Rose or 20 (because that's how many you can make now)!
And don't forget to check out Part 3 of this series which explores new techniques and citrus fruits including yuzu and Meyer lemon!