Maximizing Citrus Part 3: Beyond Lemon & Lime
Updated: Feb 20
Here it is, folks.
Save for a single Instagram post to announce the launch of the blog last March, I haven’t done much in the way of promotion for Corpse Revived. Instead, with a watchful eye on Google Analytics, I have tracked organic interest in the blog. I want to know what you want to know.
Thousands of readers from over 90 different countries have stumbled upon Corpse Revived over the past year. And you know what most people want?
Artificial Citrus! Lemon Aid and Lime Support, my acid-adjusted oleo saccharum-based recipes for lemon juice and lime juice are not only the most significant drivers of traffic to Corpse Revived, but they’re popping up in bars across the USA to the French West Indies to Taiwan.
Last year, bartender Nicolas Moulin reached out to me about the launch of a sustainability-focused cocktail bar in St. Barthelmy which built its bar program solely around the waste of other bars and restaurants on the island. Between adapting Trash Tiki recipes (avocado pit falernum) and his own formulations (sweet vermouth made from flat coke and ginger beer) there was still one crucial missing piece of the low/no waste puzzle, even on a tropical island: citrus. I was happy to provide solutions to those problems to help round out the menu:
Additionally, I’ve been able to incorporate these recipes into my cocktail consultation. Turns out clients like saving money, especially if it means they get to slap that “Sustainable” sticker on something. So what do I do with this information? Raise my consulting rates? Lock these recipes behind a paywall?
How about instead, I improve the recipes and continue to make them freely available to any and all amateur and professional bartenders? This particular project has never been about money (other than saving some), and more importantly I knew these recipes weren’t and still aren’t perfect. There’s tons of space for wiggle room and improvement. This is where community input comes in.
As I mentioned in the original post, my artificial citrus juice recipes provide a number of solutions for everyone from the home bartender to high-volume cocktail bars, especially for pre-batched and bottled cocktails. Dozens of bartenders have informed me my recipes are “nearly indiscernible” from real citrus in just about every reasonable application they’ve been applied to.
But different bars have different needs, and that is where we turn to Hong Kong bartender Morris Chang.
I worked under Chang last January & February while he was Head Bartender at Ounce in Taipei. While Taiwan has fared incredibly well during the pandemic, the country recently went into lockdown, forcing bars and restaurants to universally shift to carry-out service models. Morris has been a strong proponent of Lemon Aid and Lime Support, and at least a handful of bars have adopted or adapted the recipes:
When I created my citrus solutions, I did so in my small Brooklyn apartment during the height of the pandemic restrictions in the USA. I knew there was room for improvement, but until very recently it seemed most bartenders have been content to either use my recipes as is or simply adjust the ratios of powdered acids to personal preference.
We can thank Morris and his R&D across multiple bars in Taipei for the 2021 updates to the Lemon Aid and Lime Support recipes. He’s been working with bartenders for several months using my recipes as a jumping-off point. Some of the results are incredible (they’re distilling this stuff into a non-perishable product!), but I’m most concerned with the simple, practical approach.
Thankfully, Morris has found a few ways to improve the original recipes so they will taste better and last longer!
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
Please refer to my Maximizing Citrus Part 2: Artificial Juices post for detailed step by step instructions on how to concoct these recipes. While very little has changed to the acid ratios (Lemon Aid saw a slight increase in citric acid while Lime Support saw a boost in both citric and malic acid), the changes to the recipes and techniques make a subtle, but substantial difference.
Now for some tips from Morris:
Cool Down, Slow Down
The biggest piece of advice Morris offered is simply to nix the hot boiled water and replace it with room temperature water and some patience. Like...an extra two minutes of patience at most. This keeps the batch fresher and brighter longer, while minimizing oxidized flavors.
Honestly, I’m a little embarrassed for not figuring this one out on my own, as I generally do my best to avoid heat when prepping most cocktail ingredients.
Citrus pith bitterness in oleo saccahrums and cordials is something I have embraced in the past - I’d rather have a little extra naturally occurring “bite” in my lime cordial rather than acid-adjust it as is the current trend. After all, lime cordial was originally made by macerating whole limes in sugar during long sea voyages so naval sailors could more easily consume their overproof (Navy Strength) gin. Still, that was the 1800s and maybe not everyone needs such brutish flavors in their cocktails.
Like American West Coast bartenders, Taiwanese bartenders vastly prefer fresh-squeezed citrus to oxidized, pre-shift squeezed juice. More importantly, the overall sensitivity to bitterness is more acute. The stereotype of the flavor-blasted palate of American East Coast bartender is real, and even I admit to gravitating toward high-proof spirits and bitter, punchy ingredients and builds. I mean, I do have a Malort tattoo after all.
In early 2020 Morris Chang and I ran through the menu at the newly opened To Infinity and Beyond where we engaged in a daiquiri comparison with bartenders Mars Chang and Barnett Yueh. I found myself the lone champion for slightly oxidized lime juice over freshly-squeezed, though I maintain the choice of rum matters just as much as the age of the juice. (Chang went on to represent Taiwan in this year’s Diageo World Class competition, so what the heck do I know?)
All this is to say, you better be damn careful to ensure you’re not incorporating ANY pith into your oleo-saccharum. Grapefruit and lime in particular can become unpleasantly bitter, especially as the oleo saccharum macerates. It can be a tedious process, but for this particular application it's absolutely worth it.
Speaking of the oleo saccharum, Morris suggests freezing it for up to 3 months before adding water, acid, and salt. This is mostly irrelevant for home use, but should be helpful for bars worried about the shelf life of their artificial citrus. This is even more important when considering sustainability and seasonality of citrus fruits. Most citrus is best in the winter so to be able to utilize winter fruits like Meyer Lemons in the summer helps sidestep the hurdles of seasonality.
Morris has found 1-2 weeks to be the maximum life for the finished product, but other bartenders have reported at least 2 weeks of stability. I can’t see a reason to keep a small batch around any longer than this anyway.
While the juice is still functional, I have found the flavors fall flat after 3 weeks, probably on account of the flavorful oils naturally dissipating over time.
Adjust Your Dosage
Lastly, and this should go without saying, feel free to adjust the ratios of your powdered acids. Citrus from different locations or seasons will taste different. I performed much of my Lime Support R&D with mostly in-season Persian limes from Mexico. Morris pointed out that limes in Taiwan are typically a little more sour than what I was used to in the US so he upped the malic acid. I’ve incorporated his changes by slightly increasing the citric acid in the 2021 update.
One of the most common questions I get is “Where are the recipes for X?!” where X is anything from white, pink, and ruby grapefruit juices, to orange juice, pomelo, Key lime, Meyer lemon, and even yuzu.
Well, you asked for ‘em, you got ‘em. Kind of. Mostly.
Using the foundation of Lemon Aid and Lime Support as a template, it didn’t take much effort to nail Meyer Lemon juice.
Meyer Lemon Aid Recipe
30g Meyer lemon peel
23g citric acid
2g malic acid
1g sea salt
Cool, now you’ve got yourself a pint of “Meyer lemon juice.” My Meyer Lemon (Aid?) recipe is awesome - it tastes like Meyer lemon juice! But you know what I don’t really want to have to balance a cocktail around? Meyer lemon juice. It’s sweeter and less acidic than standard Lisbon or Eureka lemons.
But if you make your oleo saccharum with Meyer Lemon peels and acid-adjust it to functionally work as regular lemon juice, you get the best of both worlds. So while the above recipe is a damn close 1:1, I would instead urge you to amplify the acid to more closely emulate standard lemon juice for its functionality and ease of substitution in cocktails.
Now, here’s the deal with much of the fun citrus you’ve been asking for: these are not practical primary acids for cocktails and therefore there is little need to make perfect replicas. That’s not to say I haven’t done so (or come pretty darn close), but I found myself wondering why I was spending so much time working on this when Lemon Aid and Lime Support provide the only two templates you’ll really need.
Key Limes? Instead of using the Lime Support recipe, use Lemon Aid’s ratios with a key lime oleo saccharum to emulate the sweeter, less acidic lime. P.S. Have fun zesting/peeling all those little buddies.
Key Lime Support Recipe
30g key lime peel
12g citric acid
12g malic acid
1g sea salt
Yuzu is trickier. First, it’s incredibly difficult to find in the USA. At around $3-$5 per individual fruit, they are more than twice as expensive as the most ethically and sustainably sourced, Fair Trade certified lemon and limes. If you manage to get your hands on fresh yuzu, you better make the most of it, which obviously means giving it some Lemon Aid.
Just for perspective, this is what $3 (plus tax) will get you. I was able to get about 4.3g of peel for an oleo saccharum and about 1 tsp of juice. Right off the bat, you can surmise this will not be an economical or sustainable solution. Still, I scoured over a dozen specialty importers and grocers in NYC and San Francisco so I felt obligated to see this one through.
As for the acid ratio, Yuzu has about the same malic acid content as a Persian lime (6.18 g/l vs. 6.12 g/l) and less citric acid than either lemon or lime at only 44.7 g/l. You can refer to Part 2 of this Citrus Series for a full breakdown of the acid content of various citrus fruits.
Yuzu Lemon Aid
30g yuzu peel
20g citric acid
10g malic acid
1g sea salt
Orange You Glad?
As for orange, grapefruit, and pomelo juices, don’t bother. Some citrus is simply best as an oleo saccharum or cordial. Since these are rarely the sole or primary acid in a sour, you’ll probably end up acid-adjusting to taste for whatever specific purpose you need them for.
These fruits produce enough juice where I don’t see any real advantage to recreating the sweeter, faintly acidic, watery juices. Depending on your application, pasteurized juices may work just as well or better. Heck, fresh orange juice is a maligned cocktail ingredient, so why bother making a worse version of it?
This doesn’t mean you’re without hope though! You’re better off making flavorful cordials with the peels and juice rather than trying to stretch flavors which aren’t very concentrated to begin with.
I understand a huge percentage of you out there are using these recipes in draft and carbonated cocktails on account of their clarity and consequential ease of carbonation. This is where you would make use of the oleo saccharum: what you really want are the citrus oils.
If you choose to go the cordial route using my recipes from Part 1 of this Citrus Series, you may want to clarify your juice before combining it with your oleo saccharum. Remember: the more cloudy and opaque your ingredients, the more difficult it will be to carbonate your cocktail.
A Note on Sustainability
The ultimate purpose of these citrus recipes is to help provide sustainability within the cocktail world. Sustainability is a bit of a dirty buzzword which often points to little more than optics-based practices or virtue signaling in this industry. A truly sustainable industry would see fair wages and labor practices in the agricultural sector where literally every organic ingredient in your cocktail glass comes from.
In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, bar and restaurant sustainability looks a little more like viability and survival. Lemon Aid and Lime Support save businesses money by both reducing the cost of citrus and the cost of the labor associated with citrus prep.
I've said this before, but wringing a little more from your citrus is quite literally the lowest hanging fruit on the sustainability ladder. These recipes can and should be used when considering seasonality. I spent weeks scouring Japanese groceries and specialty and importers in NYC and San Francisco in search of fresh yuzu, only to discover that it's out of season. When I started this write-up back in January, Meyer Lemons were abundant (read: in season), but as I prepared to publish the piece months later, I found it near impossible to responsibly source them.
While I could have bought these Meyer Lemons for a Meyer Lemon Aid, a better option would be to simply batch some oleo saccharum with fresh, seasonal fruit and freeze it until I'm ready to turn it into “juice.” This same approach should realistically be applied to the citrus we unfortunately no longer even recognize as seasonal such as lemons and limes.
And beyond seasonality, the stretching of these citrus fruits and juices means that bars and restaurants shouldn't, or at the very least don't HAVE to, resort to purchasing the cheapest citrus sourced from the least sustainable suppliers: i.e. pretty much every mass distributor which relies on the labor of the underpaid and overworked. A single Fair Trade lime costs around $1.25-$1.50. This is a huge difference in cost for an operator who expects to pay closer to 5-10 cents each, but when you can use Lemon Aid or Lime Support to get an additional 8 oz of juice out of every piece of fruit, that cost levels out. Obviously this approach doesn't work for every kind of program, but it's an option for many.
Chicago-based bartender Josefina Aletky of the catering group Jordan's Food of Distinction runs a cocktail program where half of the drinks use fresh citrus juice and the other half make use of Lemon Aid and Lime Support to round out the menu. This hybrid model can and should be applied to as much of a menu as possible, especially anywhere with draft or slushie cocktails. Just something to think about.
Rest assured, this won’t be the last time I visit this topic. Please let me know if you have any ideas, suggestions, or improvements. Share this with anyone who may find it useful. And heck, if you’ve found these recipes and techniques helpful, I’d encourage you to throw me a tip via Paypal (link below), Venmo (@newratcity), or Cash ($zombi386)!