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Subscribe To Our Newsletter. Yes, according to the botanist authors of a new book about making your own bitters—those complex flavor extracts used to season a Manhattan or Old Fashioned. They experiment with an array of novel recipes using underappreciated plants found around the world, from tree resin, to osha root, to numbing Szechuan peppercorns. Ira talks to ethnobotanist Selena Ahmed and plant geneticist Ashley DuVal about their recipes, how you can make complex and flavorful tinctures for cocktails and other seasonings, and their not-so-secret ulterior motive to share the stories of how people have used plants—common and rare—for thousands of years.
Plus, mixologist Christian Schaal talks about the art and science of combining flavors. Read an excerpt of the book Botany at the Bar here, and check out the recipes for two bitters-based beverages below! Bright sweet blackberries are complemented by a tangy, grassy tickle on the nose from lemon balm. Blackberries have the tendency to go from very ripe to rotten really quickly. Finding that sweet spot can be difficult, so I recommend using them as soon as you get them. The same goes with any recipe with fresh herbs or vegetables.
The flip side is that using blackberries so quickly will mean that they have more acidity and possibly underdeveloped sweetness compared to the way a super fragile overripe blackberry tastes. To compensate, this recipe calls for slightly less vinegar than is used in the strawberry shrub. Method: Puree lemon balm leaves with the berries and apple cider vinegar until fine enough for some to pass through the mesh of the chinois strainer.
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Stir vigorously and garnish with three or four leaves of lemon balm. Give them a good smack by clapping them between your hands to bring out the essential oils in the leaves.
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The aroma of the freshly clapped leaves and the lemon balm in the syrup should be potent enough to add to the bouquet of berries and vinegar. Mexico generally gets credit for chili pepper origins, but some species of domesticated Capsicum came from the Amazon, namely the exceedingly pungent varieties of habanero. The name itself, habanero, and the lack of a Mayan name suggest it arrived via Cuba.
Let sit for 30 seconds to 2 minutes, depending on desired pungency think of 2 minutes as five-stars spicy. Method: In a shaker, combine all the ingredients except the bitters and then add ice. Shake and strain into a coupe glass and garnish with a pineapple wedge and a dash of Raisin in the Sun Bitters. Get printable postcards of these recipes on Roost Books. Boulder, CO. Ashley DuVal is a cacao geneticist working on ex situ conservation of genetic diversity, and breeding relating to tree architecture and tolerance to abiotic stresses in cacao.
Have you ever ordered an exotic drink at the bar? Or limonene, the citrus flavor of oranges, lemon, and cardamom. How about camphene?
And here's Chef John's main turkey video, aimed directly at first-time turkey roasters:
My next guests want you to get excited about tasting these and a whole host of other flavors that you may never have experienced, from plants you may not have heard of. And we want you to know this by drinking them. But you can also make them with Osha, a root found in the Pacific Northwest that bears, you know, they use that medicinally also.
Or if you like spicy flavors, try the Szechuan Peppercorn, which also has a numbing effect. Ken in Kansas for example, had these suggestions. Another fun one this time of year is hackberries. They are sweet and tasty. What about you? Give us a call. Our number is Or you can tweet us at scifri. Let me bring on my guests.
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Co-author of Botany at the Bar. Welcome, Selena. A lot of great recipes in there. Ashley DuVal, a plant geneticist and co-author of Botany at the Bar. Welcome, Ashley. Selena, what are bitters at their essence? Bitters is a really broad definition. Is essentially botanical extractions that pull out the flavor and therapeutic properties of plants. And people have been extracting botanicals from their surrounding biodiversity for centuries, actually thousands of years, in civilizations across the globe.
And these extractions historically, very much had a medicinal function as well as other attributes. For example, botanicals were extracted in ancient Egypt. Were used for medicinal properties such as for digestion, but were also used for other functions, such as for promoting vivid dreams. And were used topically as well as incense.
And more recently, bitters have really come to be associated with cocktails for recreation. However, historically, cocktails really were for therapeutic reasons. And the earliest definitions of cocktails always had bitters in them. Were there any two cultures that you both, Selena and Ashley, focused in on? To focus in on what their bitters were? One common thread that we all noticed doing research in very different parts of the world, Selena working quite a bit in China, Asia, and the Himalayas.
We noticed that everywhere we would travel for our ethnographic surveys and field research, often the households would have bottles of roots and herbs infusing on their countertops. Or when Rachel was in Togo in Senegal, the village chiefs would invite her in to join over a cup of bitters. And so, rather than them necessarily being the focus of our research at the time, they were this uniting thread that seem to pop up very persistently in all of the different places that we would go.
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And as a result of that, we started to use them as a tool to communicate our research as well. So there is about , species of flowering plants, and out of that about 25, have been used for food and medicine throughout history. So you can really begin to understand the huge breath of biodiversity and plants that really come into play in making these bitters from around the world.
And you know, some bitters have many— and recipes that we create have many plants in them. Maybe 10 or 20 or Whereas other bitters really might just be a single ingredient. And really, understanding the variation and complexity of flavor of just one botanical species is also really rewarding.
What is there about bitters and not sweet or salty or sour flavors? We have about 25 different bitter taste receptors as opposed to just one or two for sweet, or salty, or sour. So, on the taste side, it has a lot of importance on the botanical side as well. This is a very diverse class of compounds that plants typically use as an aversion strategy. A lot of people interested with their own ideas.
Hi, Gabriel. It was literally just eucalyptus flavor. It was— and they used to mix it also with peppermint. So they had eucalyptus or eucalyptus peppermint. In fact, we have several cocktails that use different species of eucalyptus. And in fact, one of the oldest, fermented beverages from Australia was made out of eucalyptus gum. So it has a long tradition of use in alcohol and bitters. My wife and I enjoy growing what are called ground cherries.
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They grow these little, tiny, little versions of tomatillos. Sometimes as big as a basic marble-sized fruit. And the fruit inside is a yellow to greenish berry and it tastes like— the best way to describe it is sort of a baked pineapple. Better coffee. Better ice cream.
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