Homemade Lemon Syrup
Homemade lemon syrup is significantly better than store-bought lemon syrup. Most store-bought lemon syrups contain essential lemon oil, citric acid, simple syrup, and yellow food dye. Not that there is anything wrong with that, as those ingredients make good lemon syrup, but one made with real lemon juice as the base is more complex with a deeper and more flavorful taste. Remember, too, this is a syrup, so it should be sweet. The desire with lemon syrup is often to make it a little sour, but that can be done by adding lemon juice to a drink’s recipe.
Making Fruit Syrups With Real Fruit Juices
It’s not always possible to make fruit syrup with actual fruit juice, but the ones made with real juice are much better. Many mass-produced syrups are simple syrups flavored with a combination of esters, essential oils, and extracts. Esters are acid and alcohol combinations whose byproducts taste like fruit to humans. For example, ethanol and butanoic acid bond into ethyl butanoate, which tastes like pineapples. Naturally occurring esters in beer production produce its characteristic fruit flavors. When esters are used to flavor foods, they are listed as artificial flavors. Flavors made from essential oils and extracts are listed as natural flavors. For example, those bright red, clear cherry syrups at stores are just simple syrup with bitter almond, cherry stone extract, and red food dye. No juice at all.
This isn’t a bad thing. Essential oils have a fantastic flavor and is the preferred method for making herb and spice flavored syrups; some prefer artificial ester flavors to real ones. I LOVE artificial grape flavor, which is methyl anthranilate. But these tend to be one-dimensional flavors, making them easy to recognize as unnatural. Real fruit juice has a complex flavor: water-soluble flavors, metals, salts, bitter flavors, acids, carbohydrates, etc. A syrup made with a combination of real fruit juice, essential oils, and extracts will have a rich, complex flavor that no average store-bought syrup can match.
When To Add Citric Acid To A Syrup.
Adding a small amount of citric acid will significantly enhance the flavor of your fruit-based syrups and make their flavor pop even when diluted. Here is a quick explanation of balancing flavors.
Traditional flavor structure is broken into four groups (ignoring umami as it’s not applicable here). The four groups are salty, sour, sweet, and bitter. And it is the interplay of these four groups that create a flavor profile. Flavor profiles can be balanced or unbalanced. Being unbalanced is not a bad thing. It’s just a choice, like adding a salted rim to a margarita or sweet and sour sauce, but a balanced profile is usually the goal. Salty, sour, and sweet all counter each other in a flavor triangle, with bitter being the odd one out as only sweet balances it. Now back to adding acids to syrups.
In the case of lemon syrup, a little citric acid balances the sweetness and makes for a more noticeable lemon flavor. if the only flavor is sweet then it overwhelms the taste buds and inhibits your ability to taste the lemon. A little acid will cut through the sweetness and activate additional taste buds, resulting in a more complete tasting experience. In the case of lemon syrup, it’s not quite as necessary as with cherry syrup, orange syrup, etc. but so much sugar is added and the syrup is reduced enough that a little additional citric acid helps. But again, it’s not fully necessary.
When To Add A Foaming Agent To Syrups.
Realistically all syrups should have a foaming agent. There are many drinks that should be cold, still, and foamless, but that can be controlled by how the drink is mixed. It was typical for high-end sodas in the late 1800s to have a nice foam on top. Similar to high-end molecular gastronomy restaurants today, a nice soda fountain would ensure that some drinks had an air or foam on top as you sipped your drink. The foam provides both a creamy texture and olfactory stimulation. These were called foaming agents, and in the 1800s, soap bark or other extracts were added to syrups to provide foam when shaken and mixed with soda water. A popular one today in the United States is propylene glycol, and while it is “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) in the US, it is banned for consumption in the EU. Another modern alternative, and the one I use, is adding lecithin to my syrups. Lecithin is flavor neutral, a natural emulsifier that provides a nice foam, and is often taken as a health supplement. It is also the foaming agent many high-end restaurants use to make foams for food. So I’ll add 0.5% of the total syrups weight of lecithin powder to my syrups as a foaming agent.
Again many drinks contain syrup that should be foamless, like a mint julep, an old-fashioned sazerac, etc., but that can be controlled by stirring the drink instead of shaking it.