I thought pinene was an appropriate compound to start a flavour journey with as it’s perhaps the most distinctive flavour we find in gin, or rather in the juniper berry itself.
Juniper is the primary ingredient used in the gin distillation process (and is in fact a legal necessity). It is rich in pinene, a flavour that is abundant in a hugely varied selection of plants. This perhaps is why it is one of my favourite flavours to play with. The beauty of exploring flavour compounds is that they occur in all sorts of different plants all around the world; once we recognise them, they speak to us in a deeper language.
What is pinene?
Few people will say they have heard of pinene, but most of us will have encountered it at some point. It is part of the terpene group of organic compounds which dominate the chemistry of flavour and aroma. One of pinene’s most recognisable forms is in pine / spruce trees and I presume the word ‘pine’ comes from the word ‘pinene’? Or perhaps pinene from pine. Please feel free to enlighten me if anyone knows otherwise… The real joy of pinene is in the many unexpected places it rears its head and the way these flavours compliment each other and of course particularly work well with gin, because of the juniper connection.
If you are lucky enough to live near a spruce plantation, at the very beginning of summer, the trees are decorated in beautiful bright lime green tips. These tips are where the energy and flavour is at its most active in the tree and it is these that are at the top of my list of favourite wild pinene ingredients and in fact they are one of my all time favourite wild ingredients anywhere.
I would advise you to pick these in abundance when you can and infuse them with gin or cider to celebrate the first flavours of summer. You can also freeze them and celebrate all year round! Add them to sorbet or bread, sprinkle them on fresh ricotta cheese like a herb or juice them with sorrel to create a lime-like intensely flavoured juice.
In Lime, and more.
Let’s stick with lime. Pinene is actually found in the peel as well as in the skin of grapefruits and apples, all of which are widely used as a garnish for gin and as an ingredient in gin-based cocktails.
Alternatives, if you feel like going off-piste, are mango or rose with gin – both funnily enough containing high quantities of pinene.
If that isn’t enough, you will be intrigued to know that apples are also part of the rose family – gin, rose and apple, already a great basis for a drink or a dessert
If you want to keep it simple then look no further than the rosemary bush in your garden, or in my case along the street in the neighbour’s (there’s always plenty for sharing!). Rosemary is packed with pinene.
The French, as always, have been on the scent of pinene for years and make a traditional liqueur called Noyau using young beech leaves – and I’m sure you can guess by now what they might have in them!
As you can see, once you start exploring and recognising, the opportunities for playing with pinene whether through food, or drink, are endless. Which is great for me as I get bored very easily….
I’ll be looking at some of my other favourite flavour compounds in future articles.
Here’s some quick interesting reading about the sort of thing that is going on at a chemical level: