The Louche effect and anethole


Back when it was considered sophisticated to drink Stella (yep there really was a time), other drinks from that mystical place known only as, “abroad”, seemed to be the height of sophistication. Being a distinguished fellow, (from the edge of an estate with hardly any schooling), I’d neck my fancy French drink – a Pernod and Black – alongside my pint of Stella and make out I was a fine gentleman stepping out into Northampton’s society. On the odd occasion when I couldn’t even afford the extra splash of blackcurrant, I’d instead add water and always marvel at the way it turned cloudy, some might say milky. “What alchemy is this?” I’d declare to my gentleman’s club (the pub) and they would politely clap with delight (ignore me). Little did I know that I was conducting a worthwhile experiment; I was producing the louche effect.

The Louche effect shows what happens when a drink containing anethole has water added to it. It goes from a stable liquid to one that is going through a state of precipitation – the scientific way of describing a cloudy liquid, a liquid that is trying to come out of solution. What is happening is that the two liquids are trying to separate; eventually, they will. Kevin Liu, the author, and cocktail-science genius, suggests the best way of describing this is to think about what happens when you shake up oil and water. It will go cloudy at first then both liquids will start to separate. The cloudiness in the Louche effect shows this in action. Both liquids will, eventually, separate, however, don’t wait around for it as it will take months! It would seem that being in a state of flux, of precipitation, is water-plus-anethole-laden-spirit’s preferred state of being.

The Louche effect shows what happens when a drink containing anethole has water added to it.

When making drinks I find it very useful as it adds a sweetness without having to add sugar

Anethole is an organic chemical compound which is used throughout the food and drink industry for flavouring. Due to the chemesthetic reaction, it can feel quite “warming in the mouth”. For those interested in terminology it is a terpenoid which is a modified terpene (Limonene being a terpene, as is Linalool). Anethole’s flavour could be described as “liquoricey”, and it is present in The Botanist due to the Sweet Cicely but you’ll also find it in Ouzo, Absinthe, pastis, some vermouths, and, obviously, Pernod. The flavour is present across many plants: fennel, licorice root, the afore-mentioned Sweet Cicely, dill and star anise. It can be a flavour that evokes a lot of childhood memories, as it can be found in many sweets.

When making drinks I find it very useful as it adds a sweetness without having to add sugar. In gin and Vermouth small amounts of fennel, sweet cicely or star anise really help “lift” the drink, or if a mixed drink or punch is missing an element yet it has plenty of body and bitterness, often a splash of anethole just brings everything together. If you don’t believe me, infuse a bit of star anise and add it a splash at a time to a troublesome cocktail – it might just be the missing ingredient you are looking for.


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