Limonene

IN

At the end of a night when you just want that final drink, and the drinks cabinet has run dry, you don’t reach for the flash liquid/lysol in some sad alcohol-fuelled late night desperado move…

If you did you wouldn’t do it more than once. Nor when perusing most cocktail recipe books would you expect to see a cleaning agent as part of a recipe. Yet, a cleaning agent is something you’ll find in the Martini, Negroni, the Tom Collins and many of the most popular classic cocktails. They all contain Limonene – a hydrocarbon in the terpenes group of organic compounds present in many cleaning products and scented candles. There is even growing evidence that limonene helps THC cross the blood brain barrier and so stoners are using it to increase their high! This versatile hydrocarbon not only works as a de-greasing agent but it is what gives citrus it’s aroma.

Limonene is not only limited to citrus but it can be found across the natural world in trees such as spruce, pine and cedar in herbs such as caraway and lemongrass even in some hops. If you have every wondered how you are getting lemon or orange notes from your beer then you now have your answer.

Knowledge of ubiquitous chemistry can really help the wild cocktail maker.

Once you know the compound that gives you the flavour it can be a shortcut into flavour and aroma experimentation. This can lead to some very unusual flavour combinations, for example, the Chef Heston Blumenthal found that white chocolate and caviar both contain trimethylamine and, therefore, they make unlikely but excellent bed –or rather plate– fellows. The trick therefore is to learn some of these flavour compounds and then search for them when you next go out foraging. Limonene has been the first clue for me on this trail. Upon finding it I hoped I could find an interesting way  of creating a Negroni Savage (wild negroni) or, at the very least, emulating the Orange flavour from the Campari from plants that I could forage for. Campari had hitherto been the most elusive ingredient for my Negroni Savage.

Inspired by folk in Portland, Oregon [see here and here] I discovered a a trend towards smoking cedar to mellow out a Campari; but surely another step could be taken? The Campari, or at least an equivalent could be made almost from scratch. I’ve made gin, vermouth and even buckfast using wild ingredients so, especially now I knew something about the chemical makeup, how hard could it be to make a wild Campari?

The hunt was on, I wandered down to the local graveyard, my nearest wild place, and found an abundance of pine, cedar and spruce. I plucked the needles from the pine, the tips from the spruce and the cones/fruit from the cedar trees. Each I then steeped in filtered vodka for a few days.

Each came out tasting like citrus and none were the same, everything else that made up the plants contributed in different ways to make them all more than the sum of their parts. The spruce and the pine very both further towards the lemon end of this flavour profile but the cedar (as I suspected), was further towards the orange end of the citrus spectrum.  Thus the cedar was to be the winner in this respect. Although, the flavour was not quite there, I still didn’t really have a wild Campari this was much more of a wild Cointreau.

Still I tried, and failed to make a good cocktails with what I had. Using one part botanist gin, one part homemade sweet vermouth — Italian style — and one part cedar, I ended up with something that just didn’t work, not as a Negroni anyway. It needed some kind of bitter flavour added, the complexity of Campari and its blend of at least 20 and possibly 80 different botanicals should not be overlooked.

Negroni Savage

Andy Hamilton goes for a chemistry approach when seeking a solution to using imported citrus in cocktails.

My wild Cointreau however, worked in a slightly different cocktail, the not-quite Negroni or the Non Proprio Negroni in Italian.

Non proprio Negroni

  • 1 part lillet blanc
  • 0.5  part steeped cedar
  • 0.5 part campari
  • 1 part gin

Stirred over ice with small shaves of cedar cone over the top in place of the orange twist.

The quest for the Negroni savage continues…

I suspect that using cedar is part of the puzzle. But it seems like a failure to not have something that can replace the Saville oranges.  It could be that another chemical of Seville (bitter) oranges was needed, was it the lack of synephrine that was missing?

Synephrine in the form of bitter orange peel is often used in TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) to treat indigestion and constipation. However, before you reach for the Campari next time you have eaten too much then be aware that it could higher your blood pressure [see full warning from the FDA]. It also seemed to be a dead end as I couldn’t find any other plant that contained synephrine other than bitter oranges. Living in the South of England, there are not many wild sources for bitter oranges.

A jump sideways may work? I looked at plants within the citrus family, the one that caught my eye was Turpentine Broom, Thamnosma montana. A plant that, according to Pam Mackay in her book Mojave Desert Wildflowers: A Field Guide to wildflowers, trees and shrubs of the Mojave Dessert, “Could make one crazy for a while”.  Crazy Campari, now that sounds interesting. I’m off to the USA!

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