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The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) is one of the largest culinary schools in the world, offering both professional and recreational programs in New York City. Here, Chef Jenny McCoy of ICE’s School of Pastry & Baking Arts gives PEOPLE the lowdown on those trending drinking vinegars called shrubs — plus, the recipe for a Strawberry-Rhubarb Shrub Cocktail that will have you feeling both virtuous and tipsy this Memorial Day.
Drinking vinegars, also known as shrubs, are on the rise. Restaurants like Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn are now bottling drinking vinegars and selling them in grocery stores across the country. Even though not everyone is clued in on the popularity of shrubs (yet), drinking vinegar for health purposes has been done for a very long time.
Long ago, the Romans and Babylonians were mixing vinegar with water. The word “shrub” is derived from the Arabic word “sharbah,” which translates as “drink.” Even sailors from the 16th-18th centuries drank shrubs to prevent scurvy! Today, they are infused with every flavor one can imagine and lauded for their health benefits, some even claiming weight loss.
Here’s the skinny
Shrubs are made with a combination of fruit, sugar and acid. More traditionally, they are made with equal parts fruit, sugar and vinegar. My preferred ratio is two parts fruit, one part sugar and one part vinegar — I tend to like my shrubs on the fruitier side, so I double the fruit. To make something this simple just slightly more complex, shrubs can be prepared in two ways — hot and cold — and they have infinite flavor combinations.
As for their health benefits, I can’t imagine anything made of four parts, one of which is sugar, to be very healthy.
However, drinking vinegar itself has its merits: vinegar helps keep blood sugar levels in check by preventing your body from fully digesting starch. In doing so, your body will have a lower glycemic response to the starch you eat, which may decrease your chances of developing heart disease and diabetes.
So, the next time you plan to eat a ton of bread, drink some vinegar first. Drinking vinegar is also considered to be healthful for an assortment of other reasons. But since this isn’t a post about diet (and actually includes recipes for alcoholic drinks), we’ll skip that talk for now.
To make a shrub—the cold way
This method will create a shrub that tastes fresh, light and slightly more acidic because the mixture will not be cooked.
Combine two parts chopped fruit and one part sugar in a large airtight container. Refrigerate the mixture for two days, allowing the fruit to macerate and the juices to release from the fruit. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing as much liquid from the fruit as possible. Transfer the mixture to a large airtight container and add the vinegar. Refrigerate the mixture for one week before using.
To make a shrub—the hot way
This method is quicker, but will deliver a more mellow and less fruity flavor because the mixture will be cooked.
Simply combine all of the ingredients — two parts chopped fruit, one part sugar and one part vinegar — in a large pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer for three minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain and refrigerate until cold. It can be used immediately.
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Flavoring a shrub
When making shrubs, you can use any fruit you’d like. Certain fruits may work better with either the hot or cold method. If you choose a fruit that doesn’t cook well, such as watermelon, consider the cold method. If you choose a fruit that tastes great raw or cooked, such as a pineapple, you can use either method. But if you choose a fruit that has a better flavor when cooked, like rhubarb, consider the hot method.
I also love to infuse other flavors into my shrubs. Vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns or any other flavor that infuses easily into a liquid are a great option. Herbs, freshly grated ginger or turmeric root are also knockout alternatives. You should also consider the vinegar you use: distilled, for example, tends to be too acidic. Instead, use cider or rice vinegar for a mellow flavor. And don’t think you need to stick with just those options. White or red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, even a bit of balsamic vinegar make for special shrub combinations. Lastly, you can use any variation of sugar you prefer—give demerara sugar or raw honey a try.
You’ve prepared your shrub…what now?
Once you’ve prepared your shrub, you can serve it as a nonalcoholic spritzer—combine equal parts shrub and seltzer, and add more seltzer or shrub to taste. Or, better yet, you can use the shrub as the base for a cocktail. A good rule of thumb when creating your cocktail recipe is two ounces of shrub, two ounces of your choice of alcohol and two ounces of seltzer. From there you can doctor your cocktail to taste. Don’t forget to garnish either version with some fresh herbs or slices of fresh fruit.
For the drinking vinegar base
8 oz. strawberries, rinsed, hulled and chopped
8 oz. rhubarb, cleaned, leaves removed and thinly sliced
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ tsp. salt
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
¾ cup white wine vinegar
1. In a medium pot, combine strawberries, rhubarb, light brown sugar, granulated sugar, salt and balsamic vinegar. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture comes to a simmer and the fruit begins to break down. Reduce heat to low, add white wine vinegar, cover and cook until the fruit has turned to mush and has released all of its juices, about 15 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the fruit pulp. Refrigerate the liquid until cold and serve in cocktail (recipe below) or store in an air-tight container for up to 1 week.
For the cocktail
2 oz. vodka, or alcohol of choice
4 oz. Strawberry-Rhubarb Shrub
2 oz. soda water
Splash of white wine vinegar
Strawberries, for garnish (optional)
1. In a rocks glass, fill to the top with ice cubes, add the vodka, shrub, soda water and white wine vinegar. Stir, garnish with a piece of strawberry and serve immediately.
* Since the Strawberry-Rhubarb drinking vinegar base in this cocktail has a dual flavor — strawberry and rhubarb — I like to double the ratio in my cocktail so the flavors really stand out against the spirit and soda water. Of course, if you’d prefer the more traditional ratio of 1 part drinking vinegar, 1 part spirit and 1 part soda, that works, too!
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