A few years ago, Gustavo Arellano reported in a THE TACO piece that lime often costs to skyrocket in the spring, forcing many taquerías to temporarily switch to lemons in order to control costs.
If my recent experience squeezing a lemon wedge on a burrito is any indicator, then the problem remains: lemon acid just doesn’t cut it when it comes to the Taco Life. And while there’s no quick way to fix the political and narco-violence issues at the heart of the matter, a bartender in Louisville, KY, has developed a technique that just might be the answer.
The bartender, Colonel Nickle Morris (that’s right, he’s an official Kentucky colonel), calls his creation “great juice,” and increases the yield, shelf life and flavor of lime juice. It could save bars, taquerías, cevicherías and any other business dependent on lime juice thousands of dollars, and make them less vulnerable to increases in the price of limes, while wasting less product in the process.
The past few decades have seen a dramatic improvement in the quality of cocktails produced in bars across the country, largely due to the use of fresh citrus juices. And while anyone who’s had a margarita made with fresh lime instead of sour mix was probably grateful for the change, a huge downside to using fresh juice is waste. As the name suggests, fresh juice should be, well, fresh. Lime is particularly fragile, as it oxidizes very quickly and should be used within 24 hours of juicing, ideally even earlier. In bars, where it can be difficult to predict exactly how much juice to prepare before each shift, much of the unused freshly squeezed juice ends up wasted. Additionally, lime peels, which, despite being packed with lime oil (i.e. flavor), are often discarded once the fruit is squeezed. While there are techniques for using these products before they’re thrown away, there’s a huge incentive to produce less potential waste to begin with.
Come in, Colonel Morris and his super juice.
After running a high-volume cocktail bar in Hong Kong, Morris became frustrated with citrus waste and decided to find a solution. He found it by focusing not on the juice itself, but rather on the lime peels. There is a long tradition in the cocktail world of using citrus peel in the form of a syrup called oleo saccharum. It is made by macerating the peels in sugar, the latter extracting the oils from the peel, turning the whole mixture into a citrus oil syrup. Oleo saccharum may be delicious, but in most bars it’s nearly impossible to get enough of it to really get the most out of the tasty lime zest. Morris found he could use the same technique as oleo saccharum, but replacing the sugar with the primary acids found in lime (citric and malic). If he added water, mixed it, and strained it, he ended up with a liquid as tart as lime juice and filled with rich, aromatic lime oil. He called this new concoction oleo citrate. When he added the juice from the peeled citrus fruits to the mix, the super juice was born.
Superjuice provides three main benefits: First, it increases yield. Greatly. We are talking about six to seven times the amount of juice! Obviously, there is a huge financial benefit here. If you can reduce your lime cost by a factor of six, the problem suddenly becomes less important when prices temporarily increase. Beyond that, when you use six times fewer limes, that means you are ordering and storing six times fewer limes. Whether it’s a bar, restaurant or taco stand, space is always limited and freeing up storage space in a refrigerator is very important. Not to mention customers grabbing particularly large handfuls of limes for their tacos.
Second, the super juice extends the useful life of the juice. The oleocitrate created from the mixture of barks, acids and water can last for weeks in the refrigerator without noticeable loss of quality. This could be particularly important in kitchens, where oleo citrate could be used in marinades and sauces, and freshly squeezed juice stored for finishing dishes. But even when you combine oleocitrate and fresh juice into a super juice, the overall juice oxidizes more slowly. This is because the fresh juice makes up a small percentage of the total mix, which means that the total impact of its oxidation on the mix is lessened. It doubles or even triples the shelf life of the juice.
Finally, super juice tastes better. As Morris explained in an email to LA TACO, “Undrinkable sour fruits like lemon and lime we really learn through sweets, or at least sugar. These things are all lemon and lime flavored, not made from the juice, right? We associate lemon oil with lemon flavor, not lemon juice. Being able to really taste the oil in a Daiq or even a Mule is really nice and you don’t even notice what you missed until you try it. When it comes to citrus fruits, the flavor and aroma of the peels is often far more compelling than the juice itself. So it only makes sense that when you add these flavors to the juice, you end up with a much more delicious product.
The end result of all of this is tastier, longer lasting juice with a significantly higher yield. That doesn’t entirely solve all the problems, because the lime slices that come with a plate of tacos, for example, can’t be super juice. But if a restaurant that uses lime in its beverage program, kitchen, and plate can cut costs in two out of three of those spaces, it might be worth indulging in a slice of lime in the spring.
If you want to make yourself a super juice, follow the recipe below. You will need a peeler, blender, digital scale, citric and malic acid (easily found online or at health food stores), and a strainer. Morris encouraged anyone interested in the process with further questions to contact him directly (in English or Spanish) through the bar’s Instagram account he owns in Louisville, Bar Exhibition.
Super juice (makes about 1 litre)
Place 100-150g of lime peel in a non-reactive container, then add 8g of malic acid and 45g of citric acid. Mix well, coat the peels with the acids and leave at room temperature for about 45 minutes or until the edges of the peels begin to brown.
Add 1000 g of water and mix. Strain through a fine mesh strainer. At this point you have oleocitrate and it will last for weeks in the fridge. To make super juice, squeeze peeled limes and add them to the oleocitrate.