Making things cold is, for most bartenders, synonymous with making things delicious. As an industry, we have made significant strides since the days when refrigeration happened whatever day the ice cart wheeled into town. One futuristic stride has taken us in the direction of freeze-drying, a dehydration technique commonly associated with dangerous vocations (astronauts, soldiers, explorers) because it preserves food by reducing its weight. But, what applications does it have in the world of bartending? The primary purpose of freeze-drying is an extended shelf life, which makes for a more controllable environment for preparing ingredients. Storage aside, frozen ingredients can work as excellent cocktail garnishes and concentrated powders.
Freeze Drying vs Dehydration
Fruits and food cooked in a dehydrator will be similar to freeze-dried, but with some significant differences. For one, dehydrated food has literally been cooked. Crucially the sugars and acids present in the ingredients will have been intensified, dramatically affecting their flavour. Not convinced? Dehydrate a lime wedge for a day, and then eat it with your next tequila shot. Not only the taste but the look and texture will have changed. It can look good, but it won’t look fresh. Freeze-dried food retains significantly more of its nutritional value and has a much longer shelf life. As if that wasn’t enough, most freeze-dried products are much simpler to rehydrate (just throw them in cold water) and are largely unchanged by the process.
How To Freeze Dry Cocktail Ingredients
If at this point, you’re itching to start freeze-drying everything in sight and performing comparative taste tests, then I have some good and bad news. The bad news is freeze-drying machines command lofty prices. But the good news is there is a way of achieving a similar result for a fraction of the cost.
Chop your desired item into small pieces, put them on a baking tray or wire rack, and put them in the freezer. Easy peasy, right? But also time-consuming. It will take over two weeks to dry thoroughly.
If you don’t (or can’t) have that much time on your hands, then the second method is for you. A similar process with a 24-hour turnaround involves sealing the food in airtight bags and covering it in the ‘incredible-when-used-properly-dangerous-when-not’ friend of food magicians everywhere, wonder product that is dry ice. Simply bag up your ingredients, cover them with dry ice, leave them in a cooler overnight (24 hours) and voila!
Experiment, Experiment, Experiment!
In terms of result, a freeze dryer outclasses the humble dehydrator in almost every way. The techniques downfall is its cost. However, with the methods above, the door is wide open for trial and error with as many different combinations of ingredients as you can imagine. Some food will work better than others, but the science of freeze-drying suggests a pretty high success rate. If you get familiar with these methods and the results work for your cocktail recipes, you can invest in a professional machine to make consistent batches.
Get creative and try adding powders directly to cocktail recipes, or mix them with sugar, salt or base sprits to add as drops or dashes of flavour. When you begin, fresh ingredients are almost always best, but with some nifty techniques, the gap between ingredients being something we can use and something we should throw away is becoming smaller and smaller. If you’d like to find out more about the various techniques bartenders use to get the most out of ingredients, then watch out for our Molecular Matchmaker sessions coming to London during London Cocktail Week and Manchester and Edinburg in the new year.