Shrubs, which are acidic syrups typically flavored with fruit and/or herbs, date back to the 15th century. You can read all about the interesting history here but my main interest lies in the preservative nature of shrubs. These syrups were originally concocted in order to preserve delicate fruits and herbs before the time of refrigeration. Today, they offer the same qualities but are typically developed as a fun drink, both alcohol-free and as a cocktail mixture.
There are various ways to make a shrub at home. My recipe below is about as simple as it gets – dissolve sugar in vinegar and then steep herbs in the mixture. The process doesn’t get much harder, one just has to wait a bit longer for the final product. The Kitchn has a great run down here and Serious Eats adds another layer of complexity here by suggesting cold-processed shrubs are the way to go.
A simple online search will yield a shrub recipe for just about any ingredient. Don’t limit yourself to fruit and herbs – beets, fennel and spices all make for interesting recipes!
Lemon Balm Shrub
makes 3 drinks
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/4 cup lightly packed lemon balm leaves
- Sparkling water, to serve
- Combine sugar and vinegar in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Heat mixture over medium-high heat until it reaches a simmer, or until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from heat, add the lemon balm, cover and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Strain to remove the lemon balm and cool to room temperature. Transfer to an air tight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
- To make a drink: combine 1/4 cup shrub and 1 cup sparkling water in a tall glass. Stir to combine and enjoy.