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How To Upgrade Bottled Juice With Fresh Fruit
I bought my wife a juicer as a pre-wedding gift about five years ago. Since then, I can count on two hands the number of times we've actually pulled it out to use it. It's the cleaning that really makes it difficult to rationalize using on a daily basis. Instead, we've been resorting to making drinks the way they do in her home in Colombia: fresh fruit simply pureed in a blender with water, milk, and a touch of sugar to bump up the flavor. The resulting drinks are refreshing. They're thin enough to be thirst-quenching and gulp-able like a strained juice from a juicer, but have a bit of the texture and heartiness of a full-on smoothie, giving you the best of both worlds.
The other day, when we were walking through the supermarket looking for fruits to blend, I thought to myself, "why have we been using water or milk this whole time for our blends? Why not start with something that already has flavor?"
So we bought every type of blend-able fruit we could find along with every type of plain bottled juice in the juice aisle, and brought them home to play with. For the sake of simplicity and our future wallets, we limited our blends to a single fruit blended into a single juice. Some blends were great, others were passable, and some downright vile (I'm looking at you, orange juice with papaya).
Here are some general tips we figured out, along with a few of our favorite flavor combinations.
Pick the Right Fruit
For the method to work, you need fruits that blend very easily in a standard blender. Apples, pears, and other hard fruits end up giving your juice an unpleasantly gritty, pulpy texture. We preferred using:
- Berries: Raspberries and strawberries were my favorites. Blackberries and blueberries work well, too, though with blueberries, you'll generally get much better flavor out of frozen Maine blueberries which are picked and frozen in-season rather than the fresh out-of-season berries that are shipped in from Peru or Mexico. Berries pair well with pretty much any bottled juice, but my favorites were with lemonade and cranberry juice.
- Tender Tropical Fruit like papaya and mango blend well, but be sure you are a fan of their intense flavor before going ahead. Pineapple is particularly nice with orange or grapefruit juice. And note that papaya contains molecules that tend to form a strangely thick gel when blended that can come off as slimy. If you are the kind of person who likes bananas, a) use bananas and b) don't invite me over for drinks.
- Kiwi pairs well with almost any juice, but like berries, I liked it best with lemonade and cranberry juice.
- Melons like honeydew and cantaloupe can be skinned and seeded and used just like tender tropical fruit. It's not always easy to find a good melon, and bad melons make for bad juice. Make sure your melon is very ripe (smell the non-stem end of the melon at the supermarket to check for this).
- Pomegranate! We're in the middle of pomegranate season, when the fruit is at its sweetest and most flavorful, while still providing plenty of that bracing acidity that makes it so delicious.
Combine Juice and Fruit in a 1 to 1 Ratio
We measured our fruit and juice volumetrically and found that a ratio of one cup of loosely packed berries or roughly chopped fruit per cup of juice provided the best balance between good flavor and a not-too-thick texture. The only exception is papaya, which should be used more sparingly if you don't want to form an off-puttingly slimy mixture.
Blend Well and Strain as Necessary
Blend the mixture on high speed for at least 30 seconds in order to get it completely smooth. Some of the fruit we used—particularly the raspberries and pomegranates—have lots of tiny seeds that even my Vita-Prep had some trouble breaking down. If you want ultimate smoothness, strain these juices through a fine mesh strainer.
Shall we get started?
Here are three of my favorite combinations.
The Refresher: Raspberries and Lemonade
Even in the wintertime, this guy tastes like pure summer in a glass. Commercial bottled lemonade tends to be a little sweet, so I find that watering it down a tiny bit, serving it with plenty of ice, and adding an extra squeeze of fresh lemon juice really helps balance out the glass.
The Breakfast Buddy: Orange Juice and Mangoes
There's a reason all the major orange juice companies have a version of this flavor in their lineup: oranges and mangoes pair well together. This one is the richest, thickest, and most filling of the lot, which makes it great for breakfast.
The Grown-Up: Grapefruit Juice and Pomegranate
My personal favorite, this one pairs the bitterness of grapefruit juice with the bracing acidity of pomegranate. Blend the pomegranate seeds directly with the juice, and make sure to pass it through a strainer before serving—pomegranate seeds have some tough bits. This combination is strongly flavored and not for everyone, but if you're a grapefruit lover, this is the drink for you.
What about you? Do you have a favorite juice/fruit pairing?
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.