Eating fruits and vegetables is good-for-you nutritious. But did you know drinking them can be fun and delicious? To judge by restaurant menus, more and more people are imbibing fruit- or veggie-based non-alcoholic drinks, whether they're dining out or eating in.
Welcome to the expanding age of mocktails, when what's in the glass will set your head spinning with intricate layerings of flavor, pretty colors and inventive presentations. It's about freshness, quality, seasonality and creativity. But not alcohol.
"More people, either out of conviction or whatever, are choosing not to drink," says Tona Palomino, formerly bar manager for Wylie Dufresne's WD-50 restaurant in New York City. "Bars are receptive to accommodating the requests. Chances are you're not going to get a cranberry and soda."
It's a spillover from the cocktail revolution across the country. And bartenders are dipping into their house-made syrups, bitters and other flavorings to answer the call.
"Now, it's a challenge to bartenders: Can you make something you'd be proud of without alcohol?" says mixologist Christopher Hannah of Arnaud's French 75 Bar in New Orleans.
Temperance is certainly not a new idea in North America, but it probably has never tasted so good.
"The idea has always been there's a magic elixir to make you feel better, whether it was made from sassafras or bathtub gin. That there's something that can make you feel better and do it without a hangover, all the better," says Clark Wolf, a food and drink trend-meister.
"More people are saying the alcohol is not working for me anymore," Wolf says. "But they want great meals and great experiences at the table, and they see no reason to be denied."
Choice is crucial too.
Go into any supermarket, and the drinks aisle is stocked with bottles containing various blends of juices and tea, yet most people going out for lunch have to choose between iced tea or lemonade, says Deborah Blum, co-owner of Starbelly, a San Francisco restaurant with a roster of non-alcoholic drinks.
"Restaurants are realizing people want alternatives and that they can be creative," Blum says.
Expect to see more seasonal non-alcoholic choices as well, Blum says. Right now, most drinks are fruit-based, but she hopes to see more vegetable-based options.
"I love juicing vegetables," she says. "We had carrot juice, but it just didn't take off. People have a misconception that vegetable drinks taste like dirt or are thick, or watery. They're a healthy option. Celery juice and soda water are wonderful together."
Wolf also looks for more vegetable drinks, noting that most of our popular soft drinks historically derived from roots, leaves or twigs — albeit with some amount of sugar involved. He also thinks the increasing patronage of farmers markets and a growing awareness of what fresh really tastes like will play a role.
"Americans like to play with their food," he says. "And if it comes in a tall, frosty glass, that's OK."
Mr. McGregor's spritzer
Adapted from Bridget Albert's recipe. She likes to garnish the drink with a baby carrot, but we've opted for a few carrot greens.
2 ounces fresh carrot juice
1 ounce honey syrup, see recipe
Juice from 1 lemon wedge
Blood orange soda
Pour carrot juice, honey syrup and lemon juice into a tall ice-filled glass. Top with the soda. Stir.
Heat 1 cup honey and ½ cup water to a boil in a saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat; simmer 8-10 minutes. Let cool.
Makes 1 drink
Virgin Green Hornet
WD-50 in New York City juices its own celery, but you can use bottled celery juice. If you want to make it, see note.
3 ounces celery juice
½ ounce lime juice
½ ounce simple syrup (see recipe)
Pour celery juice, lime juice and simple syrup into an ice-filled shaker. Shake. Strain into a wine glass. Top with tonic water.
Note: To make celery juice, finely chop 4 or 5 ribs of celery, purée in a blender, then strain through a sieve.
Combine equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat; simmer until sugar dissolves. Cool.
Makes 1 drink
Strawberry lemon cooler
Created by mixologist Lane Ford for Starbelly restaurant in San Francisco. You can use any berry if fresh strawberries aren't available.
1½ ounces strawberry syrup (see recipe)
1 ounce lemon juice
Shake strawberry syrup and lemon juice in cocktail shaker with ice. Strain into tall ice-filled Collins/chimney glass. Top with sparkling water; garnish with lemon peel.
Juice or purée whole strawberries for 1 cup strawberry juice (strain juice if pureed in a food processor or blender). Combine juice with 1 cup sugar in a saucepan over medium heat. Heat to a simmer to melt sugar. Cool.
Makes 1 drink.