by Donny Clutterbuck
As more and more bars begin to prep their own fresh ingredients in house, each bar begins to develop its own in-house method of production and storage of each item. Quart containers, glass 750ml/1L bottles, or cambros? Electric or press juicer? For how long are the juices usable? While the storage method affects flavor as time goes by, it seems that it doesn’t affect the longevity of the juice. Plastic can impart its own flavor into the liquid, and the taste of whatever was in it before can leak in over the course of time as well. No one wants lime juice that tastes like onions, right? Juicing with a rotating electric juicer can pull too much rind into the juice and cause bitterness, and the peel oil doesn’t get expressed into the juice as it does when a press juicer is used.
At Cure, we use a press juicer and store the juice in glass bottles. We find this to be the best method of storage, but how long does that remain usable, even in ideal circumstances? Not too very long, and the lifespan seems to be totally independent of production process or storage preferences. While most people won’t notice a big difference between 6hr and 36hr old lime juice in a Daiquiri, the difference is staggering when tasted alone and side by side. With the seemingly too-short half-life of lime juice, I began to wonder what specifically was making this reaction occur, and how we could stave the degradation for some more reasonable amount of time.
We know that browning typically occurs due to the presence of oxygen, so my first inclination was to remove as much oxygen directly after juicing as possible. Here’s the experiment I conducted.
-I purchased about three cases of limes from our distributor at the same time, to ensure as much consistency as possible, and kept them all in my home refrigerator at a constant temperature.
-Each day at 3pm for seven days straight, I juiced 150g of lime juice by squeezing into a quart container on a gram scale. After straining through a Cocktail Kingdom Coco Strainer, I funneled them into brand new, washed 187ml champagne splits and Vacu Vin sealed them. I labeled them with the date, and put them in my refrigerator-- knowing that they'd been squeezed at 3pm each day.
-On the seventh day of this, after the ritual 3pm juicing, I began to juice the same 150g every 3 hours until 3pm on the eighth day. I overslept one of my alarms by an hour, so I have a wonky time figure in there for the every three hours segment of this "show". You’ll see it in the below spreadsheet along the top as a 3hr, 6hr, 7.5hr, 12hr kind of inconsistency. Luckily, as you’ll also see, this was the time to screw up if there ever was one. There wasn't any drastic change during those times, and if anything, it proved that the sweet spot for lime juice is at least a little smaller than my planned intervals would've proven!
-At 3pm on the eighth day, I invited two barkeep friends over and we tasted through everything together and took notes. Here's a compilation of them:
1. Six hour old lime juice is the best, according (unanimously) a new, an experienced, and an old bartender. By this I mean people with 1, 3, and 13 years of respective bar experience.
2. 1-3 day old vacuum-sealed lime juice is passable, though never quite as delicious on its own to our American palates as the six hour fresh juice. Even the vacuum sealed four day juice was alright, but it was beginning to go bad.
3. If you squeeze lime juice at your bar at 3pm every day, then your lime juice will be usable from 3pm-9am the next day, and it will peak around 9pm. If you squeeze lime juice at 3pm every three days then strain and vacuum seal it in glass bottles with Vacu Vin wine stoppers, upon opening those bottles right up to three days, you'll always have just post-perfect lime juice, and you'll have to juice/waste way less.
4. The acidity level of fresh and desirable lime juice hovers around 2.28ph, and as it begins to near the 24-hour mark, it drops to around 2.24/2.23ph. Every vacuum sealed juice over 24 hours old showed the same degradation, but without the milky, funky taste of the ph-degraded fresh juice. Maybe that's why none of the sealed juices tasted like the wildly-preferred 6hr old lime juice? This implies, most importantly, that there are two separate reactions occurring: a.) There's an anaerobic reaction driving the ph down independently of vacuum sealing, which drives the it after 21/24hrs. b. There's a separate degradation that brings the milky/funky taste that can be staved by a lack of air in the juice.
FINAL: By vacuum sealing fresh lime juice, you never get the few hour window where the lime juice is delightful, but you always get it right afterward, and you can juice every two or three days. The point of this experiment was to find out how little we can reasonably get away with juicing, or how long we can get away with saving fresh juice-- but we found that there are at least two separate important reactions happening, and we can only push one of them back.
Lemon juice has yeilded nearly the same product, and the results to more experiments will come over time at www.donnyclutterbuck.com, and I’ll make sure to include them in these blogs as they come up. We can get away with juicing just a bit less, if we so choose—and we maybe don’t have to immediately throw away unused lime juice. We never know exactly how busy we’ll be on a given night at a bar, so any leeway we can give ourselves is important.
A little food for thought—to make our lives just a TOUCH easier. Keep it real, y’all.