By Donny Clutterbuck
I focus too much on anything I really like. I suppose the term “too much” is subjective, but safely I can say I’ve spent “too much” time investigating citrus juices, their acid content, ph, brix, and effective flavor lifespan. And I most certainly am not done. For the sake of clarity, when I use the term “citrus” in this article, I mean lemon and lime.
I worked for ten years at bars that never juiced a piece of fruit. I worked at a few places that only juiced pieces of fruit, using no substitutes. I worked at a bar that not only juiced pieces of fruit, but would only use that juice for 24 hours from it’s juicing time. On and on through the bars, everyone had their own opinions about what the base level of must-haves are in terms of freshness and quality. I read books that reviewed juices’ flavor profiles over the course of time, and I found they agreed with this 24-hour rule for the most part. Knowing full well that wine degrades over the course of very little time, and that degradation is much due to oxidation, I began to draw parallels between wine and citrus juice. If the shelf life of a bottle of wine can be lengthened by a vacu-vin pump and stopper, then why in the world wouldn’t that work with citrus juice? Oxidation is an enemy in both cases, so even if there are other factors involved, we can at least stave that off.
So, I did a citrus experiment with lemon & lime juices. They react similarly when exposed to oxygen. They both have a fresh shelf life of around 24 hours and show a lot of changes during those 24 hours. But, I found, if you vacuum seal fresh, strained citrus juice with vacu-vin wine stoppers, you can extend that usable shelf life to about 72 hours. That’s a massive increase in the time frame during which we can use the stuff, and it gives us a lot more leeway in case we’re not busy enough to use what we’ve juiced that day. Maybe you don’t change your juicing schedule, but you can postpone your next juice session? There are a lot of ways to use this information, but there might even be a better solution, depending on your bar program and how you use citrus.
I went to the Nightclub & Bar Show 2017 in Las Vegas, NV. While on the trade floor, a friend of mine told me that there was a booth providing tastes of cold-pressed pineapple, grapefruit, orange, and LEMON AND LIME juices. I immediately discredited their business, calling it witchcraft and trickery and blasphemy and all that. I reluctantly navigated my way to their booth for a joke or two. I skipped the entire line of goods and went straight for the lime juice. I know how difficult succinic acid is to stop from accelerating browning, and how nice it is when lime juice is right! I took a sip of their cold-pressed lime juice, which had been squeezed I don’t know how long ago, but definitely longer than three days prior. I started skeptical, and I ended dumbfounded. How in the world did this lime juice taste any kind of good?
Well, I still don’t really know. However, I wanted to see if this delicious juice—born more days ago than I’d have ever believed—would stand up to the same usability that fresh juice would. Industry Juice shipped me a 750ml bottle each of the lime, lemon, orange, grapefruit, and pineapple juices to taste test and ph test over the course of whatever time frame seemed reasonable. This was a ballsy move on their part, as a non-affiliated bartender could find something unsavory and release it, or release something totally untrue. I plan to do neither, and I don’t have to because I found nothing unsavory. What I found was astonishing to me. Truly.
I received the order of juices Thursday 7/13/17 around 11:30am. Heading into a weekend of bartending, I wouldn’t have time to assess the situation until Monday afternoon, at which point, I realized I didn’t have any ph meter calibration fluid, which is ph 4 and ph 7 fluid by which to tune one’s meter properly. I ordered some and waited for it to arrive so I could begin my experiment. Well, it arrived that Thursday, so I wasn’t able to do much, going into another hearty weekend of bartending perpetually. Then yadda-yadda I got busy and couldn’t start the experiment until Wednesday 7/26. At this point, I’d already had the juice in my refrigerator for nearly two full weeks, and the purported juice expiration dates ranged from 9/21-10/6. This is important to the story.
I popped the juices open, jiggered 1oz of each into five glasses small enough that the fluid would fully submerge the necessary parts of the ph meter. I waited five minutes for the temperature to stabilize closer to room temperature, then began taking ph readings. I left the ph meter in each fluid for one minute or more in order to allow the reading to stabilize, then recorded the ph level down to the hundredth with a presumed accuracy of +/-.03 for the equipment. I think it performed better than that, but I’d like to allow for that much wiggle room. After getting all the ph readings, I tasted through the juices from highest ph to lowest ph.
The first taste of each juice was nearly indistinguishable from fresh fruit. The variablility between different shipments of fruit has been eradicated, as these are blended and standardized to the designated ph and brix levels the company has chosen, each bottle you open should be nearly identical to the previous, regardless of when it’s purchased. I repeated this process every day at 2pm for the following nine days, making for a total of ten. I stored the juices in their original bottles and didn’t vacuum seal them for storage. I simply put the cap back on and put it in the refrigerator. If I’d stored fresh juice this way, we can be sure that the lemon, lime, and orange juices would be spoiled within the first day. I can’t speak for the grapefruit juice and pineapple juice, but I can imagine their fate would quite shortly follow suit. Vacuum-sealed, fresh lemon and lime would last about 72 hours, and the orange juice would last maybe 6?
Well, I waited two weeks to even open these cold-pressed juices, and they all tasted fabulous. Stored in a refrigerator without any vacuum treatment, they passed the three day mark with flying colors. This blew my mind. How could cold-pressed lime and lemon be coerced into cooperation when their fresh counterparts are so finicky? The orange juice also passed the three day mark. That’s right, the juice that normally lasts a few hours maximum has made it well past three days after being open in a refrigerator. In fact, orange juice lasted the longest! Here are the results I’ve seen from storing opened cold pressed juices with only the slightest bit of care.
· Orange: 8/9 days
· Pineapple: 8 days
· Grapefruit: 5 days
· Lime: 3 days
· Lemon: 3 days
So, cold-press treatment of juices stabilizes them within and without their bottle well beyond their original, fresh shelf lives. The benefits of these juices are I’m sure different for each bar, but there’s no debating their superior longevity. I look forward to doing another test or two with them. I wonder how long they would last if vacuum sealed, or better yet, if they were used in a kegged cocktail that uses nitrogen to push? If Could we potentially hot-batch a nitrogen-pushed, agitated, kegged margarita with the expectation that it might last a few weeks in there without browning significantly? There’s only one way to find out—and if you don’t do it, I will.
Technology pusheth forward! Future, ho!