Olympic doping and Panic at Pancakes
So what has olympic doping and panic at pancakes got to do with gin. Read on to find out....
This blog is all about botanicals - a quick fly through some of the botanicals that we employ in our gin recipes to produce our range of flavours. It's not a comprehensive list but hopefully gives a fun insight into some of the chemistry, history and strange facts and beliefs associated with some of our ingredients.
This is the one given for gin - it has got to have a predominance of juniper or it's not gin!
Juniper has the biggest geographical range of any tree in the world from Alaska to Greenland to North Africa and most points in between. The Juniper tree will take more than 10 years to produce flowers and fruit and interestingly trees are male or female, Unlike most other trees.
Most of the Juniper used in gin is sourced from Places like Italy, Macedonia, Morocco and Eastern Europe. Our juniper hails from Macedonia.
The ancient Egyptians are the earliest recorded users of Juniper, using it topically, to treat joint and muscle pain, Athletes in the ancient Olympic games used to eat copious amounts to improve their performance on the track. Was this the first recorded incidence of doping in sports..?
The juniper berries contain a chemical called alpha-pinene which gives it a (wait-for-it) ....pine flavour and another chemical myrcene which is also found in hops, wild thyme and of all things, cannabis…. Interesting thought that.
The high resin content generates the volatility of the compounds and in turn it is this volatility that leads to the strength of character of the juniper as a base for gin.
In days of old - it was recommended for urinary tract complaints.
Juniper was also well known for it's smokeless burning - mentioned in Alistair MacLean's book 'The Guns of Navarone', when the wood is used to - on the surface - provide heat and sustenance to the heroes of the story who were being chased overland. However, despite it's smokelessness, it also gives off a strong odour upon burning and that is how the heroes ended up being captured -the traitor in their midst being aware that the smell would be noticeable and trackable by the chasing soldiers. (Note, the book is different to the film - but in my top three of all time films so I'm sorry, some personal indulgence here!!!)
Hailing from the Indian and Meditteranean areas, Coriander has a slight soapiness to its flavour - again coming from resinous origins. A crucial ingredient of gin - its well known flavour is changed dramatically by drying and the oil of the seed is the source of the rich flavour produced by the oils such as “linalool” and “pinene” (nuts) and “thymol” (warmness). Some of the best coriander comes from places like Siberia and Scandinavia.
Historically the main use of coriander by ancient healers was for gastrointestinal problems.
It takes 2 years to germinate and it houses a lot of chemicals that have been used in the past to help to repel insects. It used to be readily available in Britain until its perceived benefit for use in combating the bubonic plague led to it being pretty much stripped from the countryside. It’s a common ingredient in liqueurs but is classically used within a London Dry Gin to “bind other flavours together”. Perhaps originating from Syria, it also has grown wild in the Nordic area. We have 5 London dry gins in our range at the Herbal Gin Company. Safe to say, it’s in our ingredients list for all…!
This is a relative of ginger, but the seeds are used rather than the underground element (rhizome) that would be more reminiscent of the ginger that we recognise in the supermarket . Guatemala is a main producer nowadays, but in Ancient Greek times, it was attributed to be one of the main ingredients for items produced by the sorceress Circe. The greener the better nowadays and it has a eucalyptus tupe scent with terpene / pine notes. The “linalool” within has been attributed to helping issues with stress in years gone by.
Please be aware that is Circe - the greek goddess [who forced Odysseus to stay with her, having a son with him - whilst he was returning to his homeland (a bit difficult to man the oars when Circe (remember she was a sorceress, turned all his sailors into pigs - she was known for that sort of stuff - like when she turned the Italian king Picus into a woodpecker for resisting her advances and there was also that time when she turned the sea god Glaucus into a monster because he fancied Scylia instead...!)] ... not Cersei (played by Lena Headley) from a well known historical fantasy series that took the world by storm in the recent past
Circe - don't get on her wrong side.....
Mmmm - having said that don't get on the wrong side of Cersei either...!
This can come from many different sources and was identified in Tutenkhamun’s tomb - thereby confirming a long history of use.It is extremely sweet in nature, perhaps helped by the natural sweetener glycyrrhizin, (beware - as it is many, many times sweeter than the sugar that we add to tea and coffee)! Attributed to be soothing and energising in the past - perhaps understandable with the sweetness of taste.
Countries known for their production of liquorice are Spain, Italy, Greece and Turkey.
This is one of the oldest and most widely used spices - yet rarely blooms so most of the benefit lies under the ground. Hailing from India and China, it has long been used in potions. Historically, Ginger was accredited with helping vodka gain popularity and the Googling of ginger and vodka gives >38M hits in milliseconds! Think “Moscow Mule” cocktail.... By the way - a Moscow Mule should be served in a copper mug - lots of copper in our still as you can see from the image - it's incorporated into our distillation tower to assist in the distillation process for the botanicals.
Here you can see the copper within the glass cylindrical part of the column.
From increasing sexual potency to antibacterial usage, ginger has a wide range of historically purported usage. In recent times, who hasn’t been exposed to the benefits of ginger flavoured drinks and their warmness of taste or the benefits in Asian food from many nations.
As an “all rounder” ginger incorporates well with most flavours.
Another Ginger relative, Galangal is favoured in Asian cuisine (Chinese / Thai / Indian) and looks remarkably similar as a “root” / rhizome to ginger. Regard it as a means of enhancing the ginger-like features of a drink.
Often confused with cinnamon as it looks the same. In fact, cassia is harvested in southern China from a different plant to cinnamon.
Some of the claims of cinnamon use are reputedly due to a mistaken identity with cassia too. Don’t be surprised by the oils produced, pinene, linoleen, linalool and camphene. Sound familiar..?
Overall, the flavour imparted is perhaps spicier than that from its cinnamon-next-door-neighbour.
Who doesn’t know pepper? It is gaining popularity in summery drinks with strawberry flavour. (My grandmother loved grinding pepper on her strawberries!) In South East Asia it appears to be recognised for the ability to bind and enhance other flavours.
Certainly,most of us would recognise that this will liven most drinks to which it is added...!
Hailing from the eastern Meditteranean all the way through to East India, this ingredient is mentioned in the Bible and in the works of Hippocrates, so the evidence is great that cumin has been with us for a long time.
A map showing the ancient spice routes
However it has now been taken over by other herbal medicinal options such as caraway but is well recognised in the curry flavours that we now enjoy regularly.
The oils produced from the seed include cyminol which gives a strong aromatic smell and a warm bitterish taste.
So what does New York, maple syrup and pancakes have to do with fenugreek….? In 2005, 2006 and 2009 the New York City Dept of Environmental Protection was flooded with calls worrying that there was a chemical attack or perhaps a pancake smelling problem. In fact it was due to the processing of Fenugreek in a local factory
Bottom line is that fenugreek is used to mimic the flavours of maple syrup and other sweets. Urban legend suggests that this is one of the flavours in Pimm’s Cup cocktails.
The botanical comes from South Eastern Europe and Northern Africa.
Kafir Lime Leaf
The predominant oil in this botanical from South East Asia is citronellal, hence the unsurprising link to a citrus taste and a degree of vanilla also. There is however a heat to the taste towards the end of its stay.
This is another rhizome (picture ginger / galangal / angelica root) from an Iris plant. The flavour develops after storing (5 years plus). This time consuming process contributes to the expense and its pride of place in many gins for the perfume-like quality. It has a taste likened to raspberry to some palates and contributes texture to a gin that helps to bind other constituents.
This covers the tastes of salt and umami and has an oily element that allows for it to be used in bridging savoury to sweet flavours.
Attributed in the past to memory enhancement, this has led to it being investigated for a possible role in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are many species of Thyme.
Often found in the Alps with the lemon-scented variety being a popular garden edging plant.
Great for attracting bees and other pollinators, thyme merits a mention in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and who cannot help but imagine the richness of flavour with warmth and pungency that this botanical can add to a recipe.
William Blake's depiction of Oberon, Titania and puck in A Midsummer Night's dream
This is not widely recognised as a gin botanical unless you happen to live in Australia. It is a strong and easily overpowering flavour but THGC is using this to help the depth and length of flavour to some of its flavours.
Okay - so it's not a eucalyptus leaf picture but which would you rather see....?
.......Leaf or Koala bear..... mmmm no competition for me
We use German chamomile, perhaps softer than its Roman counterpart. It has an apple like taste and is mildly bitter in taste, with many medicinal uses in times gone by - especially (but not exclusively) for topical use for rashes / eczema / skin complaints.
Originally discovered in the Caribbean by Christopher Columbus has many elements to it, with its resin base creating a warm pungency that will often give suggestions of nutmeg / cloves / mulled wine and a nutmeg style of flavour spectrum.
The four voyages of Christopher Columbus - All spice was encountered on his second visit and named by Duego Álvarez Chanca.
That's it for this week.
I hope you have enjoyed my little trip around the world, with a bit of TV / history / classics / news and cinema. Hope to see you here next week.....