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The Delicious History of the Shrub

Pull up a chair boys and girls, it’s time for a tale that starts in the Middle Ages and ends with a modern happily ever after.

Once upon a time, medicines were made from scratch by the apothecaries and healers of the time and usually tasted terrible. In order for physicians of old to get their patients to take their medicine, tonics were mixed into cordials—sweet fruit-syrup concentrates that served to preserve fruit in an era that had no refrigeration.

Incidentally, just in case you’re curious, during this era, powdered tree bark, crushed herb leaves and roots, quinine, mercury, suet, snail juice, the blood of warm-blooded animals, human urine, and other assorted substances made up common medicines.

Seriously. We’re not making this stuff up. You can’t make this stuff up!

Back to the Story… 

As time passed, people started using these tasty cordials as drink concentrates. Water, wine, rum, and sherry were all considered good mixers, and the flavored drinks were served at parties and sold in public houses all over England as “shrubs” (taken from the Arab word sharāb, which means, “to drink”). Also, cordial syrup was poured over shaved ice in an early rendition of the 7-Eleven slurpee.

When the colonists came to the new world, they brought the idea of cordials with them. Since sugar was scarce, fruit or berries were made into strongly flavored vinegars. Sweet from the natural sugar of the fresh produce, and sour from the fermenting process, these vinegars made brightly flavored drinks that startled the drinker’s taste buds into full wakefulness and quenched thirst like nobody’s business.
Time passed and different versions of shrubs remained popular as the best way to have fruit-flavored drinks. But when refrigeration was invented, the need to preserve fruit juice via fermenting disappeared and shrubs faded from the American landscape.
In recent years however, there’s been a resurgence of popularity for this olde tyme drink, much to the delight of infused vinegar lovers everywhere.

 

And They All Lived Happily Ever After

Here at Old Town Olive, we carry a lovely line of both white and dark balsamic vinegars. Explosively flavorful and sweetly tart, these vinegars are the perfect choice if you’d like to experiment with making your own shrubs at home.

They are simple, super-tasty, and good for kids and adults alike.

And…AND…they’re very low in sugar—especially for the wallop of excellent flavor they deliver. How low? Well, here are a few handy reference points:

 Food Item Grams of Sugar
1 teaspoon of plain white sugar 4 g
20-oz Coke 65 g
1 Cup fat-free fruit-flavored yogurt 47 g
½ Cup serving of ice cream 14 g
1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar 2 g


Recipes

Shrubs are extremely easy to make. For a non-alcoholic version just add 2 to 3 tablespoons of white balsamic vinegar to 2 cups of soda water or seltzer water, stir, pour over ice, and gulp. Muddled fruit or herbs make excellent additions to these wonderful drinks.

Examples: 

Honey-Ginger White Balsamic – maybe with some fresh lemon squeezed into it and a few muddled mint leaves added.

Pomegranate-Quince White Balsamic – maybe with a big fat orange wedge.

Dark balsamic gets in on the action too. Try our Aged Black Currant Dark Balsamic Vinegar with dark rum and soda water. Our Black Cherry Dark Balsamic with gin, tonic, and a slice of lime. Or our Coconut White Balsamic with Triple Sec.

Here’s to history’s great ideas. And to excellent balsamic vinegar. Cheers!



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