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Herbal essences: Adding a hint of flavor to cool drinks

Published: Tuesday, July 24 2012 5:29 p.m. MDT

Herbal lemonades add a twist to your usual summer sippers. (Valerie Phillips, Valerie Phillips) Herbal lemonades add a twist to your usual summer sippers. (Valerie Phillips, Valerie Phillips)

Looking for new ways to beat the heat and stay hydrated? Look to your herb garden to punch up the flavor in the usual lemonade and fruity spritzers.

Basil, rosemary and thyme are most often used in savory dishes, but they can add an unexpected complexity when infused with beverages. If you're bored with your usual diet soft drink, try adding a few fragrant sprigs to sugar-free lemonade mix. Lavender and mint add a playful note to many juices. Cilantro and parsley can perk up the Spanish perennial summer favorite, gazpacho.

Spiking your drinks with a few herbs can also be a somewhat healthy habit. After all, herbal teas have been used for centuries. But modern-day researchers are finding antioxidants in herbs that may protect cells from damage that lead to cancer.

"How this all translates to health benefits for humans is yet to be seen, but we don't need to wait for all the research to include herbs in our foods and beverages," said Alice Bender, a registered dietitian with the American Institute for Cancer Research. "You've found a delicious and beautiful way to include foods with potential cancer-fighting substances."

Berry Basil Spritzer and Minted Ginger Ale keep you cool with the subtle flavor of herbs. Minted Ginger Ale is a great non-alcoholic alternative to the popular Mint Julep.  Berry Basil Spritzer and Minted Ginger Ale keep you cool with the subtle flavor of herbs. Minted Ginger Ale is a great non-alcoholic alternative to the popular Mint Julep.   (Valerie Phillips, Valerie Phillips) Berry Basil Spritzer and Minted Ginger Ale keep you cool with the subtle flavor of herbs. Minted Ginger Ale is a great non-alcoholic alternative to the popular Mint Julep. Berry Basil Spritzer and Minted Ginger Ale keep you cool with the subtle flavor of herbs. Minted Ginger Ale is a great non-alcoholic alternative to the popular Mint Julep. (Valerie Phillips, Valerie Phillips)

Of course, she cautions, no one food can protect you from cancer or chronic disease.

The AICR and other health organizations recommend avoiding sugary beverages because they contribute to overweight and obesity. Even 100 percent fruit juice should be limited to no more than a cup per day, "But with herbs and sparkling water, the flavor can be great. A lighter beverage for summer is more refreshing."

Pouring over crushed ice dilutes the sweetness of lemonades and fruit punches somewhat. If you want some fizz, add club soda, which is sugar- and calorie-free.

Some tips:

Aim for subtle flavor. Too much of an herb makes a drink bitter and astringent-tasting. Fortunately, ice-cold beverages tend to dull the flavors a little.

Herbed Gazpacho   photo by Valerie Phillips (Valerie Phillips, Valerie Phillips) Herbed Gazpacho photo by Valerie Phillips (Valerie Phillips, Valerie Phillips)

If you really don't like the flavor of a certain herb in savory dishes such as soup or spaghetti sauce, you probably won't like it in a drink, either. Try a little in a one-cup serving before adding it to a whole pitcher full of lemonade.

Most of the time, it's best to chop up an herb and let it steep in the liquid awhile to infuse the flavor. Then strain out the old, spent leaves it before serving. If desired, add a fresh sprig for garnish.

If you're using a fizzy drink, you'll want to serve it right away while the drink is still fizzy. You can finely chop the herbs so they're palatable, or just use a sprig of the herb as a stirrer or fragrant garnish. You'll still get a hint of the flavor.

Valerie Phillips is the former Deseret News food editor. She blogs at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

Children take a swim lesson so that should they happen to fall in they can swim to safety. (photo by Valerie Phillips, photo by Valerie Phillips) Children take a swim lesson so that should they happen to fall in they can swim to safety. (photo by Valerie Phillips, photo by Valerie Phillips)

Email: vphillips@desnews.com

Minted Apple Juice

1 can frozen apple juice concentrate

3 cans water

2-3 sprigs of mint leaves (about 1/4 cup), coarsely chopped

Club soda, if desired,/b>

Mix the apple juice in a large pitcher. Add the mint leaves. Refrigerate 1-2 hours. Pour the juice through a strainer and discard the spent leaves.

Serve over crushed ice, garnished with a few more sprigs of mint. Add club soda if you want some fizz. Makes 4-6 servings.

— Valerie Phillips

Basil Lemonade or Limeade

1 package diet lemonade or limeade mix, such as Crystal Light, prepared according to package directions

1/4 cup loosely packed basil leaves, torn or coarsely chopped

Add the basil to the pitcher or lemonade. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. Pour the lemonade through a strainer to remove the spent leaves.

Serve over crushed ice, with basil sprigs for garnish, if desired.

Makes 4-6 servings.

— Valerie Phillips

Thyme Out Ginger Ale

This is for those who prefer more "edge" than sweetness.

1 12-ounce can diet ginger ale soda

1 small sprig thyme, finely chopped

Place the thyme in a glass with crushed ice. Pour the ginger ale over the ice and thyme. Serves 1.

—Valerie Phillips

Watermelon-Basil Cooler

6-7 cups seedless watermelon, in chunks (about 1/3 of a medium-size watermelon)

1-2 sprigs basil leaves (about 2 tablespoons)

Pinch of salt

Place the melon in a blender with the basil leaves. Puree until mixture is smooth. Refrigerate until well-chilled before serving, or serve over ice.

Makes about 2-3 servings.

— Valerie Phillips

Rosemary Lemonade or Limeade

1 can frozen lemonade or limeade concentrate (or 1 package diet lemonade mix), prepared according to package directions

3-4 sprigs rosemary, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

Mix the rosemary with the lemonade. Let steep in the refrigerator for 1-2 hours. Strain into a pitcher. Serve over crushed ice, garnished with rosemary sprigs. Makes 4-6 servings.

— Valerie Phillips

Rosemary Grape Chiller

1 can frozen white grape juice concentrate, prepared according to package directions

3-4 sprigs rosemary, chopped (about 1/4 cup)

Mix the grape juice and rosemary. Chill in the refrigerator 1-2 hours. Strain into a pitcher. Serve over crushed ice, garnished with rosemary sprigs. Makes 4-6 servings.

— Valerie Phillips

Berry Basil Spritzer

1-2 cups frozen or fresh berries, such as blueberries, raspberries or chopped strawberries

2 liter bottle club soda or diet lemon-lime soda, well-chilled

4-6 sprigs basil

Divide the berries evenly among 4 to 6 glasses, depending on how large your glasses are. Pour the soda over the berries. Add a sprig of basil to each drink as a garnish.

— Valerie Phillips

Minted Ginger Ale (or Non-Alcoholic Mint Julep)

1 cup crushed ice

2 tablespoons lime juice, or to taste

1 can diet or regular ginger ale

1 large mint sprig

Place 1/2 cup of the crushed ice in each of 2 glasses. Add 1 tablespoon of the lime juice to each glass. Pour ginger ale over the ice, and add a large mint sprig. Serves 2.

Options: You may want to add one or two chopped mint leaves to each glass for more mint flavor.

— Valerie Phillips

Herbed Gazpacho

If you have fresh tomatoes from your garden, use them instead of the V-8 juice.

1 large red or green bell pepper

1 small cucumber

1 stalk celery

3 12-ounce cans V-8 juice (or substitute about 6 medium peeled and pureed tomatoes per each can of V-8)

2 tablespoon dried onion flakes

1 teaspoon garlic powder

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Drops of hot sauce, to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

1-2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro, to taste

Cut the bell pepper, cucumber and celery in chunks. Place them in the blender with 1 can of the V-8 juice, onion, and garlic. Puree until chunky-smooth. Pour into a large serving bowl or tureen. Add remaining V-8 juice and balsamic vinegar. Cover and refrigerate until well-chilled. Season to taste with hot sauce, salt and pepper. Pour into cups or glasses to serve. Garnish with parsley or cilantro.

— "Soup's On!"

by Valerie Phillips

Lavender Lemonade

1 1/2 cup sugar

5 cups water, divided

12 lavender stems, or about 1/4 cup of dried lavender

2 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, strained

Ice cubes

Lavender sprigs and lemon slices for garnish

Place the sugar and 2 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Add the lavender, cover, and remove from heat. Let the mixture stand for at least 20 minutes and up to several hours.

Strain the mixture, discarding the lavender blossoms. Pour into a glass pitcher. Add the lemon juice and another 2 1/2 cups of water. Stir well. Taste and add more sugar, water or lemon as desired. Serve in pretty glasses over ice.

— Peggy Nelson,

Purple Apple Farm

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