Smoothies on the Upswing
By: Piet E. Jones
Gone are the days of artificial and chemically produced flavors. Fresh, real flavors are what customers are looking for these days. One way to take advantage of seasonally fresh flavors is through fruit smoothies. Relatively easy to make, smoothies can help you leverage local produce that’s in season and appeal to health conscious customers who want to enjoy a refreshing beverage but are avoiding over sugared sodas.
From berries to melons, the seasonal abundance of fruit (and corresponding affordability) allows seasonally shifting choices that will keep interest as fresh as the fruit. Of course, after you’ve picked out your fruits for puree, either single or a blend of multiple fruits, what other choices can you make for an exciting beverage?
First, you need a liquid to get the puree to a drinkable state. Apple juice or cider brings both liquid and flavor to the party but not might match with every fruit combination. A 1% milk will add smoothness to the drink or, for the lactose intolerant or those just avoiding dairy, almond milk will achieve a similar result. For true trendy appeal, try coconut water.
Another trend you can incorporate into your smoothie is a superfood, like avocado. Adding both creaminess as well as good fats, avocados make a great base that can mix with a whole host of other anti-oxidant superfoods to amp up your healthy offerings. Blueberries are good, and a great match with creamy avocado, but do you really think anyone is going to not try an avocado and dark chocolate smoothie? Satisfying both healthy desires and chocolate cravings all at once is a good thing.
Herbs are also great for customizing your drinks or keeping fruits like banana, available year round, from getting stale and tired. Mint will keep that banana from being one-note or you can get a little more exotic with a little lavender and a spoonful of chia seeds to keep the superfood theme going. Basil will add color and flavor, especially when blended with mango or the bright mango color can be made richer and deeper with a pinch or two of turmeric.
Next you’ll want to check the sweetness. It might not be. A simple syrup, made with either cane or Demerara, can work. Some almond milks are pre-sweetened and there’s nothing wrong with a little honey. Yes, artificial sweeteners can work, but there are alternatives out there. Try stevia extracts, a little can sweeten a lot and there is some evidence that it is friendly to diabetics.
You can substitute out veggies for the fruits, although at that point you might want to upgrade from a blender to a real juicer to reduce the amount of residual vegetable matter. Kale, carrots, even sweet potatoes, are all good candidates. The leafy vegetables, kale or spinach, do cry out for something with a little more substance, lest they become watery. A banana does the trick just fine. Sweet potatoes need to be peeled, baked, and cooled, you can bake the night before and let them get down to temperature over night. They also benefit from a little banana added and the result ends up tasting an awful lot like ice cream but with no added sugar.
A quick hint about bananas, used in so many of these drinks. Cut them up into 1-2 inch pieces and pop in the freezer. It helps concentrate the naturally occurring sugars, makes them super soft (when no longer frozen) and easier to incorporate into the drink. Plus, this helps cool the drink down without diluting the flavors and ingredients with more ice. Then there’s never having to waste product that goes too ripe before you get a chance to use it.
Your smoothie, of course, doesn’t just have to be a drink. Adding yogurt will thicken it up and you can top it with everything from granola to chia or flax seeds to make it a healthy and refreshing dish for breakfast or lunch.
With a little preplanning, it can also be overnight oats. Simply mix a 1/2 cup of rolled oats with a full cup of fruit puree and the liquid of your choice, let sit overnight in the fridge. No cooking required. You could even drop the fruit and add some peanut butter for an extra protein burst. Easily and trendily served in Mason or Weck jars for a stunning presentation.
On the other hand, your smoothie could stay a drink. A real drink. Get some of that puree up to your bar staff and let them go to work on it. Who could really resist a little fig puree served up with tequila and splash of sherry and a squeeze of lime on a hot summer day?