When it comes to lime juice, freshest is best ... right? Not so fast!
Sunkist commercial juicer: juicing at the speed of thought.
At Tales of the Cocktail one of my co-speakers, Death + Company superstar bartender Thomas Waugh and I got into an argument about lime juice. He insisted that juice made with a machine—specifically the Sunkist Juicer—is inferior to juice pressed by hand using a hand juicer (pictured to the left, below).
When we finished bickering about juicer merits I launched into my standard anti-old-lime-juice tirade. Lime juice doesn't keep. I have spent years and thousands of dollars trying to achieve good lime flavor that sticks around, but neither I nor the corporations that have spent way, way more have found a way to truly preserve fresh lime flavor. I've tasted the best that the flavor houses can muster—which are good, but not perfect.
After the seminar, a bartender approached me and said his bar had run some tests, the results of which showed that they preferred the taste of lime juice that was several hours old to fresher lime juice. I wish I could remember who he was. His conclusions struck me as odd, and I recently decided to investigate further.
Hand juicer: goes anywhere, is only as fast as its master.
During the last week of September I was a guest speaker at the BAR program—the mega bartender class by Dave Wondrich, Dale Degroff, Paul Pacult, Steve Olsen, et al. I was to speak to 55 people who had just gone through a rigorous spirits tasting program. I decided to do the lime juice test:
At 2:00 p.m. we separated one and a half cases of limes into three equal piles. I juiced one pile in the Sunkist juicer and one pile with the hand juicer. We were done by 2:15. We weighed the samples —the machine juicer yielded 26 ounces of juice, the hand juicer 21.5. I then put the juice in covered quart containers and left them out of the fridge.
The yield from the hand-juiced limes on the left, the Sunkist on the right.
At 6:15 p.m. I juiced the third pile. We then made limeade by mixing the same amount of each lime juice with measured amounts of water and simple syrup. We served it in a blind tasting at 7:00 p.m.
The overwhelming favorite was the hand-squeezed lime juice that was four hours old. The distant second place was four-hour-old machine-pressed juice. Almost no one chose the fresh, hand-squeezed juice. Before I revealed what the samples were, I asked those who chose the four-hour hand-pressed juice to choose a second favorite. They all chose the four-hour machine juice. I was flabbergasted, and so was the audience.
If these results are repeatable, hand-pressing makes better juice than machine-pressing (in a Sunkist), but the effect isn't as important as using slightly aged lime juice. Bartenders, your drinks are probably tasting better at the end of your shift than at the beginning.