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Garnish or garbage

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Have you ever looked down at your cocktail and wonder why it was given the garnish it was? The truth is the fruit that gets squeezed into the cocktail or hangs from the rim is mandated by the recipe. The added lemon/lime/orange/cherry is simply part of the design whether it is for visual or for flavor thus dividing the fruit tray into two categories: garnish and garbage. Here’s how to tell which is which.

While all “accessories” are typically called garnishes, a functioning garnish enhances or changes the flavor of the cocktail. To break it down, think of a martini. Adding an olive changes the taste of the vodka or gin by adding a briny flavor. Squeezing a lemon wedge into a vodka and club soda gives it a lemony zing. Lime in a gin and tonic enhances the botanicals in both the gin and the tonic. Most times the bartender will hang the lemon or lime wedges on the rim allowing the customer to add the amount of preferred flavor of the fruit. Other garnishes include onions, cucumber, mint and lemon twists.

Garnishes viewed as garbage are anything that’s decorative. Most fruity and frozen drinks are adorned with garbage like pineapple wedges, orange wheels and Maraschino cherries. These types of garnishes, while edible and delicious, are there to give the drink a finished look. The cut of the fruit also distinguishes between garnish and garbage. Anything in a wheel or half wheel is considered garbage thus putting lemons and limes in the garbage category if cut in such a way. Other types of garbage found in cocktails are apple slices, lime twists, watermelon wedges and whipped cream.

There are a few accessories that can play both sides like celery stalks and the above mentioned Maraschino cherries. While the celery stalk is a staple of the Bloody Mary, it’s used more as a utilitarian garnish than for flavor as the stalk doesn’t release celery flavor into the drink. As for the Maraschino cherry, it’s an ingredient (as well as an orange wheel) in an old fashioned. You can make an old fashioned without it but then it wouldn’t be an old fashioned. The same can be said about the Manhattan.

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