Each row of fruit on the garnish tray has a specific purpose. Some are just for looks while others are added to cocktails for flavor. But there’s one garnish in particular that’s commonly misjudged due to its diminutive size: the lemon twist.
Certainly you’ve seen them floating around in someone’s martini glass, like a small piece of yellow debris that slipped passed the strainer. This little strip of lemon, while it may not look like much, holds quite a bit of flavor in the rind (or peel) when liberated by twisting it over the cocktail. This burst of essential oils is called zest and adds a hint of flavor to the spirit.
Rimming the glass with the rind adds more direct flavor as well as a light scent of lemon as a compliment. Its intention is not to influence the flavor the beverage like a lemon wedge and its mild potency cannot compete with multi-spirited cocktails. The lemon twist is best one on one with vodka or gin. It enhances botanical mixers like tonic and ginger ale and is easier to detect in more neutral mixers like club soda and water.
Lime twists are not common and mostly served as decorative garnishes. Limes do not hold essential oils in their rinds like lemons and will not add flavor. If you’re looking for lime flavoring in your cocktail ask for a lime wedge, not a lime twist.