September 30, 2011 9:54 pm

The taste test: lemonade

The winner’s secret revealed: pasteurisation rather than preservatives

Lemonade

To taste lashings of lemonade it’s essential to be by the seaside. So we drove a large box, containing 16 products, to the south Devon coast, adding one local offering on arrival. The panel, dressed in wind cheaters and sou’westers, were the Iberian Exile (IE), the Gourmet Celeb (GC), the Discerning Litigator (DL) and the Gluttonous Pig (GP).

The British do not have a lemonade culture – sadly we can’t order citron pressé or spremuta di limone in our cafés. Any country which calls that fizzy, clear stuff lemonade has a lot to learn. The word lemonade, it’s true, refers to many different still, fizzy, cloudy and sweetened concoctions. But for us there was one criterion only – it had to taste of lemons. To establish a gold standard the Iberian Exile made a jug of her Spanish recipe lemonade (squeezed lemons and syrup – complicated, I know). We tasted this last so as not to prejudice our taste buds. Only one product came anywhere near to it and two others made a passable attempt. The other 14 were a real disappointment.

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The fundamental problem comes with the preservatives and anti-oxidants which give commercial lemonade its shelf life – potassium sorbate, sodium metabisulphite, sulphur dioxide, sodium benzoate and potassium disulfite. I’ve nothing against any of these per se, but the end result was poor. The acid test came when pouring the leftovers down the sink. There should have been a great reek of citrus rising in the kitchen, but there was nothing. Our two top products, significantly, use a different process which I’ll explain later. First, the ones we judged the worst products.

Gran Stead’s Traditional Still Lemonade trumpets a “Great Taste Award” in 2009. We beg to differ: “a pong a bit like babies’ nappies” (GC). Barr’s Originals Traditional Lemonade has a comforting name but that’s about it: “oh dear” (IE); “bland” (GP).

A word about the “cloudy lemonades” sent to us by four supermarkets. Our tasting notes have such phrases as “bland”, “sickly sweet” and “synthetic”. They rely on comminuted concentrates and need a range of the preservatives I listed earlier to remain stable. Our three recommended lemonades took a different approach. Honourable mention to the local entry, Luscombe Sicilian Lemonade. Like our top two drinks, it uses natural lemon juice rather than concentrate – and it shows.

The secret of the runner-up and the winner is that they pasteurise their drinks rather than adding preservatives. In our blind tasting they were the only two products boasting this method and they came out ahead. The runner-up was Traditional Lemonade from the Grove Organic Fruit Co: “smells and tastes like the real McCoy” (GC).

Finally, to our clear winner – Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Lemonade: “really nice drink” (DL); “wow, it actually smells of fruit!” (GC); “authentically sharp!” (IE); “a real lemonade at last!” (GP). This is a superior product for which Sainsbury’s deserves credit. Hurry, while stocks last.

The winner: Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Sicilian Lemonade, £1.69 (750ml), www.sainsburys.co.uk

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