Shrub, or drinking vinegar, has been utilized as a health tonic and culinary ingredient for centuries. Today shrub is used in everything from craft cocktails and cuisine to household cleaning supplies and spiritual tools.
What is Shrub?
Shrub is a vinegar flavored with fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices, and sometimes sugar. It is the natural biproduct of pickling.
Uses for Shrub
Historically shrub was considered a valuable health tonics that provided much needed electrolytes and nutrients. In modern times, cocktail crafters and chefs look to shrub as a unique ingredient. It’s added to mixed drinks, lemonade, salad dressings, marinades and more. The right shrub can replace vinegar almost everywhere vinegar is used.
Adding some herbs to your cleaning vinegar will give it a pleasant smell, and perhaps some magical power. Believers say that washing your floors with basil protects your home and invites abundance into your life; rose petals washed with bedsheets provokes passion. Infusing distilled vinegar with herbs and citrus is an easy and effective way to harness the power of those herbs.
How to Design a Shrub Recipe
There is no exact formula to make the perfect shrub, but here are some general guidelines I follow:
- Choose your ingredients carefully. Shrub can be made with ANY combination of fruit, veggies, herbs, spices, and sweeteners. Consider what the shrub will be used for as you gather ingredients. If you want to marinade a steak, stick with savory spices and vegetables. For a bright salad dressing, try citrus and fresh herbs with a touch of honey. Desserts and drinks are great with sweet, fruity shrub. It’s totally up to you and how complex you want to make your shrub – just be sure to have a plan in mind from the beginning.
- Sweet or savory? Adding sugar to shrub makes it more palatable on its own, but you don’t need to add sugar if you don’t want to. Sugar gives shrub a consistency like syrup, which is beneficial when using it to mix drinks, but not so much as a cleaning product. When I do use sugar, I usually go for regular old white sugar, but brown sugar adds some complexity. Honey, maple syrup, and agave are work well too.
- Consider a variety of vinegars. Traditionally, apple cider vinegar was the go-to choice as the base for vinegar tonics, but you can use any kind of vinegar you fancy! I particularly like working with prosecco vinegar – especially with more delicate flavors like citrus and sage. Balsamic vinegar makes amazing shrub with dark berries. Red wine vinegar is my favorite for salad dressings, and sherry is the perfect base for a marinade. For cleaning, you want to keep it simple and use distilled vinegar.
- Prepare the ingredients. Make sure you use a non-reactive container. If you’re using a mason jar, put plastic wrap over the top before you put the lid on or the vinegar will cause the metal to rust. Chop up fruits and veggies into small pieces. Fresh herbs can stay whole. Whole spices should be ground lightly. Citrus peel should be free of white pith. I like letting the sugar macerate the fruit before adding the vinegar, but that’s not necessary.
- No heat required. Simply add all your ingredients to your container, stir until the sugar is dissolved, and give it time. Store your shrub in a cool, dark place for at least 1 week before you use it. Vinegar is a natural preservative; after you stain out and discard the solids, the shrub will keep for 6 months.
When I develop a new shrub recipes, I often go through several experimental trials before I land on the perfect combination of ingredients. Don’t get discouraged if your first try isn’t exactly what you were hoping for! Here are some of my favorite original recipes:
Cleansing shrub is the simplest kind of shrub to make. All you have to do is add about ¼ cup of dried herbs, flower petals, or citrus peel to 2 cups of distilled vinegar and let it sit for a week. Strain out the solids and you have an all-natural cleaner that smells great!
Vinegar is already an essential ingredient in the kitchen. The most famous shrub of all time, Four Thieves Vinegar, is designed for cooking. Anything you use vinegar for – adding acidity to a cream sauce, building salad dressing, marinating meat and veggies, crafting homemade condiments – can be elevated by using a shrub instead. Flavored vinegars add extra oomph to dishes that you won’t achieve without them.
To make a great shrub to cook with, all you have to do is keep the flavors balanced and use just enough vinegar to cover your other ingredients. Balance flavors with contrasting ingredients: bitter herbs and spices are balanced by sweet honey or fruit; umami vegetables are balanced by bright citrus. Put everything you want to use in a container and submerge it all with vinegar of your choice.
Shrub for Mixed Drinks and Desserts
I first thought of adding a vinegar element to cocktails when I learned about Haymaker’s Punch – a nutritious drink from colonial times made with apple cider vinegar and ginger. Vinegar adds an interesting “zing” to mixed drinks, with or without alcohol. Shrubs make amazing non-alcoholic cocktails. When I make a shrub for a cocktail, I always use equal parts sugar, vinegar, and flavor. For every cup of fruit I add, I also add a cup of sugar and a cup of vinegar. This ratio results in a super concentrated and sweet shrub, which is perfect for mixing into drinks.
The possibilities are endless when it comes to how you make and use your shrubs. For more ideas and to see what I’m currently working on, follow me on Instagram @ladybeerdrinker!