Freshly squeezed lime juice is one of the absolutely essential cocktail ingredients. But when you're just starting your (home) bartender career, perhaps you wonder whether you really have to squeeze limes for every cocktail.
Perhaps, you can cut a corner, make your life easier, and just go and buy your lime juice pre-bottled in the supermarket?
Ultimately, of course, that's up to you. But to help you make up your mind, I will explain everything you need to know about lime juice in cocktails and how to use it.
Why use lime juice in cocktails?
Making cocktails is all about the balance of flavors and tastes. To make a great cocktail, you need to get the combination of all different flavors right.
It's much like cooking, where you have to get the right balance of the five primary tastes: sour, sweet, salty, bitter, and umami.
The juice of fresh lime juice brings sourness to your drink. When you taste it pure, you immediately notice the intense sour taste created by the citric acid of limes.
Sourness gets balanced by sweetness, so every cocktail that wants lime juice also has a sweet ingredient. Usually, that's syrup, but a sweet liqueur is an option, too.
So let's assume you have the lime juice and syrup balanced. Add white Rum to this mix, and you have a Daiquiri cocktail. The combination of sweet and sour covers the harsh alcohol notes of the white Rum and makes a delicious and refreshing drink.
Now you have an idea why you need lime juice -or, alternatively, lemon juice- in your drinks.
But does it have to be freshly pressed lime juice, or can you buy those bottled versions from the supermarket? Let's check out the different options you have.
Bottled lime juice
Bottled lime juice is on offer in almost every supermarket, making it a very convenient option. And that's why this stuff gets bought way too often if you ask me.
Added preservatives and sugar make the lime juice less acidic and turn it into an artificial, sometimes almost flavorless version. I do not say bottled lime juice is low quality per se, but you can taste that it's not fresh.
So it's not in the same league as freshly squeezed lime juice, but it's an option.
Lime cordial has similar disadvantages as bottled lime juice and then some. Because with lime cordial, the amount of sugar is way higher.
The added preservatives and sometimes even artificial coloring makes it my least favorite option.
However, some cocktail recipes still ask for lime cordial. If you want to create a quick and dirty version of a Gimlet, for example, you just use a bit of lime cordial and Gin and have a cocktail.
But trust me, whatever you create with cordial or bottled juice won't be as good as it could be.
Freshly squeezed lime juice
Almost every recipe that contains lime specifically asks for fresh lime juice. And making it is super easy. Get fresh limes, cut them in half, and squeeze.
The freshness and acidic bite of fresh lime juice make it the best choice when you want to shake up a summer cocktail - or any cocktail, actually. Plus, in contrast to cordial, you can balance it out with syrup to get the perfect ratio for your taste buds.
If squeezing by hand is too laborious for you - or you just can't be bothered- order a lime squeezer. This tool will save you a ton of time and hassle.
Freshly pressed lime juice is a real treat. It's tangy, acidic, and simply super fresh. One lime will get you around 30ml (1oz) of pressed juice.
That means half a lime will get you 15ml (0.5 oz). I want to mention this because some recipes don't give you the amount and solely ask for "juice of half a lime."
And because I love to double-check and many recipes rely on accurate ratios, I always measure it with my jigger.
Aged lime juice
reshly pressed lime juice tastes downright acidic. While this sourness is what we're looking for in a cocktail, sometimes aged lime juice will make your cocktail even better. But let me explain.
When you squeeze lime, the cellular structure of the fruit breaks. The enzymes encounter chemical compounds like Nomilin and Limonoate A-ring-lactone and turn them into a bitter-tasting substance called Limonin.
Perhaps you now wonder why one would want to have a bitter-tasting compound in one's lime juice. Well, it's not bitter enough to make the lime juice unpleasant.
Therefore, your juice won't taste bitter, but the Limonin balances some of the harsh acidic notes of fresh lime juice.
As a result, aged lime juice has a way rounder flavor profile. Also, the cocktails you create with it will have a rounder, more mellow taste.
When a recipe asks for lime juice, you are always better off when you go with the freshly squeezed version. Either use it immediately or let it age for a couple of hours.
But don't be led to believe you can achieve the same result with bottled juice or even cordial. Honestly, these are only good when you're in a hurry and are okay with sacrificing quality.