Shrubs date back hundreds of years, when people mixed fruit with vinegar to preserve it for extended periods of time. The vinegar extracts a lot of flavor from the fruit, resulting in a liquid that has as sweet, fruity flavor that is surprisingly delicious. While the vinegar method was effective, shrubs are a lot more delicious if you add some sugar to the mix, which is typically how they are prepared. These days, shrubs are not used just as a way to preserve the flavor of fresh fruit, but as the base for homemade sodas and cocktails.
A glass of vinegar might not sound like your ideal drink, but you just might be surprised by what a delicious beverage it can turn into when you’re making shrubs at home!
Shrubs start with three basic ingredients: fresh fruit, sugar and vinegar. You can add other ingredients to that trio to add in additional flavors, but the three main ingredients are going to be the building blocks of all of your shrubs.
Almost any type of fruit can be used to make a shrub, from berries to stone fruits. The fruits used in these shrubs are not cooked, but simple chopped up before being combined with the other ingredients. The combination of the sugar and vinegar pulls out the natural juices in the fruit as the mixture marinates, which is why no cooking is necessary.
To speed along the infusion process, I recommend not leaving your fruit whole. When I use large fruits, such as peaches or strawberries, I cut them into small pieces before using them. When using small fruits, such as raspberries or blackberries, I lightly crush them to start to release their juices.
I use plain, white sugar in my shrubs. It has a neutral flavor and allows the fruit to dominate the shrub. You can use other sugars, such as brown sugar or raw sugar, in your shrubs to give them a little bit more complexity. Maple sugar is a very fun ingredient to play around with, particularly if you are using stone fruits in your shrubs. Some sugars, such as coconut sugar, have a very strong flavor and might overwhelm the flavor of the fruit if you are not careful.
Apple cider vinegar is my go-to vinegar for making shrubs. It has a pleasant natural sweetness that goes very well with the fresh fruits. It is inexpensive and can be bought in bulk, just in case you’re planning to do a lot of shrubbing. Balsamic vinegar can work very well with dark red fruits while white balsamic vinegar pairs nicely with lighter-fleshed fruits. I don’t recommend using white vinegar, rice vinegar or red wine vinegar, as they have strong flavors that might not give you the best results.
The basic shrub is made with 1 part fruit, 1 part sugar and 1 part vinegar. You can play around with the ratios to suit your own personal tastes or to accommodate the fruits you are using. For instance, if you have a particularly tart batch of berries, you might want to add more sugar to the mix. To add in other flavors, add a few sprigs of a favorite herb (strawberries + thyme, or raspberries + mint) or a piece of citrus peel (orange + peach) as you combine your ingredients and allow it to steep.
How to enjoy your shrub drink recipes
Once your shrub is made, you can enjoy it. The easiest way to enjoy a shrub is to combine 1 1/2 oz of shrub with 4-6 oz sparkling water to make a tangy, fruity soda (pictured at the top of this post). You can also add an ounce of shrub to a favorite cocktail recipe to give it a fruity twist.
Raspberry shrub drink recipe
- 4 oz raspberries
- 4 oz sugar
- 4 oz apple cider vinegar
Place raspberries in a closed container and gently crush them with a spoon. Add sugar and vinegar, close the container and give it a good shake, then store everything in the refrigerator for at least 2-3 days.
Taste your shrub and if the flavor is where you want it, strain out the fruit and return the liquid to the fridge until you are ready to use it. If it isn’t as intense as you would like, allow the fruit to steep for a few more days. The finished shrub will last almost indefinitely.
Substitute 4 oz chopped, hulled strawberries for the raspberries and repeat process.
Substitute 4 oz chopped, pitted peaches (peaches can be unpeeled) for the raspberries and repeat process.