Life gave me bitter what?
August 1, 2007 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Why is my lemonade turning bitter?

I recently decided to try making some homemade lemonade using the basic recipe I've found on about a gazillion recipe sites ... sliced lemons (1 per quart), sugar (1 cup), ice, water. I take the thiny sliced & seeded lemons and sugar and I mash the crap out of them so there is a nice slushy sugary lemony mess. Then I mix it all up with ice and water. And it tastes awesome.

However, when I leave it to chill overnight, it turns horribly bitter & undrinkable. Mixing it up doesn't help.

Why is this? I feel like it's probably something obvious, but my Google-fu sucks and all I found were metaphors of bitterness and life giving you lemons and that sort of thing.

Is it the lemon peels? Should I peel the lemons before mashing everything up? Or does lemonade just not stay tasty for long?

Help...I really like lemonade & I really feel stupid that I can't make a simple pitcher of lemonade that tastes good for a full 24 hours.
posted by tastybrains to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Yep, probably the rinds - you know how bitter and sneaky they can be. I juice my lemons, and the lemonade stays fresh forever. (well not really forever but at least for a week ;)
posted by iconomy at 6:11 PM on August 1, 2007

Whenever I make lemonade, I mix the water and sugar, juice the lemons, and mix in the juice. The pith of the lemon (the white part) is really bitter.
posted by Marky at 6:11 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

These all say to juice the lemons. I'd say that the lemon peels are what's causing your problems, but I'm not 100% positive on that.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 6:13 PM on August 1, 2007

Are you using a metal pitcher? That could be a problem. Otherwise, no clue.
posted by The Deej at 6:21 PM on August 1, 2007

Best answer: It is most definitely due to leaving the lemons in. If you like having them there, slice one into your glass, or a small pitcher for serving, but do not store the lemonade with lemons in it. The rind and the pith are the culprits, pulp is ok.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:31 PM on August 1, 2007

Best answer: As jamaro says, the pith (white part of the peel under the yellow zest) is terribly bitter.

The zest itself, though, is the difference between pretty good lemonade and the tangy, fragrant lemonade you deserve. The zest is full of delicious citrus oil.

I slice the zest from the lemons before slicing or squeezing them. I use a sharp knife, since it's easier to control that a vegetable peeler. Then with the edge of the knife, trim off any residual patches of pith from the zest. Now you have all the rich gorgeous lemon flavor without any of the vile pith.

If you want to use plain ole sugar & water, you can make a nice lemonade by mashing the sugar and lemon zest together, sure, but it'll be a bit grainy. So, if you're making kick-ass lemonade, then why not make kick-ass lemonade by making simple syrup?

So easy. Put 1 part sugar in a saucepan. On top, dump 1 part water. Don't stir. Mark a cross in it with your finger or a wooden spoon; this lets the water permeate the sugar a bit. Put over medium-high heat; boil (not a raging boil, and do not stir) about five minutes. This dissolves the sugar crystals into the syrup, and they'll stir right into the water and juice to make a smooth lemonade.

Here's a trick I like: when the simple syrup has cooled a bit, toss in the strips of lemon zest. The heat releases the oils into the syrup, and when you add the lemon juice and water, your lemonade will be like a glass full of summer.

(Psst: if you make extra simple syrup with lemon, you can keep it in a jar in the fridge. I keep mine in an old honey container with a flip-top, so it's easy to squeeze out into a glass. Try this: in a tall glass, squirt a bit of lemon syrup, a splash of voka or gin, and fill the rest of the glass with seltzer or club soda. Mmmmmm. Refreshing.)
posted by Elsa at 6:33 PM on August 1, 2007 [587 favorites]

Keep the peel, get rid of the pith, end up with lemon squash, if you like a bit of rind-y flavour...
posted by kmennie at 6:43 PM on August 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Elsa, your post is making me salivate something fierce.
posted by darkshade at 6:57 PM on August 1, 2007

Try this classic lemonade recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I promise it is the best tasting lemonade you will ever make:

Classic Lemonade
serves 6–8

If you like, scrape the pulp from a couple of mashed lemon slices into the pitcher to make a more pulpy lemonade. Adding one tablespoon of grenadine turns the lemonade pink and imparts extra sweetness.

10–12 medium lemons , scrubbed well, halved pole to pole, all halves sliced thin
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
pinch table salt (optional)
5 cups water (cold)

Mash lemons and sugar (and salt, if using) in large, deep bowl or saucepan with potato masher or wooden spoon until lemon slices give up their juice, sugar is dissolved, and juice is thickened to syrup consistency, about 4 minutes. Pour half the lemon slices and syrup through large sieve over bowl or saucepan; press on solids with masher or back of wooden spoon to release as much liquid as possible. Discard solids; transfer liquid to serving pitcher. Repeat process with remaining lemon slices. Stir in water until blended. Chill well and stir to blend before serving, over ice if desired.
posted by kellygreen at 7:00 PM on August 1, 2007 [8 favorites]

In addition to Elsa's great recipe, it's also really easy to make your own lemon vodka, and it's basically the same method. Just add the lemon (or lime, or any citrus) zest to vodka, and let it sit for two weeks.

Here's a recipe for Limoncello, but you can omit the second step of adding the sugar, if you prefer it unsweetened. If you like that and feel like branching out, here a bunch of other infused vodka ideas.
posted by Gamblor at 8:20 AM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

In response to Elsa's recipe, I would only add that your lemon syrup will last longer if you do a 4 to 3 ratio of sugar to water. For example, a cup of sugar to 3/4 cup water. The water activity of the resulting syrup will make it pretty bulletproof even outside of your fridge. Let's say, it can sit on your counter (no fridge necessary) for a good 6-8 months.

posted by rush at 1:25 PM on August 2, 2007 [2 favorites]

Elsa: Some would think proposing marriage over a simply pitcher of perfect lemonade would be foolish.

As a right Southern gentleman, I of course would disagree vigorously.

Lemonade is what makes life in the South in August bearable.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:08 PM on August 2, 2007

Excellent work, Elsa.

Ever tried the same process with limes?
posted by Aghast. at 2:50 PM on August 3, 2007

One important caveat about good lemonade is "age" - fresh lemonade tastes different than old. In SoCal I made lots of lemonade with fresh lemons and simple syrup. (though I didn't know to put the zest into the syrup).

Lemons (particularly from a friend's tree) vary in tartness and sweetness so it was important to gradually add simple syrup to a lemon-juice/water mix and taste it until the right sweet-sour mix was achieved.

I got fairly good at this and could often just eye-ball the proportions after tasting the lemons.

One day I made several pitchers of lemonade for a party - all adjusted to taste great. But there were few drinkers and a lot of leftovers.

The next few days there was a lot of left-over lemonade and all of it was bland and too sweet.

So for fresh lemonade the flavor and zing of fresh lemons can decay quite quickly.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 2:23 AM on August 4, 2007

Wow. Y'all really like lemonade.

One caveat: though the admins labelled my off-the-cuff comment as "perfect lemonade recipe," it's not a proper recipe, just a few hints for perfecting a pre-existing recipe. I've posted a fairly long follow-up with an actual recipe and some more hints here for anyone who wants it.

(Aghast., I discuss limeade there as well.)
posted by Elsa at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2007 [4 favorites]

If you're making simple syrup, I like adding star anise, and sometimes other aromatics (cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, and cloves to it). I like the taste it gives to lemonade. If I'm lazy, I'll just toss a star anise or two into my glass of lemonade.
posted by pombe at 12:34 PM on August 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I love star aromatics in my lemonade! i also love throwing in mint, oranges and strawberry slices
posted by RoadTripPlanner at 3:37 AM on September 25, 2007

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