A Cordial Affair


Kaffir Lime Cordial


I’ve never been much of a trend spotter, and even less of a trend setter – just ask my friends from high school how many other people were wearing thrift-store kaftans. (Answer: none.) So, it would probably be wise to refrain from making any kind of predictions about the kinds of things that are likely to take the culinary world by storm in the coming months, but I have such a strong feeling about this one I’m going to stick my neck out. Call it a hunch or remarkable stroke of foresight, but I’m betting that soon, on drinks trays across the land, gone will be the gourmet juice cocktails, the expensive imported waters in futuristic glass bottles, and the flavored iced teas in every color of the rainbow, and in their place will be small pitchers of the intensely aromatic syrups called cordials.

Here’s why.

1. They’re cheap. As in pennies-per-drink cheap. And for whom is that not welcome news in these lean times? Of course if you choose to flavor yours with white truffle or fresh Himalayan goji berries they won’t be, but just about everything else will give you a pretty good cost-to-drink ratio. That is, unless you insist on diluting your cordials with bling.

2. They’re homemade. Along with cheap, I’m told anything made at home is all the rage now. Who knew? And to think, I was doing it all along – maybe I’m more of a trend setter than I imagined!

3. They’re sophisticated. Certainly much more sophisticated than plain water, no matter how groovy the design of the bottle it comes in. How cool will your guests think you are when you offer them a cucumber-cardamom cordial instead?

4. They’re versatile. As-is, they make great party options for kids and designated drivers. For those who want something harder, they easily double as cocktail mixers. Just top your glass up with a splash of gin or vodka, and you’ve just turned your refreshing afternoon thirst-quencher into a sexy evening tipple.

5. They allow you to stretch your creative muscles. Just think of all the flavor combinations at your fingertips! Off the top of my head, I’d say any of the following would make a killer cordial: lemon, ginger, rose water, vanilla, blood or regular orange, mandarin, lavender, pandan leaf, cinnamon, hibiscus, lemongrass, lemon verbena, mint, cracked cherry pits, and of course, the aforementioned cucumber and cardamom. Oh, not to mention just about any other fruit you can think of – and who knows, maybe even a few vegetables?

6. The British have been drinking them for ages, and if there’s one corner of the culinary galaxy the Brits have mastered, it’s the liquid one. Don’t believe me? Just consider British ales, the gin and tonic, the Pimm’s Cup cocktail, Earl Grey with a twist of lemon… See? In Britain, where cordials also masquerade under the name ‘squash’ (I haven’t figured out what the difference is), a good half-aisle in any supermarket is full of them, in every flavor from black currant to elderflower to lemon-barley (yeah, that one confounded me too, but it’s actually not half bad).

So there you have it. Are cordials the next cupcakes? Well, to be honest I don’t mind either way; the most important thing to me is that no one goes home thirsty.

Kaffir Lime Cordial

This is my recipe for a lime cordial with a twist, namely the delicate flavor of kaffir lime leaves. I also use this recipe as a template for other kinds of cordial, which I hope you’ll do too. A few thoughts: depending on the flavors you choose, you might want to substitute a tablespoon or so of powdered citric acid for lime or lemon juice for a more neutral tartness. As for sweetening, I imagine you could substitute a natural sweetener such as agave syrup for the sugar, though you’ll have to play around with the exact amount. Also, as far as spices go, use whole ones, not ground. Fruit cordials are no less difficult, but will probably take some experimentation to find the ideal ratios; I would start with a pound or so of fruit, coarsely chopped or crushed, and take it from there. Oh, and keep in mind that tart fruits – particularly things like raspberries, pomegranate, rhubarb, etc – will need less acid added to the syrup.
Yield: just under 2 cups syrup; recipe can easily be doubled

2 cups (400g) sugar
1 1/2 cups (325ml) water
8 kaffir lime leaves, sliced into ribbons
1/2 cup (125ml) lime juice
still or sparkling water and ice, for serving

Bring the sugar, water and lime leaves to a rolling boil in a medium-sized saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Reduce the heat to medium and boil gently for about 7-8 minutes, until the syrup smells intensely of lime leaves. Add the lime juice and simmer gently until the liquid begins to thicken, about another 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Strain the syrup into a clean glass bottle, discarding the lime leaves. Cover and refrigerate; like this the syrup will keep for a month.

To make a cordial, combine one tablespoon syrup with about 12oz (375ml) cold water and stir to combine. Serve over ice, if you like.


35 thoughts on “A Cordial Affair

  1. I think you are on to something! We’ve been having lots of fun extending seasonal ingredients into cocktails, and a cordial would be just as refreshing for a summer afternoon.

  2. As far as I could tell, from a year in the UK as a student some time back, the difference between a cordial and squash is just quality.Cordials are for adults, and squash is for kids (like kool-ade). Often the taste is adjusted accordingly.On the other hand, it also coveys the appearance of quality. At a bar, I would never offer you Ribena, I would serve you a blackcurrant cordial. 😉

  3. Mmm, that looks delicious! Although I did get a bit distracted from the recipe by the cordial v squash question! I’m a Brit and I had always thought of them as totally different things, but once I started thinking about it I wasn’t sure what the difference was. This may be wrong but for me squash is more synthetic, usually an unfeasibly bright colour, something you get at kids’ parties, whereas cordial is a more grown-up, natural type thing. (Your recipe would DEFINITELY be a cordial!) I feel there’s also something to do with the flavours – lemon and orange would be a squash, whereas elderflower could only ever be a cordial. I’ve found an article in the Times which says that "generally, with the exception of Rose’s lime cordial, with 5 per cent lime juice, cordials come in glass bottles and contain 20 per cent or more fruit juice. Most squashes are artificially sweetened with sucralose, acesulfame K or most controversial of all, aspartame; classy cordials contain sugar, about two to three teaspoons in a 200ml glass." (http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/article4178751.ece) That might be a little bit too much information…! Anyway, I do hope cordials are coming into fashion – they are delicious!

  4. In Australia, squash is fizzy. As in Lemon Squash. But cordial is cordial. Here, people are more and more turning to quality cordial, rather than the over sugard crap stuff from childhood. And I recently made my own lemon barley tea for the first time and it’s amazing! Try it. So refreshing in summer.

  5. Love your prediction and think it will have support. Ready made cordial concentrates and syrups are trending up but I don’t think they will completely replace these other drinks.Check out the Bottle Green company’s line of cordials. They aren’t homemade but are proving to be very popular.

  6. this looks amazing.. stunning photography as usual! i used to drink lots of cordial as a child, everybody in austria makes their own! my kids only drink water, but i will go out picking elderflowers with my eldest soon and maybe he’ll acquire a taste for cordial that way!

  7. fantabulous. I have a few lime leaves in the fridge, and should put them to good use – like this! Awesome photo.I completely agree, us Brits know our bevvies. One of the biggest shocks moving to the US was walking into a supermarket and not seeing a whole isle devoted to squashes. You know what though, I have never actually made one myself, apart from a cheesy lemonade recipe (not literally..) from a Kenwood mixer instruction manual.

  8. Brendon and Nora – Hmm, how interesting… I always just lumped them together in the ‘sweet syrup’ category, but now that you mention it I guess there is a quality difference. Blackcurrant cordial sounds like something I would happily spike my champagne with; Ribena, on the other hand, not so much… ;)Bells – So in Australia is squash sold as a concentrate or a pre-diluted fizzy drink?Dana – I don’t really think cordials will replace them either, but I certainly wouldn’t mind if they did. :)Dallas – Rosemary, doh! What a great idea.Johanna – Hey, nice to hear from you! So tell me, what kinds of cordials do Austrians tend to make?Matt – Oh that’s so funny! Would you believe that one of my most prized recipes comes from a Kenwood microwave instruction manual? Ha ha, and no, I’ll never reveal what recipe it is…

  9. This is wonderful. I am an impossibly food-allergic person who sometimes craves a fizzy soda drink in the hot summer. There are about 4 fruits and a handful of flavorings that I tolerate well. (Sugar, thankfully, is no problem.)I can sub grapefruit juice for your lime, and I can just picture black cherry cordial in my summer plans. Sitting on the porch will be even better this year!You know, my gentle grandmother (born before 1900 in Wisconsin) was from a long line of folks with British roots. She would give us a drink in summertime that she called "nectar." My wilder flapper grandma (ten years younger) gave us red Kool-Aid instead. I wonder if nectar was some sort of cordial (it tasted apple to me, and she was on a farm with a good number of fruit trees near the house). Grandpa was a beekeeper during WWII, so they were able to have some sweet things if they made them on the farm. Will need to ask my Mom.What an exciting thing to find at 1:30am when I should be asleep…. Thank you again.

  10. I would definitely say that squash is the cheap stuff with little or no real fruit juice in it and cordials are the real deal. The first time I tried it here, being from the U.S., I didn’t dilute it. Yeah. That was pretty nasty. I like to think of cordials as a throwback to WW2 rationing, with the whole diluting aspect to it.But they are lovely. And wonderful to add to sparkling wine! We have sweet lime and apple & plum at the moment, from Bottle Green…

  11. I am mad for anything with kaffir limes in it. Cordials are such a beautiful colour. Just think of how pretty a table with a couple different varieties would look in the afternoon sun. Many thanks for sharing the recipe.

  12. Half an aisle of bottles of squash and cordial in UK supermarkets may look an enticing prospect but 99% of them contain artificial sweetners especially aspartame and who, in their right mind, wants to ingest any of that? I have never tried making cordial but one summer when I was staying with my friend in Canada we got through large quantities of her homemade cordial – plum was a particular favourite – added to iced tea. We always had lemon barley as kids. I prefer orange barley now except it is full of crap sweetners which the lemon version doesn’t have. So the difference between squash and cordial? Apart from price and marketing? I would say it comes down to ingredients. Squash has a list of chemicals and cordial tends to include words like sugar and the names of fruits. I once read the ingredients on every bottle of that long aisle of squashes, looking for something I was prepared to allow the 40 kids to drink on a 4 day residential trip I was organising that was unlikely to send them doolally. It came down to a supermarket own-brand hi-juice. I felt if I wasn’t prepared to drink something I wasn’t going to expect others to either, even though I knew they all drank rubbish all day long.

  13. Nice post!I’m thinking that it might be nice to substitute a large handful of violet petals for the lime leaves — should make for a really interesting taste and great color.

  14. absolutely genius! i will be having a permanent bottle of this in the refrigerator this summer! I’m coming across as a huge LIME fan right??

  15. I love squashes. I love cordials. I do miss them terribly here in the US. I grew up in Bombay and lemon-barley water was one of my absolute favourite drinks. My mom threw a few mint leaves in the drink to cool us down in the summers. And lime cordial was always my drink of choice in clubs. I do miss that here. The closest thing that comes to it in flavour is Limonata, the Italianish soda drink. I’ve never thought to make my own and seeing this recipe here, am tempted to try. Thanks for it!

  16. Thanks so much for the lovely post, I made this with rhubarb and ginger and it was fantastic. We added it to plain water, fizzy water and Prosecco – all three were so refreshing and a beautiful pink color. I’m going to try muscat grapes and lemon next!

  17. Yes, it makes sense. More than that, I LOVE kaffir lime, and this looks like a recipe to try this summer.I wonder about that "bling" thing. A bottle of water for 20 freaking dollars?! Just wait for the water to cost that much due to climate change etc… There’s a reason Parish Hilton upsets me. She sets an example for all the little girls out there – be rich, be famous, and be adored for being a stupid bimbo. Brain doesn’t matter – "BLING" does. Right? Wrong!Right now I’d invest every buck that goes into that bling BS in desalination technology, and improving the taste of desalinated water. God knows we’ll need it.Sorry, needed to vent. Rant over. And thanks again for the recipe, this budget-tight summer Cordials are the way to go!

  18. Interesting that I found your blog today througha friend’s links. I was in Seattle last week, including a brief trip to Bainbridge Island which i fell in love with, and I just posted a review of a lovely restaurant I visited there

  19. Wow that looks amazing, love the photo! Oh, please do pop by my blog, I’m a newbie in this food/photography sphere : )

  20. Now of course here in the US, a cordial normally refers to an exclusivly "adult" beverage, usualy sweet-tart, occasionally bitter-sweet, of about 40 proof or more. I believe what you refer to as a cordial or squash can typically be found here under the guise of coffee and Italian soda flavor syrups. Homemades are so much better – both with plain soda water and as cocktail bases. I learned some new flavor combos I never would have thought of – thank you.

  21. I am salivating…. Kaffir lime leaves are one of my favorite culinary pleasures, and now in drink form! Could you please share your recipe for the cucumber/cardamom cordial? Cheers!Lorriehttp://read-n-eat.com/

  22. When I moved to the US, I was surprised to find that there are few products like the cordials that I grew up with. II imagine that pretty much every Australian household – especially those with kids – would have cordials in the pantry. Having lived in Britain, I’d say that the everyday Australian cordials are much nicer than the British – mainly because Australian cordials are made on sugar rather than artificial sweetners. Thera re quite a few interesting higher-end / adultish cordial companies in Australia. One of my favorite companies is this one – http://www.alchemycordial.com.au/Their "Honeydew melon, lime and bitters" cordial is fantastic – very cooling.

  23. Mmmmmmm… I couldn't wait to get kaffir lime leaves, and since I have a lime tree out my window, i replaced the leaves with the zest of 2 limes. Even better, after I strain the cordial, I am rewarded with candied lime zest for garnish! Yummy its cooking right now!

  24. Why, at the end of the recipe for the cordial, do you say "To make a cordial, combine one tablespoon syrup with about 12oz (375ml) cold water and stir to combine. Serve over ice, if you like."?

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