Botanicals: Ingredients in Gin
Juniper, coriander, lemon and orange peel, cinnamon, tree bark, liquorice, nutmeg and violet root - when reading the list of ingredients of some Gins, such as Hayman's London Dry Gin, it is often hard to imagine that this wild mixture of spices, fruits and plants is supposed to make a delicious drink. But anyone who has tried a Gin or two knows that the recipes taste good! However, in the Gin industry they are not ingredients, but botanicals.
'Botanicals' refers to the plant ingredients that can be contained in Gin. This includes plants and plant extracts, which can be roughly divided into four groups: Fruits, herbs, seeds and grains, as well as roots and barks. As the spirit Gin had developed from a medieval medicine, there are still many 'healing' and 'soothing' among the ingredients - for example herbs, roots, seeds, flowers, barks, berries and fruits recommended by experts and publications in the field of health, fitness and wellness.
Tutti Frutti Botanicals
Juniper is included in every Gin. The EU's spirits regulation stipulates that the juniper flavour must predominate the aroma. Only then can a distillate be called Gin. This is how Gin gets its characteristically sweet, resinous and slightly peppery-spicy aroma. Apart from this requirement, there are no limits to the Gin-makers' imagination. The spirits journalist Karl Rudolf conducted a comprehensive survey among Gin producers for his book 'Gin' in 2017. He polled them to find out which botanicals, apart from juniper, are frequently used. Not every contact person was willing to disclose the exact composition. But Rudolf was still able to compile the botanicals of 134 Gins, with a total of 182 ingredients - apart from juniper - being named.
Citrus fruits are present in almost all Gins, usually even several types of fruit. Besides oranges and lemons, grapefruits, limes and pomelos are common, as well. Whether from the peels or the pulp, the fruity-sour citrus notes contribute a large part to the flavour of Gins. Often, only the peels are used, which are rich in essential oils. Not for nothing are they also part of many bitter and herbal liqueurs, which - in moderation - are considered healthy: Among other things, they stimulate digestion, strengthen the immune system and give energy.
Botanicals for the Herb Nerd
At the top of the list of botanicals is coriander, which is found in 60% of Gins. The fruits of the thorny bush contain essential oils that are healthy for the digestive system and bronchial tubes. In small quantities, coriander lightens the mood, in large quantities it makes you tired. In Gin, however, the quantities are so small that nothin of the calming effect is left. The taste of coriander leaves is polarising: Either you love it or you hate it. In contrast to the leaves, the small round fruits taste less soapy and more citrusy.
Among the herbs, some quite common kitchen herbs end up in Gins. Of course: what refines food also refines spirits. Chervil and chives, basil and borage, sage and sorrel - just as herbs add a certain pep in the kitchen, they do so in Gin, too. Depending on their origin, entire brands are characterised by herbs from one region: Frankfurt's 'Gin Sieben', for example, contains the seven herbs from the recipe for the famous Frankfurt Green Sauce: borage, chervil, cress, parsley, burnet, sorrel and chives. 'The Duke Munich Dry Gin' goes back to the beer-brewing roots of the Bavarian capital with the basic ingredients hops and malt. But there are also Gins like 'Elephant London Dry Gin', which is entirely dedicated to the African continent and its aromas, 'Canaima Gin', which is distilled with herbs and fruits from the Amazon rainforest, or 'Noble White', which aromatically covers the entire Alpine region.
Spice Spice Baby - Spices as Botanicals
Cardamom also contains many good essential oils, and is found in almost one fifth of the Gins Karl Rudolf examined. We know cardamom mainly from the Arab world, where it gives mocha coffee its spicy flavour. In Asia, too, it is an important ingredient in spice mixtures. In our western world, cardamom quickly springs to mind at Christmas time, as it is typically found in gingerbread and Christmas cookies. According to herbalists, the essential oils in cardamom are good for digestion, while they also relieve bad breath and act as an aphrodisiac.
Among the spices in the Gin ingredient lists, pepper stands out in all imaginable colours - white, black, pink, red - and from all over the world - Madagascar, Java, Indonesia, Cambodia. Pepper does not always taste as peppery as we know it from the usual black peppercorns. Depending on variety, cultivation or processing, pepper can even taste like flowers, chocolate or cheese! Other spices on the ingredient lists of Gins are allspice and ginger. Allspice tastes tart and sweet and has an aroma reminiscent of cloves and nutmeg.
Back to the Roots: Tubers and Roots in Gin
Ginger has been known as a so-called 'superfood' for some time. The term describes foods with (partly proven) health benefits. The ginger root is said to help against cold symptoms and nausea, to have a pain-relieving effect and to be beneficial for the figure and beauty. No wonder, then, that the superfood is also contained in almost 20% of the Gins recorded by Rudolf. The taste of ginger can best be described as warming and spicy, as known from Asian cuisine, for example.
Angelica root is a botanical in 63 of 134 Gins, which is just under a half. The essential oils and bitter substances of the root are known for their positive influence on digestion. That is why it is also contained in many cordials. The aroma of the root is very spicy, whereas the taste is rather sweet with a slightly bitter and also spicy note.
Whether roots, fruits or herbs, botanicals not only give Gin its flavour. Still today they are known for their medicinal effects and are contained in medicines. We don't want to go so far as to claim that Gin makes you healthy. Nevertheless, it helps to go back to the roots - in the truest sense of the word - to find out where the taste comes from.