10 Flavour Builders: Levantine Libations | Flavor & The Menu

By Rob Corliss

The alluring cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean, which includes Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Syria and Turkey, has garnered peak culinary interest across food menus. This region is also a rich source of beverage inspiration. Ingredients such as mint, pistachio, apricot, cinnamon, citrus and coffee are already familiar to American consumers, while more exotic options like sumac and arak (a licorice-flavored spirit) can spark interest and deepen the flavor story. Operators can take guests on a memorable tour with Eastern Med ingredients like harissa or Urfa chile for flavorful heat and za’atar or baharat for aromatic spice.

Showcase these seductive ingredients front and center to introduce emerging flavors to adventure seekers. To appeal to customers who look for less complexity, focus on leveraging a single flavor as a harmonizing back note. Another option is to take these ingredients out of the expected Eastern Med realm and infuse them into mainstream cocktails, adding a touch of intrigue. The following 10 areas demonstrate the rich opportunities in beverage development that tap into the flavors and ingredients of this region.

1 SUMAC

Enliven cocktails by featuring sumac’s distinctive red hue for vibrant color, its coarse ground texture for contrast and its bright, citrusy tone for flavor. Sumac’s sharpness helps balance cocktails, working nicely as the sour component of a number of different builds.

Sumac Fizz
Gin + sumac syrup + egg white + soda water

Sumac Swizzle
Rum + falernum + lime + blood orange + sumac + bitters

2 PISTACHIO

The pistachio’s flavor blends seamlessly with most ingredients, providing an Eastern Mediterranean vibe. Look to pistachio-infused spirits, orgeat, butters and syrups for inspiration.

Pistachio Aviation
Crème de violette + pistachio syrup + gin + maraschino liqueur + lemon

Pistachio Daiquiri
White rum + pistachio butter + lime juice + Urfa chile simple syrup

3 SPICE BLENDS

The Eastern Mediterranean boasts an abundant array of spice blends with proven merits on food menus. These can transition easily to cocktails, introducing bold, savory touches as either infusions or dramatic garnishes and rims.

Za’atar Paloma
Tequila + grapefruit juice + lime juice + za’atar simple syrup + seltzer + salt rim

Shakshuka Mary
Vodka + tomato juice + roasted red pepper purée + harissa + preserved lemon + Worcestershire + baharat rim + charred laffa garnish

4 TAMARIND

As sour grows in popularity, the acidic pungency of tamarind is well positioned as a complement to both sweet and savory cocktails. Its distinctive flavor is quite versatile, excelling in Mediterranean-influenced cocktails, as well as those that conjure the cuisines of India, Africa, Mexico and Southeast Asia.

Tamarind Sour
Whiskey + tamarind purée + lime juice + maraschino cherry liqueur

Hornet’s Knees
Gin + tamarind juice + orange blossom honey

5 ARAK

Prized for its flavor mix of fermented grape juice and aniseed, plus its delicate aroma, arak, a distilled spirit, is interwoven through Eastern Mediterranean culture. This authenticity will resonate with guests who respect historical ingredients and appreciate specialty finds.

Saz-arak
Brandy + arak + Demerara syrup + bitters + lemon twist

Arak Buck Cherry
Arak + ginger ale + dark cherry juice + orange peel

6 POMEGRANATE

Pomegranate has become fairly well established and for good reason. It has the ability to transform drinks with its lush flavor and intoxicating color. Pairing it with lesser-known ingredients from this region keeps the profile anchored in the familiar.

Moroccan Mint Tea Julep
Bourbon + Moroccan mint tea + cinnamon-clove syrup + fresh mint + pomegranate seeds

Pink Bellini
Pink prosecco + pomegranate purée + rose water splash

7 DATES

Dates lend natural sweetness and rich caramel hues to cocktails. Date syrup, in particular, provides a new sweetener alternative, with its natural, recognizable flavor, and carries with it a strong sense of place.

Turkish Jerez
Sherry + date syrup + apricot brandy

Old Fashioned Date
Rye bourbon + date syrup + orange bitters

8 CITRUS

Citrus is an essential ingredient across Mediterranean cuisines and a perennial flavor element on cocktail menus. Operators can hit big with fresh sophistication by doubling down on all forms of Eastern Med citrus in beverages, highlighting varieties like Bergamot oranges and Sorrento lemons.

Cyprus Punch
Orange blossom gin + Aperol + smashed cucumber + mandarin orange juice + lime slices

Sultan’s Mule
Turmeric vodka + ginger beer + grapefruit juice + lime

9 CARDAMOM

This powerhouse spice is starting to trend on forward-thinking menus and is poised to become a “must-have” ingredient in cocktail development. Use cardamom’s warmth and citrusy, peppery flavor as a finishing touch. Chai, that already familiar spice blend that includes cardamom, is a good way to ease guests into the experience.

Beergroni
Cardamom-infused orange juice + vermouth + Campari + lager float

Chai Stormy
Dark rum + chai syrup + lime wedge + fresh ginger slice

10 ARABIC COFFEE

Coffee culture continues to evolve. Look to dark, strong coffee to show up in a range of beverages, from sodas and lower-alcohol spritzes to full-bodied cocktails. Deep, robust coffee flavors—like those found in Levantine coffees—will provide a welcome counter to the lighter-style drinks that are inundating menus today.

Bedouin Coffee Spritzer
Turkish coffee liqueur + cardamom-saffron simple syrup + sparkling lemon water

All-Nighter
Double shot cold Lebanese coffee + brandy + crème d’ apricots + jallab (fruit syrup) swirl

Source: 10 Beverage Builders: Levantine Libations – Flavor & The Menu

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