By far, the most common ingredients in infusions are fruits and vegetables. From pineapples to carrots, dragon fruit to potatoes, they are everywhere. Walking through your local liquor store will prove their popularity as you can find vodkas, rums, gins, and even whiskey and tequila flavored with all sorts of common and exotic flavors. This popularity has of course put fresh fruits and vegetables at the fore front of the infusion movement. Add in the resurgence of local sourcing and an increased awareness of food knowledge and it has become easier and easier to find quality produce not only in your chain grocery stores, but at your local corner or farmers market.
However, a good infusion is not only determined by the quality of the product you put into it. Imagine a blind taste test. You are told you will be taste testing the finest of bananas in all of Chiquita. They give you a bite and you discover it is pithy, chewy, rather dry, and downright inedible. Upon taking off the blindfold you discover they never took it out of the peel. By not properly preparing the banana, all of its good qualities were lost, or not imparted unto you. The same concept applies to your fruits and vegetables being prepared for infusions. You have to properly prepare them to get the true flavor out of them.
There are three main rules to properly prepare your fruits and/or vegetables when infusing them:
1. Always clean your fruits and/or vegetables. ALWAYS. No matter how “organic” or clean you think they are, another wash and scrub under luke-warm water will always be less damaging to your end product than unknown chemicals and substances.
2. Cut them in a way that produces the most [edible] surface area possible. Wedges or slices are often the methods of choice. This provides the largest area possible for spirit to ingredient contact, where the actual infusion process will occur. The more area, the more flavor infuses.
3. Completely cover (submerge) your ingredients in the spirit. This too goes along with creating the most possible area for contact between the ingredients and the spirit. It’s also a matter of keeping as much air as possible away from the ingredients. Air helps hasten spoilage via oxidation at the points in which it contacts the fruit. The battle against this process is part of the reason many fruits have a skin, to protect the edible and fragile portions from the oxygen in the air. (Also why we use airtight jars for infusing.)
As always, there are exceptions to the rules. These will be covered later as we delve deeper into infusions. For now, by following these simple rules, you have a greater chance of actually turning that quality fruit or vegetable, into a quality flavor profile for your infusion.