A long, long time ago, I can still remember a Home Economics lesson at my school where we were taught how to make lemonade. I also remember that the amount of sugar that recipe contained was probably equal to the amount I now consume in about 6 months…. Fast forward a decade or two (or more!) and I have rediscovered and re-invented a lemon-based summer drink which has become our go-to refreshment during the hot months.
It all started during lockdown. Sitting on the balcony on a particularly warm day. It just called for some kind of refreshing cocktail. Memories of fresh fruit drinks mixed pool side by expert barmen in tropical locations… a sea breeze blowing. Ahhh!
Back to reality. As it slowly became apparent that this would not be happening anytime this year… Nor, would going to pick lemons from my parents or sister’s gardens this summer. Sigh! How to replicate a little of that spirit on my balcony? The answer came on my next trip to the grocery store where I found not the tropical fruits I had originally envisioned, but bags full of lemons.
They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Never has this been more true than this year where we have all had to learn the art of making the most of what we’ve got and hopefully learnt how to be happy with it (read about the secret to happiness here).
For those who live or have lived in the Middle East, you will be familiar with the ever present Mint Lemonade on Arabic food menus. My recipe below is a fusion between this and my old school lemonade, plus my secret ingredient.
But before we get to the recipe bear with me a moment while we explore the benefits of each ingredient.
Health benefits of lemons (vs limes)
Think summer and the image that comes to minds is endless sweating, right? When that happens your body is doing two things, trying to cool down and release toxins. Along with those toxins you are losing minerals such as potassium. This is where lemons come in. Not only are lemons considered thirst relievers in TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine), they are also potassium rich. They are good to restore appetite, relieve stomach heat, and help prevent sunstroke. They also happen to provide 77% of your recommended amount of Vitamin C, which in turn helps to boost your immunity and your iron absorption. Want more? Lemons help to prevent kidney stones by decreasing the calcium in your urine. Also, they help digestion and is a useful ally in treating nausea. In addition, lemons help prevent oxidative stress caused by those nasty free radicals, helping your skin to glow (rather than glisten from the heat!). Last, but not least, lemons are on the list of cooling foods (read more about this here).
What about limes, I hear you ask? Well, in terms of taste they might appear to be a good replacement. However, when you start comparing the nutritional properties against those of lemons they fall way short. Limes have just over half of the vitamin C that lemons have, more carbohydrates and less protein, as well as not containing nutrients such as folate or vitamin B6.
Ginger (Zinziber officinale)
Based on the principle that like cures like. I added a little bit of fresh ginger to my mix in the hopes that: a. it would boost my metabolism (it seems to have worked by promoting digestion and helping to regulate blood sugar levels), b. it would provide a cooling effect (akin to going to the sauna to feel cooler later). Remember, a little goes a long way! Add too much and all you will achieve is to feel even more hot and sweaty than before drinking it. In fact in TCM ginger rhizome (another way of saying root) is considered warming and can injure your yin energy. However, for the purposes of this recipe, the ginger is there to add to the taste rather than to be eaten. As long as that is all you do, no harm will come to your yin.
Would you be surprised to learn that mint is not just an ingredient to add to breath fresheners or tea? Among other things mint can boost brain function by stimulating the central nervous system as well as being instrumental in decreasing dyspepsia (commonly known as indigestion) symptoms by speeding up the emptying of the stomach. It also has the power to make everything you add it to feel “fresh”.
Let’s talk calories
Not convinced yet? Let’s look at the numbers. An average glass of orange juice or soda is somewhere around the region of 112 kcalories and 26 grams of carbohydrates. If you swap this out for a glass of lemon juice diluted in water, the calories drop dramatically to 6 kcalories and only 2 grams of carbohydrates. Or to put it differently, if you drink only one glass a day and you make the swap at the end of the year you will have saved yourself 39,000 kcals. The equivalent of approximately 6kg, without going to the gym or dieting!
Now that I have your attention, let’s talk about the secret to making this lemon drink taste as good as any soda.
The secret ingredient
The secret to healthy lemonade is very simple. Use fresh ingredients, skip the sugar and add a little sparkling water to mimic the effect of a soda without the side effects.
If you are worried about adding carbonated water because of the reports that drinking carbonated water has been associated with lower bone density and osteoporosis, then you should keep reading. According to a 2005 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition and quoted by Harvard Education, the results of this small clinical study are encouraging. Two groups of healthy postmenopausal women drank 1 litre of carbonated water a day, while the other group drank the same amount of noncarbonated water daily. After 8 weeks their blood and urine were tested and no difference was found in their levels.
Since the amount required by this recipe is much less, it is safe to say that there is no need to worry about your bone density levels. The benefits of drinking this deliciously cooling cocktail far outweighs such worries.
Lemon mint and ginger cooler
4 ripe lemons
2-3cm of fresh ginger root
3 glasses of natural mineral water
3 glasses of cold sparkling water (such as San Pellegrino or Perrier)
a handful of fresh mint leaves
1. Soak the lemons for at least 10 minutes in a bowl of water and bicarbonate. Rinse and dry. Then squeeze them using a juicer.
2. Wash the mint leaves and place them at bottom of a large jug with lid. Cover with the lemon juice.
3. Peel the ginger root and slice. Throw this into the jug.
4. Add 3 to 4 glasses of room temperature natural mineral water.
5. Add 2 to 3 glasses of chilled carbonated water. Mix well and serve immediately.
Add more or less lemon, and natural or sparkling water to taste. The taste will very much depend on the tanginess of the lemons you use. Sometimes less water is better, other times you can dilute it more by increasing the quantity of still water.
Remember that it is always best to drink room temperature. It is all right to store any remaining lemon cooler in the fridge. I simply add more room temperature water and/or lemon juice when I take it out before serving.
You can serve it on its own, or with food. Enjoy the refreshing taste of a cooling drink which is as healthy as it tastes good.
Now, back to dreaming about that pool near the tropics….