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I have been making homemade lemonade for a few years in the summer and slowly, starting from an online recipe, I have been perfecting it (on a mainly trial and error basis) to reduce the amount of caster sugar I put into it, the recipe thus far is:

  • 4 M-S lemons or 3 L
  • 1 orange
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 1l water

I clean and zest the orange and lemons and set the zests to simmer for 2 mins (in as much water as needed to just cover them) while i squeeze the juice of all the citrus fruits. I boil 600ml of the water while keeping the other 400 cold. Into the boiling water I place the caster sugar and then the juices followed by the simmered water (straining the zest peels) and finally the cold water on top and let it to rest.

This adds enough sugar to curb the lemony sourness (which personally I don't mind) and adds some sweetness to it all. I like the addition of the sweeter orange to the mix too.

I was wondering if any of you have advice on how to maybe reduce the sugar further and find an alternative way to curb the sourness just enough to have the pleasant lemony flavour and yet achieve a nice level of sweetness.

I don't want to use any traditional sweetener: neither a different form of sugar, nor an artificial sweetener. Are there ingredients or methods which will nevertheless increase the perceived sweetness of the drink and allow me to further reduce the sugar content?

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    Hello Fiztban, I have to close the question in its current form. "Natural" or "healthy" is not something we can use as a criterion, so I could throw out this part of the question, which leaves "how to make lemonade sweet" and the answer will be "Add any sweetener". If you need some more information, and have some other constraint than "I want to add a healthy sweetener", you can edit the question and we can reopen. As it is, I don't see much point of having it open after we remove the health constraint. – rumtscho May 15 '15 at 14:01
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    @fizban OK, this opens a different can of worms (in the sense that the perception of nonsweet ingredients as "sweetening" is individual) but I think we can experiment with that. I'll edit and reopen the question, let's see what kind of answers appear. – rumtscho May 15 '15 at 14:10
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    I got rid of the references to "natural" and "healthy" while stating your objective constraint (as far as I understood it; I assume "natural" means you don't want standard artificial sweeteners such as saccharine). Is this OK so? You can edit it further if I got it wrong, the point is to formulate it in a way such that we don't get lists of "use honey, that's good for you" style answers. – rumtscho May 15 '15 at 14:16
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    Miracle berry? (although I don't know if you can mix it into things, or just have to eat it first). – Joe May 15 '15 at 14:23
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    It might be possible to get the 'lemony flavor' simply from the zest (and make sure to beat it up some to get as much oil as possible released), and thus reduce the amount of lemon juice which has the sourness ... but it's possible that the refreshingness of the lemonade comes from the acid / sourness and thus may defeat the benefit of a low-sugar lemonade. – Joe May 15 '15 at 15:39
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Lemonade is of course all about balancing the sweet and the sour. It stands to reason that if you're trying to amp up the sweetness, you can either add more sugar (the opposite of the goal here) or reduce its opposite, the sour.

Reducing both sugar and the acid is equivalent to diluting your lemonade, so one of the first things you could try is simply adding more water. However, that will give you a more diluted and less flavorful end product overall, so let's assume that you're trying to avoid that as well.

With that as the goal, here are two things I would try:

  1. Your method as written involves simmering the citrus peels in water. It's a good notion to extract as much flavor as you can from the peels, but water isn't the best means to extract that flavor; it's actually the sugar. The reason is that many of the flavorful essential oils aren't water-soluble, at least not on their own. Instead, try placing the peels in a non-reactive bowl and pouring the sugar over them. Muddle (i.e. gently crush) the peels to break their cells and release some of the oils. Then let the sugar stand and absorb some of those oils for 30-45 minutes. This is known in geeky cocktail circles as creating an "oleo-saccharum" and is an essential step in making really good, authentic punch, the goal being to get as much citrus flavor as possible. After the resting period, add the sugar and peels into your boiling water, stir until the sugar dissolves, and then strain out the peels from the finished syrup. With this method, you will get more citrus flavor overall, so you could dial back the juice slightly to taste in order to get a sweeter end result with the same citrusy profile.

  2. This sounds counter-intuitive, but try adding a very small amount of salt to the lemonade. I would say about a small pinch to 1/8 tsp in a full 1-liter batch, but you'll have to tweak for your preference. With such a small amount, you won't actually taste the salt, but you will notice its effect. Salt has a suppressive perceptual effect on both sourness and bitterness, and adding a small amount to a solution that is both sweet and sour (like lemonade) will dial down the perception of sourness. Here's a previous answer that I wrote on this same effect related to suppressing bitterness, but the effect is similar. Here's a chart that provides a great summary; the second line from the left shows the perception of sweet vs. sour, and the fourth shows what happens when you add salt. Notice that the perception of sweetness stays nearly the same, while the perception of sourness lowers significantly. It's a neat trick!

There are probably more exotic and interesting methods, but these are where I'd start.

  • First of all thank you for your comprehensive reply, it is much appreciated. I will be applying these very neat tricks and get back on my results in the coming weeks. The knowledge you have shared has made see the process much more clearly from a chemical point of view. – Fiztban May 15 '15 at 18:31
  • Hello again, after experimenting and thinking about it I have a new question that maybe your expertise may answer and I would highly value your input given how helpful your answer here was. Thanks in advance, the link is cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/57885/… – Fiztban May 31 '15 at 9:46
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I don't know when this will be practical for home cooking, but there's a recent report out that sweetness is greatly affected by volatiles in the fruit, and that the 'perceived sweetness' isn't always directly related to the amount of sugar in an item:

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150610-the-smells-that-make-sweet-sweeter

You're already using oranges, but adding the zest (not pith), and maybe some strawberry juice (which is ranks high in perceived sweetness for the grams of sugar in it) might help you to reduce the overall sugar required.

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Due to the way neurology works, you don't need to consume sweet stuff to feel a sweet taste. Eating something which has a strong aroma associated with sweetness will also be perceived as sweet.

This is why you can use strong aromatics which are almost always (in Western cultures) consumed in an overly sweet setting. This will be vanilla, and also flower petals. Elderflower, rose (the oil type) and acacia have a strong smell which already feels sweet when you are around the plant without having anything touch your tongue. They make great syrups and jams, and go well with sour tastes. I'd say try to add them. It will not be pure "lemon"ade any more, but it will certainly have a nice flavor profile and can feel satisfactory sweet with reduced sugar.

  • Some of these aromas will be very dissonant (bitter, harsh, musty, medicinal, adstringent...) with an unsweetened, sour liquid.... OK, you got me to do a simple experiment. Result: A teaspoon of pure rose water is like drinking aftershave. – rackandboneman Jun 29 '17 at 0:18
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Maybe this is unrelated to the experience of lemonade's sweetness, but I know some people who really enjoy nutmeg in their lemonade. I'm not sure if something like that would seem worth trying, but I figured maybe it was worth sharing.

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