As mentioned before, there is no set rule for what you can and cannot put into Mead to add flavor. Therefore, rather than create a list of potential ingredients, the following are some general rules for the major ingredient types that will help you avoid adding something that may spoil the flavor, be hazardous to your health, or perhaps prevent fermentation altogether. Note that the most important rule to follow is that if you like the taste of a particular fruit, vegetable, or spice, give it a try and see what happens.
Ingredient Groups –
There are 4 main types of ingredients that are most commonly used:
- Spices, Herbs and Plants
- Other Foods
Fruits can be sweet, tart, tangy, bitter or mild. They can add flavor, color, acidity, bouquet, tannins, and additional fermentable sugars. They can be used whole, crushed, or juiced. The juice can even be substituted for the water, as is the case with apple juice in a Cyser. You can use fresh, frozen or canned fruit depending on availability. Whichever type you use, it is important to follow the guidelines below:
·If you’re using fresh fruit, peel or clean, cut up, and freeze it. Freezing breaks the cell walls, and will help release more of the fruit flavor later. Note this should not be done with apples or citrus.
- Make sure to scrub off any pesticides that may be present.
- In pithy fruits, such as citrus, do not use the ‘white stuff’ between the peel and the meat as it will lend a bitter taste to your brew. The exception is if you are looking to balance some of the sweetness with the bitter pith (see Joe’s Ancient Orange).
- If canned, get fruit canned in water or juice with no preservatives. Preservatives will impede or prevent fermentation.
- Likewise with bottled juices or frozen fruit juice, look out for Potassium Sorbate, a preservative that will prevent fermentation.
- If using juice, use pure juice. Added sugar in commercial juices can add strange flavors. Better to handle the sweetening yourself.
- In many cases, seeds are both a flavor detriment, and a pain when racking. If you can go seedless, do so. Some seeds are used to add some additional flavor or astringency to the Mead, such as cherry pits, but it is easier to add them later as needed than to deal with them in your fermenter.
- Watch out for sulphites in dried fruits. You want to avoid them because they prevent yeast from fermenting. OK to eat, not ok to use in mead.
- It goes without saying that you should pit your fruit if it has a pit.
- Consider adding more fruit into your secondary as well as your primary. Many fruit flavors are altered by the vigorous activity of first fermentation, and the addition of fruit in the secondary will bring some of the more subtle flavors back.
- Use a cheesecloth or mesh-type bag to keep your fruit in the fermenter (sparge or grain bags from a brew shop work well). Put your fruit in the bag, and close it with a sterilized zip-tie. When the fruit has given its all to the mead, it can just be lifted out, making the Mead easier to rack and wasting less of the Mead itself.
- Some fruit contain large amounts of oil, such as olives and avocados, which can cause difficulties when using (search the forum for discussions on oils in Meads).
- Get fresh fruit at your local fruit farm or farmers’ market. These tend to be cheaper, and have more flavor.
- If you don’t have access to fresh fruit, try the following companies for fresh-canned fruit with no additives:
Oregon Fruit Company – Makers of canned fruits and fruit bases for wines. They are expensive to ship, so check your local brewshop for them.
Vintner’s Harvest – Makers of fruit bases for wines. They are expensive to ship, so check your local brewshop for them.
Bridgeberry Farms – Canadian fruit company that cans fruits and fruit juices.
Many of the same rules apply to vegetables as they do to fruit.
- If fresh, make sure to scrub off any pesticides that may be present
- If canned, get vegetables canned in water with no preservatives.
- If using juice, use pure juice. Added sugar in commercial juices can add strange flavors.
- Food processors or juicers work great for making fresh vegetable juice.
- As with fruit juices, avoid potassium sorbate.
- Use a mesh bag to make racking easier.
- If you need to store the vegetables, you can freeze them.
Spices, Herbs and Plants:
Spices, herbs and other plants, such as teas, have long been used in cultures the world over to add flavor or color, and sometimes to cover up other undesirable flavors. A huge selection is available in every grocery store, specialty spice shop, and over the internet, all of which are “safe” when used correctly. But remember…..
JUST BECAUSE IT’S NATURAL, DOESN’T MEAN ITS SAFE!
- Always research any new herbs you’re thinking of using. Many, such as wormwood, belladonna, foxglove and a number of others, are toxic. If it isn’t an herb you’re already familiar with, check it out before brewing with it.
- If fresh, make sure to wash off any pesticides that may be present
- Dried spices will traditionally have more concentrated amounts of the essential oils.
- Many spices will impart a good deal of their ‘essence’, i.e. their flavor, into alcohol. Steeping in a small amount of vodka can give you a really strong herbal brew to add to your Mead in the secondary.
- Making teas is another great way to put the spice flavor into your Meads.
- Spices can be added loose into the Must, but putting them in a cheesecloth bag makes it a lot easier to remove when the desired flavor has been reached.
- Fresh-ground is always better than pre-ground. Ground spices slowly lose their flavor as the essential oils evaporate off.
- Do not use flowers from a florist. Florists use pesticides and chemicals on their florals. Search for food grade flowers.
- Whenever possible, use flowers that are ‘heirloom’ (i.e. not hybrid). Heirloom and wild flowers will tend to have higher concentrations of the essential oils that give them their smell and flavor.
- When using flowers with greenery, like dandelions, make sure to remove all the greenery as it will add a bitter flavor to your mead.
- Use a bag to facilitate removal before racking.
- Adding spices/flowers/herbs to the secondary gives you better control over the flavors. A lot will ferment out in the primary.
- Check your local health food store for fresher spices than you’ll find in the grocery store.
- Be sure you check a good, modern herbal encyclopedia to make sure that what you’re using is safe. Many spices used in historical recipes are now known to be harmful.
- If you can’t get fresh spices, you can use powdered from the grocery store. However, if you’re going to do that, then consider ordering them from a place that will give you only the highest quality. Penzey’s Spices is an excellent source of high quality whole and ground spices. Mountain Rose Herbs is also a good place to obtain rare spices.
This group is open to just about anything else that can be used to flavor anything. Examples of this group are
- Maple Syrup,
- boiled candies,
- hops (technically an herb, but since it is used for brewing, it fits better in the other group).
The same general rules listed for fruit, vegetables and spices should be followed no matter what other ingredient is chosen. Plus, the same warning applies as for the spices: make sure it is safe before throwing it into something you intend to drink!