Sometimes a high-calorie beverage is the right thing. But other times, you want something lighter -- a thirst-quenching tonic without the extra carbs and sugar.
If your summer beverage menu is missing this option, consider the new, growing category of fruit-infused drinks, sometimes called cold-craft beverages. These are low-cost, made-to-order beverages that can be dressed up with a premium presentation. Often introduced as summertime Limited-Time Offers (LTOs), they are gaining in popularity across quick-service chain menus.
Fruit-infused, cold craft beverages are best described as a high-end take on iced tea, flavored water, juice or lemonade. They feature a variety of fruit and other fresh ingredients lightly blended and served over ice, with a splash of plant-based milk, sparkling water or even a low-fat, cold foam topping.
What sets fruit-infused beverages apart from other blended beverages is their colorful, semi-translucent presentation. The drink usually begins with a water, tea, or juice base that’s delicately muddled with fruit and ice cubes (which remain whole after blending). You can accomplish this delicate blending with the help of specialized equipment, such as The Quiet One® by Vitamix® Commercial, fitted with the Vitamix Aerating Container (sold separately).
The Aerating Container is special blending container equipped with a round disc (instead of a normal blending blade), which enables the container to muddle fruit and other delicate ingredients without fully processing them. Adding ice to the Aerating Container quick-chills the ingredients and assists in the muddling process.
Also, holes in the disc-like blade force air up through milk when making cold foam toppings. Depending on the speed or blending program, the container can muddle, emulsify or foam ingredients.
Fruit-infused beverages are quick and easy to prepare. Simply load the desired ingredients in the Aerating Container and select one of four aerating programs available in The Quiet One’s bank of 34 optimized programs. With ingredients properly prepared in advance, the entire process takes just a few minutes. The cost of ingredients for fruit-infused cold, craft beverages is also relatively low.
Here’s what can go into fruit-infused beverages and how each ingredient adds to the overall effect:
A Refreshing Beverage Base: As this craft beverage is designed primarily to refresh, hydrate and offer a cool refreshment – especially during hot summer days – its main ingredient is water. However, this can take many forms, such as brewed premium green or black tea, coconut water, kombucha or fruit juice.
Fruit Inclusions: Another distinguishing feature of cold craft beverages is the hit of flavor and visual impact from lightly muddled fruit, which may be fresh, frozen, freeze-dried or dehydrated – all of these will work. During the blending process, the Aerating Container muddles the fruit, drawing out the flavor but leaving visible inclusions that add to the drink’s appeal. Berries will contribute color and flavor, while citrus (coins or wedges) provide an acidic edge, which is a tonic on a hot summer day. With citrus, the Aerating Container will pull out the pulp and flavor but leave the rinds unblended. Some promising combinations of fruit to explore might be strawberries with lemon, dragon fruit with strawberries, or strawberries with fresh basil and tea.
A Hint of Sweetness: The sugar content of fruit-infused beverages is noticeably lower than what you’d find in frappés, shakes, soft drinks and some smoothies. While more consumers are opting for beverages lower in sugar, that doesn’t necessarily mean “not sweet.” Some consumers will prefer unsweetened, while others may prefer lightly sweetened. Still others may want a sugar-free option. You can add some nutritional value by swapping out white sugar or simple sugar syrups for antioxidant-rich maple syrup or agave, which are relatively low on the glycemic index and offer other potential health benefits.
Cubed, Whole Ice: Ice plays a key role in fruit-infused cold craft beverages, as it not only chills the beverage but also assists in the muddling and infusing process. When using the Aerating Container, the ice will remain largely unprocessed. It can be poured into the serving cup with the other contents, contributing to the drink’s cooling and refreshing quality. It’s best to use cubes of ice, as opposed to pearls or nuggets, which break down and melt more easily.
Plant-Based Milk or Dairy: Dairy or plant-based milks can add body and visual appeal to fruit-infused craft beverages. Your options may be more limited when using dairy milk, because its animal proteins can cause digestive issues when combined with certain fruits. The best pairings with dairy milk are sweet, ripened, and creamy fruits like mango, banana, avocado, and fig. Plant-based milks are good with tart and seasonal options like berries, pineapple, and dragon fruit.
A Splash of Effervescence: Liven up your drinks by finishing them with a few ounces of sparkling water, tonic, or club soda. This addition provides the same refreshing effervescence as sweet sodas but in a healthier form. Be sure to add the soda after the blending process because blending will otherwise reduce the carbonation.
Cold Foam Flourish: You can make a dense, cold foam topping by blending chilled skim milk or plant-based milk in the Aerating Container. You can sweeten and/or flavor the milk before, during or after the blending process, using artificial sweeteners, spices, stevia, simple syrup, or flavored syrup. Another option is to sprinkle salted caramel on top of the foam or dust it with cinnamon and sugar. To blend, set the Aerating Container on one of its two low-speed or delicate aerating programs. The milk will increase in volume by up to three times. The actual expansion rate depends on the type of milk, the flavorings or sweeteners, the temperature and blending program used. In general, cold skim milk produces the most dense, stable foam.
Note that this process does not work with an ordinary blending container and blade. The foam is achieved with the Aerating Container’s specialty blade, in combination with The Quiet One’s program settings. With four aerating programs to choose from (two delicate and two aggressive), The Quiet One is capable of producing a wide range of foam densities, from those that float on the beverage to those that gradually cascade down through it, depending on the blending program and the ingredients used.
Summer may be short-lived, but exploring fruit-infused beverages opens up new possibilities for your restaurant. Who knows – you may discover a recipe that is especially popular with your customers and is a good fit for your regular menu. That is the beauty of LTOs – permission to experiment and discover what works for your staff and your customers.
For more information, contact Steve Hosey at firstname.lastname@example.org.