If you’re like us, there’s usually a pitcher of lemonade in the fridge during the summer. A long time ago the lemonade of choice would have been Country Time. Lately, it would have come from a bottle of concentrated lemon juice; now I’m not so sure.
Recently I had a big group of friends over for lunch and decided it was time for a blind tasting. Pitchers came out, lemons were squeezed, bottles were opened, powder was mixed. As my friend Laura and I were mixing up the pitchers, we were pretty sure how the tasting would come out, but of course, the reason you do blind tastings is because a lot of time your assumptions are wrong.
To test the lemonades we made three batches; the fresh squeezed and lemonade from concentrate each had 1¼ cups of lemon juice, 1 cup of sugar, and 7 cups of water to them. Since there’s no real way to equate powder mix with lemon juice and sugar, the mix lemonade was made following the directions on the canister – it also produced two quarts of lemonade.
Before we tasted all three varieties side by side, I thought the taste would be a pretty insignificant factor. I figured the mix would be too sweet for my taste and that the lemonade from freshly squeezed lemons would taste almost identical to the lemonade from concentrated lemon juice.
I was surprised at how big a difference there was between the fresh squeezed lemonade and the lemonade made from concentrate. In our taste test, people described the fresh squeezed lemonade as “a little brighter,” “more vibrant,” and “having more of a kick.”
The biggest difference was the fresh squeezed had more body to it, it seemed the lemons were contributing more than their juice. What was interesting about the extra body was it also reduced how sweet the lemonade tasted. Several of our tasters thought the lemonade from concentrate was sweeter than the fresh squeezed lemonade – even though they both had the same amount sugar in them.
In general, people thought the mix was too sweet and too thin. There were a couple of tasters, especially our ten-year-old taster, who preferred the powdered lemonade because of its sweetness.
How are they Made?
In some ways the fresh made lemonade is the easiest to describe, it’s made from lemons, they grow on trees, you squeeze them, add a little sugar and water, and get lemonade.
The mix is something altogether different. The list of ingredients includes sugar, Fructose, Citric Acid, and lots of ates like Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Sodium Citrate, and Calcium Fumarate, along with Yellow 5 Lake, and Tocopherol for “freshness.” I don’t know what any of those are and I’m not sure I want to, particularly Yellow 5 Lake, which sounds like the worst place ever to swim.
The lemonade from concentrate is the middle bear. It’s mostly lemon juice concentrate that is made up of water and concentrated lemon juice, which makes sense; it also has less than 2 percent ates, such as Sodium Benzoate and Sodium Metabisulfite, along with a preservative, and lemon oil. So it’s claim on the label of “100% lemon juice” seems somewhat dubious for those of us who can subtract 2 percent from 100 percent.
A real advantage to lemonade from concentrate is how easy it is to have a bottle of lemon juice in the house. We use it all the time when we’re cooking for things that require a little bit of lemon juice.
According to RealLemon’s website, the concentrate for RealLemon and RealLime is “made by concentrating the juice of high-quality fresh lemons and limes and then adding back just the right amount of water to create regular-strength juice.”
There’s almost no difference in making lemonade from a mix or from concentrate. Both are ridiculously easy to make, which is essentially measure something and add water. Fresh squeezed lemonade is more difficult to make, it requires slicing and juicing a handful of lemons. What we’ve found is that having a good juicer that stands on the counter makes all the difference compared to trying to use a juicer you hold in your hands.
Cost is the place where the mix and the lemonade from concentrate shine. When you start to break down the cost by the quart, assuming two-quart pitchers, the fresh squeezed lemonade at $3.52 a pitcher is roughly triple the cost of the concentrate and mix, while the concentrate costs $1.36 a pitcher and the mix costs $1.04 a pitcher.
While the cost of the real lemonade feels high when you’re comparing it to the other two, it ends up working out to about $.44 a glass. I’m not sure about you, but I can’t remember the last time I paid $.44 a glass for anything.
In the end, whether you choose lemons, the bottle, or powder the choice is about taste, convenience, and what else you want in your body.
Here’s our recipe for Homemade Fresh Squeezed Lemonade.
In Three Recipes we explore the different ways to make different dishes to try and figure out what works and why. Read more Three Recipe Stories.
Mark is Umami's publisher