Twice as Tasty

Rhubarb-Vanilla Syrup

Infusing this fruit syrup with a vanilla bean gives rhubarb’s tart flavor a cream soda-like finish

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

Last year, I shared a recipe for Frozen Strawberry Syrup made from berries in the freezer. Such syrups shine on waffles and ice cream but also create tasty beverages. When used as a concentrate, just like a drinking shrub (essentially fruit syrup mixed with vinegar for a sweet-and-tart profile), fruit syrup can flavor iced tea, lemonade, spritzers and cocktails.

For a drink, I usually start with a one-to-four ratio of syrup to other liquid and then adjust to taste. When making the syrup itself, a secondary herb or spice adds complexity, just as it does to fruit syrups thickened into toppings or to vinegary shrubs.

Syrup-flavored beverages are so refreshing that I make them most often from summer’s fresh fruit. Cooking takes a little more hands-on effort than defrosting but works particularly well with rhubarb, pears and other dense fruit slow to release their juices. For beverage use, only boil the syrup for one minute so that it stays fluid when chilled and poured.

I sometimes replace the sugar with honey, which gives the syrup even more complex flavor. Honey tastes sweeter, so substitute just 3/4 cup for every cup of sugar unless you find the rhubarb overly tart. The sweeter a fruit syrup, the longer it will keep in the fridge.

Vanilla gives a cream soda effect to syrup-based beverages, but other flavors are as delicious. For a variation on the bee’s knees, a gin cocktail, make the syrup with honey instead of sugar and replace the vanilla bean with a couple of ginger slices. The pairing of rhubarb and rosemary in sorbet also makes a tasty spritzer or rum cocktail and adds an interesting twist on a margarita. Remove the boiled syrup from the heat before adding rosemary sprigs or other fresh herbs.

Rhubarb-Vanilla Syrup

Makes about 2 cups

2 pounds rhubarb, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces (about 7 cups)

1/2 cup water

About 1 cup granulated sugar

1 vanilla bean

Combine the rhubarb and water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally; reduce the heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes, until the rhubarb softens. Let cool slightly, and then strain off the juice by pouring the rhubarb into a wire mesh strainer set over a large glass measuring cup or bowl.

When the pulp stops dripping, set it aside for another use; measure the juice and return it to the saucepan. Add half as much sugar as juice: if you measured 2 cups of juice, add 1 cup of sugar. Add the vanilla bean. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring and skimming off any foam, and then let it boil for one minute, until slightly set.

Let the syrup cool to room temperature and then remove the vanilla bean. Pour the syrup into a lidded glass bottle or jar and refrigerate for up to two weeks. For longer storage, pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.