What bars can do with all those used-up limes

OPINION: A typical 50-seat cocktail bar fills two compost bins with lime husks every day. If we’re serious about cracking down on food waste, we should follow this pop-up’s lead and start putting them to good use
By Corey Mintz - Published on June 18, 2019
limes
In Ontario, we produce 3.7 million tonnes of food waste a year, about 60 per cent of which ends up in landfills. (iStock.com/ALEAIMAGE)

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I’ve written about food waste at home, in restaurants, and in the supply chain — but, until recently, I hadn’t considered bars. Given that bartenders are mostly concerned with mixing together liquids, it didn’t seem like there would be that much usable solid food going to waste.

But then Kelsey Ramage, a bartender and anti-waste advocate, asked me to think about limes. Specifically, the limes that bartenders, at the beginning of every shift, squeeze to produce the fresh juice (which is only good for 24 hours) that makes many of our mixed drinks so refreshing. A typical 50-seat cocktail bar will fill two compost bins a day with lime husks. At Dandelyon, a bar in London, England, where Ramage used to work, it was closer to six garbage bags a day.

Frustrated with this, Ramage and her partner, Iain Griffiths, founded Trash Tiki, a series of cocktail pop-ups aimed at educating bartenders and the public on making use of the materials that are usually squandered in drinks-making.

“Chefs have to be really conscious of what they’re throwing out,” Ramage says. “Because they have to look at it from a food cost side of things. Whereas, with the bar, you’re making so much money off of the alcohol. The food ingredient is a nominal amount per drink. The relationship is out of whack. People just don’t think of it as much. We’re so hardwired to order daiquiris and margaritas and assume that lime juice is just a commodity.”

In Ontario, we produce 3.7 million tonnes of food waste a year. About 60 per cent of that ends up in landfills. Anything that diverts food away from them is a net benefit.

Here’s what Ramage and Griffiths do with those limes.

In restaurant kitchens, stock is made by simmering roasted beef bones in water. Those bones are a costly ingredient, and they are sometimes used twice. This second stock is called remouillage. It’s weaker than the first one — but it’s free.

Ramage does the same thing with limes. After juicing them, she blanches the husks in boiling water for five minutes, adding sugar and acid (citric and malic, in powdered form) to mimic the viscosity and acidity of lime juice. The lime stock — or “stuice,” as she calls it — then gets blended back into the lime juice, which not only stretches the volume but also extends the best-before date (it’ll keep up to three days in the fridge).

She says this is the first and easiest step, one that any bartender can take to reduce waste.

Limes are by far the most wasted item in any bar, followed by the pulp from freshly pressed apple, pineapple, and watermelon juice. The machines that juice them spit out at least as much solid as liquid. The Trash Tiki bar has recipes for turning these into apple-pulp sweet ’n’ sour, orange curacao, watermelon cordial, and fermented pineapple tepache.

“Another big thing we look at is orgeat,” Ramage says, referring to the almond-based nut syrup that’s an important ingredient in a Mai Tai. “Almonds take a staggering amount of water to grow. So we created our own out of avocado pits.”

Canada imports about 80 million kilograms of avocados per year. About one third of each avocado is a hard, spherical pit. Until talking to Ramage, I’d never heard of that pit going anywhere but in the trash.

“It’s less creamy,” she explains. “But it does have a little of the fat content that a nut would have. It can be blended back in with an almond syrup if you really want that creaminess in there. We use it on its own because it’s non-allergenic.”

Ramage and Griffiths are now travelling the world, hosting pop-ups at cocktail bars to educate bartenders and customers. The whole thing is sponsored by Pernod Ricard (and, in Canada, by its subsidiary Corby).

Their biggest challenge is to convince bartenders that making use of food they would otherwise throw away is not very much additional work.

“A common misconception with our recipes, when you’re reading them online, is that it takes a lot of effort. And effort relates to labour costs — especially when we’re talking about people who make tips for a living. So we really want to show people that it doesn’t require a lot of effort. It’s usually just covering things with sugar and tossing it in a blender or putting on a stock while you’re doing your juicing.”

Not long ago, I realized that corn cobs make a fantastic stock for cooking dried beans with. As someone who has never thrown out a chicken bone before making a stock out of it, I can confirm that it’s not a lot of work. You throw things in a pot with water, bring everything to a boil, and then strain the liquid at the end. That’s the extent of the work. Bonus flavour is all around us in our food scraps. It just needs a little coaxing to come out. And sometimes a bit of powdered malic and citric acid.

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