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Why You Should Add Orgeat To Your Home Bar

Food & Wine logo Food & Wine 8/18/2022 Lucy Simon

A tiki cocktail made with orgeat © Provided by Food & Wine A tiki cocktail made with orgeat

Say it with us: or-zhaat. More like or-jjott, if you really want to spell it out. No matter how you say it, orgeat is a key ingredient to have on your bar cart, and knowing when and how to use it can seriously up your cocktail game. 

While you may know it as the ingredient that gives some of the most classic Tiki cocktails their depth and complex sweetness, orgeat is a versatile cocktail ingredient that can and should be used across a range of styles of drinks, alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike.

What is Orgeat?

Orgeat is a sweetened cocktail syrup made from a base of almonds sweetened with sugar and mixed with flavoring like citrus, or floral essences like rose water and orange extract. The result is an aromatic syrup that is thicker and more flavor-forward than simple syrup. 

In its early appearances in bar manuals and recipe books from France in the late 1800s, orgeat was made with a base of barley and sugar. (That's how it got its tricky name! The word orge is French for barley). Eventually, though, bartenders and cocktail-drinkers preferred the nutty flavor and silky texture of almond-based orgeat. 

How is Orgeat Made?

To make orgeat, sugar and water are brought to a boil. Once the sugar is dissolved, finely ground, blanched almonds are added and simmered briefly. The mixture is taken off the heat, cools, and infuses for a few hours before being strained through fine cheesecloth. At this point, extracts or flavorings can be added, as well as brandy or vodka to help elongate its shelf life. 

Though almonds are most often used to make orgeat, other nuts can be substituted. At Patent Pending, a speakeasy-style bar in NYC located in the back of a coffee shop, the team makes a homemade orgeat using pistachios in lieu of almonds. "We think the pistachio adds a pretty distinct flavor compared to the traditional almond orgeat," explains bartender Elizabeth Haag, who helps make the bar's two homemade orgeats. Patent Pending adds a bit of overproof Jamaican rum to the pistachio orgeat before bottling, and the result is a thick and delicious sweetener which tastes like the true essence of pistachio. The faint green hue it gives a cocktail only adds to its appeal. 

What Orgeat to Buy and How to Store It 

While you can experiment with flavor combinations by making orgeat at home, there are excellent options available for purchase. Brands like Monin and Torani are widely available and come at a reasonable price. If you're looking for something a bit more artisanal, Liber & Co's orgeat starts with whole almonds that they blanch and mill in-house — they even add a touch of bitter almond oil to balance out the sweetness. 

If using bottled orgeat, it's always a good idea to read the fine print on the bottle when it comes to storage. Homemade orgeat fortified with a bit of vodka or brandy can last up to three months when stored in the fridge. If it isn't fortified, orgeat will stay fresh for about a month when stored in the fridge in an air-tight container. 

How to Use Orgeat 

"Orgeat is my go-to ingredient when I want some sweetness and body in a cocktail," says Haag. Though it is most known for its use in Tiki cocktails, orgeat imparts a nutty sweetness and richness to any cocktail. At Patent Pending, homemade pistachio orgeat gets mixed with rum, limoncello, and citrus to make a seasonal Italian-inspired cocktail called 'Off to Italy' that is both luscious and frothy at the same time, and served up in a chilled coupe glass.

"Orgeat is a good ingredient to use when you want to mix something darker and bitter with something acidic," explains Haag. Her take on a chocolate daiquiri is a play on the classic rum and lime cocktail which leans on orgeat to bridge the gap between bitter chocolate liqueur with sour lime juice. Try swapping in orgeat for simple syrup in your next cocktail — it makes for a great companion to a range of spirits like rum, whiskey, or even mezcal. 

What Is a Good Substitute for Orgeat?

If you're looking to add a nutty almond flavor and some sweetness to a cocktail, amaretto is a great substitute for orgeat. While you're adding a bit of additional alcohol, and though it won't have the same viscosity as orgeat, amaretto imparts a similar floral, almond flavor to orgeat. 

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