Dandelion and burdock cordial

Image by Craig Moulding; Flickr.

Dandelion and burdock is a refreshing non-alcoholic drink with a distinctively pungent flavour. It has a long history as a summer drink, but became overshadowed in popularity by mass-market commercial soft drinks, although it's still popular in northern England. New life has been brought to dandelion and burdock by its inclusion as a concentrate bitter in cocktails and as a traditional "botanical" fizzy drink available at pubs and supermarkets.

History of the drink

The dandelion is a wild plant with a bright yellow flower, while the burdock is a wild thistle. Dandelion and burdock was traditionally made from burdock roots, but commercial brands replaced these natural ingredients with artificial flavourings. Some boutique manufacturers produce dandelion and burdock made in a traditional style. One example is Fentimans, a company founded in the UK in 1905. Their drink is based on infusions of the two named plants, but also incorporates natural flavourings and spices, such as pear juice, unlikely to have been found in the historic brew.

Making the non-alcoholic cordial

Dandelion and burdock has been consumed as a "soft" drink in Britain for about 700 years. Not only does it contain vitamins A and C and iron, it has also been claimed to improve liver metabolism and bile production. Fans appreciate it for its unusual flavour, described sometimes as earthy or reminiscent of liquorice. It's possible to make the cordial at home, mixing 2 teaspoons of ground dandelion root with 2 teaspoons of ground burdock, adding a couple of dry star anise roots, a few chunks of fresh-chopped ginger root, and cooking the mixture in about 1.75 litres of water for about half an hour. It will be a very strong-smelling and bitter brew; add sugar gradually until it's sweet enough for your taste. When serving, add soda water for fizz and to adjust the strength.

Dandelion and burdock bitters

UK cocktail expert and "mixologist" Adam Elmegirab introduced dandelion and burdock bitters in 2009. Bitters are alcoholic cordials strongly flavoured with herbs, roots or barks and used in small quantities in cocktails to add distinctive flavour accents. The best-known are Angostura bitters, made from a secret recipe since the 19th century, but many different kinds of bitters are now available. Elmegirab uses a confidential blend of botanicals to create the distinctive dandelion and burdock flavour in this concentrated form.

Cordial in cocktails

A number of recipes using the bitters can be found online, including some created by Elmegirab himself. The cocktails follow the classic structure of a base liquor, one or two dashes of the bitters, and additional fruit flavourings or sweetening ingredients. The Chiapas Old Fashioned, created by Elmegirab, uses tequila as a base and is accented with grapefruit zest. A similar drink, the Usuki Old Fashioned, is based on gin rather than tequila. Another recipe proposes Pimm's alcoholic cordial as the base, adds the bitters, and tops up with a lemon or lime juice of choice.

Other dandelion and burdock cocktails

Other mixologists have used the cordial itself as a cocktail ingredient. One simple approach is to use it as a mixer with gin, served over ice. The Harvey Wallbanger is a classic cocktail in which vodka and Galliano, a sweet liqueur, are mixed with orange juice. Substituting dandelion and burdock cordial for the orange juice gives interesting results. Despite these embellishments, many will continue to prefer the cordial in its original form, served ice cold in a tall glass.

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