The Scary Evolution of the Margarita
Margaritas are a cocktail synonymous with relaxation: lazy days on the beach, pool parties, or a summertime girls’ night out on the town. Invented sometime in the 1930s or ’40s (depending on who you talk to), margaritas hit the scene just before the post-World-War II industrialization of the food system. While original margarita ingredients used to be simple, today’s run-of-the mill versions harbor science-lab-type ingredients that should make you very nervous. “As with anything you eat or drink, no margarita ever rises above the quality of its ingredients,” explains Paul Abercrombie, author of Organic, Shaken and Stirred. “You should use the freshest and highest-quality stuff you can get. Typically, this means going organic.”
Canned Chemical Chaos
This spring, Anheuser-Busch launched the Lime-a-Rita, a blend of Bud Light Lime beer and margarita flavors. It’s a concoction that’s likely to make a true margarita connoisseur shudder. The beer company’s take on the classic summer treat is packaged in a can, meaning it’s coated in toxic bisphenol A, or BPA, a hormone-disrupting chemical that acts like excess estrogen in the body. BPA’s a bad player linked to heart attacks, obesity, and certain cancers. Let’s not drink to that!
The Fix: Don’t be intimidated…making margaritas is easy! “By definition, a premade margarita mix makes no sense, what with how the drink consists of only three ingredients–tequila, lime juice, and triple sec,” says Abercrombie. “When asked about Bud Light’s recent margarita invention, he could only say, “Blechhhhhh!”
Tequila is made from succulent agave plants. And like many other types of crops, agave faces pest threats these days. The agave snout weevil is the bane of an agave farmer’s existence because the tiny pest can inflict major damage that will harm tequila yields. The pest feeds on agave plant tissue, opening the doors to bacterial infection that can kill the whole plant. To prevent pests from settling in, many nonorganic farmers use toxic organophosphate insecticides linked to autism, ADHD, and lower-birth-weight babies, among other ills.
The Fix: Tap into the growing market for organic tequila, since toxic chemical pesticides are banned in the production of organic crops. Two widely available brands include Casa Noble and Tequila Tierras.
Not-so-Natural “Natural” Preservatives
A popular product created by a cast member of the Real Housewives of New York City, Skinny Girl Margarita sparked a class-action lawsuit and made headlines in 2011 after Whole Foods pulled the product from its shelves. Advertised as natural, the product reportedly contained the preservative sodium benzoate, a lab-derived ingredient that forms carcinogenic benzene when it comes into contact with vitamin C. Some people also experience hives, asthma, or other allergic reactions to sodium benzoate, not exactly what most people are looking for when sipping a refreshing summertime cocktail.
The Fix: Make a naturally lower-calorie margarita from scratch by replacing calorie- and preservative-loaded bar mix with our Unadulterated Margarita recipe.
Bar Mixes That Make You Stupid
Perhaps unaware of just how darned easy it is to make a margarita from scratch, thousands of cocktail lovers turn to store-bought sour mix that’s loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. Linked to the obesity crisis and known to sometimes harbor mercury contamination, high-fructose corn syrup was recently outed for making us dumb. Researchers found that ingesting it for just six weeks ruins concentration and memory.
The Fix: If you’re still fixated on fixin’ a margarita with bar mix, opt for organic versions with no high-fructose corn syrup, such as Seelect’s Organic Sweet & Sour Margarita Mix or Tres Agaves Organic Margarita Mix. (Just use it sparingly; surprisingly, agave isn’t necessarily a healthy sweetener.)
And when you order a margarita at a restaurant, find out how the bartender whips it up—if he or she uses bar mixes, calorie counts soar. Eat This, Not That! ID’d the Traditional Red Lobster Lobsterita as the worst margarita in America, weighing in at a whopping 890 calories and 183 grams of carbohydrates. (By contrast, the restaurant’s Classic Margarita on the Rocks is just 250 calories.)
Premade margarita mix companies play the convenience card, but here’s something they’re probably not telling you: Most nonorganic mixes contain the fake food dye Yellow #5 because it’s cheaper to use than real-food ingredients. The trouble is, Yellow #5 is derived from petroleum and a coloring that’s often contaminated with a cancer-causing compound. Red #40 has also been shown to cause hyperactivity, so watch out for strawberry margarita mixes, too.
The Fix: Forget store-bought mixes and instead turn to a favorite farmer’s market herb—basil—to give your margarita a kick. Add a few leaves of basil to your margarita mix, shake, and strain out the leaves after shaking, suggests Abercrombie. “The basil gives it a really nice herbaceous quality,” he says.
What’s a margarita without a lime? The citrus fruit’s tang adds a much-appreciated balance to the sweetness of the tequila and triple sec. However, limes are also often laden with pesticides. In 2009 and 2010, California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation found that limes were among produce items most frequently contaminated with illegal pesticides.
The Fix: Limes are loaded with compounds that help protect against rheumatoid arthritis, certain cancers, and bacterial disease. Choose organic limes and lime juice for your margaritas and your body will thank you for the pesticide-free antioxidant recharge.
Margarita mixes have been infiltrated by genetically engineered material from GMO corn and sugar beet ingredients. These ingredients hide in the majority of nonorganic processed foods and drinks. GMOs have never been proven to be safe for human consumption, and some independent scientists have linked GMOs to accelerated aging, digestive diseases, and a spike in allergies.
The Fix: Eliminate the need for GMO-laden mixes by selecting high-quality main ingredients: Grab organic tequila and organic limes, but don’t skimp on the triple sec, either. Top-shelf triple sec liqueur is a must, says Abercrombie, who notes that Cointreau is made in France, where GMOs are banned.
Make It! The Unadulterated Margarita Recipe
This margarita goes back to the basics, refusing to be adulterated by the corn-syrup-heavy, neon green mixes you see on store shelves. Finding organic tequila may be a bit of a challenge. For instance, organic 4 Copas Blue Agave or Casa Noble organic tequila is not widely available all around the country. But just by replacing bar mixes with organic ingredients, you can seriously clean up your margarita.
1½ ounces organic tequila
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec (or a splash of organic OJ)
1½ ounces organic lime juice (from one large organic lime)
1 teaspoon organic agave syrup (optional)
Coarse salt and an organic lime slice for garnish
Mix ingredients over ice, stir, and serve on the rocks. Garnish rim of glass with course salt (optional) and organic lime slice.
Luscious Lime Cocktail
½ cup seltzer water
1 ounce organic tequila
1 ounce Cointreau or triple sec (or a splash of organic OJ)
1/8 cup fresh organic lime juice
1 teaspoon organic agave nectar
Organic lime slices for garnish
Combine seltzer water with tequila, triple sec, fresh lime juice, and agave nectar in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, shake, and garnish with lime slices.
(This can save you at least 150 calories compared to a margarita made with a store-bought mix.)
Non-Alcoholic Limeade Shiver
You don’t need to down tequila to celebrate. Here’s a tangy and sweet refreshing treat, without the threat of a hangover!
4 Tablespoons organic lime juice
4 Tablespoons organic sugar
½ cup fat-free lime sherbet
1½ cups chilled club soda
In a blender, combine the lime juice and sugar. Add the sherbet. Blend until smooth. Add the soda. Blend briefly just to combine.
The following recipes are courtesy of award-winning cookbook author Linda Eckhardt, editor and publisher of Everybody Eats News.
Strawberry Tequila Martini
Mexico prides itself on serving fabulous fresh fruit drinks, and never more so than on Cinco de Mayo. Here’s a yummy one served in a martini glass.
1 shot organic tequila
¾ ounce fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon simple syrup (1:1)*
3 fresh organic strawberries, quartered
3 fresh basil leaves
1/8 ounce aged balsamic vinegar
Tools: muddler, shaker, strainer
Garnish: fresh organic strawberry
Muddle strawberries, basil leaves, and vinegar in a mixing glass. Add remaining liquid ingredients with ice, and shake. Strain into chilled glass and garnish with a strawberry.
* Make simple syrup by heating ½ cup pure water to a boil, then adding ½ cup organic sugar crystals. Stir to dissolve, transfer to a jar, and cover.
In Southern California a popular alcoholic drink known as the Rice Rocket is made with horchata and a shot of coconut rum. Now, that’s a drink to celebrate!
6 Tablespoons rice
6 ounces (about 1¼ cups) blanched almonds
1-inch canella cinnamon stick
3 strips organic lime zest, 2 inches each
1 cup organic white granulated sugar
Mint leaves for garnish
The traditional way to make horchata is by hand, but to save time, a blender will suffice. Pulverize the rice using a metate y mano (corn-grinding stone) or blender. Grind the mixture to as smooth a texture as possible. Combine the rice with the 2 cups warm water, almonds, cinnamon, and lime zest. Let the mixture stand overnight (at least six hours), and then add more water as needed if it seems too thick.
Place the almond-rice mixture in the blender and blend for three to five minutes—until the mixture is smooth and no longer gritty. Add two cups of water and blend again for a few seconds. Place a large sieve over a mixing bowl, then line the sieve with three layers of damp cheesecloth. Pour in the rice mixture a little at a time and keep stirring to help the mixture go through the sieve. Once all the liquid has passed through, gather the cloth together at the top, give it a twist, and squeeze out any additional liquid.
Add two cups of pure water and stir in organic sugar to taste. If the mixture is too thick, add more water. Cover and refrigerate; the drink should keep for several days. Serve in a tall glass over ice. Serves six to seven. Garnish with a mint leaf.
Agua Frescas (fresh waters)
Traditionally, authentic agua frescas were made by simply mashing fresh fruit with a fork or muddler before adding water and sweetener. The Mexicans’ gift is patience, and they know to allow the fruit to macerate a few hours with sugar-to-taste before serving. Today, you can use a blender to good advantage, but you still need to set the fruit aside to develop its full fruit flavor. You won’t need alcohol to create a satisfying, intoxicating drink.
Agua Fresca de Fresa (Strawberry, but feel free to substitute other ripe fruits.)
Yields: 8 cups
Prep time: 5 min
4 cups ripe organic strawberries, hulled and thinly sliced
1 cup organic white sugar (or to taste)
8 cups pure water, divided
Ice cubes or crushed ice*
Combine strawberries, one cup of water in a large bowl. Mash the strawberries slightly and mix well. Add a little sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to macerate for approximately 4 hours. Add more sugar to taste, making sure you don’t over-sweeten the natural fruit sugars.
Place macerated fruit in a blender. Process until liquefied and smooth. Pour through a wire mesh strainer set over a large bowl; then strain the mixture again through wet cheesecloth, discarding the pulp and seeds. Add the remaining 7 cups of water and mix well.
*Note: Chill at least 30 minutes before serving. Serve with or without ice chunks, or over crushed ice.
Agua de Melon—Use cantaloupe or any other melon
Agua de Sandie— Use watermelon
Agua de Papaya— Use papaya with the addition of some lime juice
Agua de Pina—Use pineapple
Agua Fresca de Pepino—Use peeled, seeded cucumbers with the addition of lime juice.