One area not covered yet by our series of articles is pure fruit infusions. We covered some simple elements in our previous blending article here, but blending with fruit pieces required an article in and of itself - so that is what this is!
Whereas herbal infusions have many adherents for a variety or reasons, pure fruit infusions tend to be preferred by those opting for an exclusively caffeine-free diet or those who tend to have difficulties in the flavours of tea.
Fruit infusions are truly one of the most difficult types of infusion to get exactly right and usually only the brave really dabble in this area as it also tends to be prohibitively expensive outside of large volumes.
As most people know, fruit infusions are made from a combination of different fruits and sometimes flowers and herbs in order to achieve a specific flavour profile. Fruit teas are sometime confused with their caffeine-free counterparts, but the key difference is whether actual tea leaves are present. One way to explain it might be to say that all fruit teas are infusions but not all fruit infusions are teas!
Before we explore just why fruit infusions are so complex, let us look at why fruit infusions are most frequently consumed. The most simple place to start is the previously mentioned caffeine-free properties of fruit infusions. This is especially valuable to those who enjoy a delicious and complex hot drink but try to limit or eliminate caffeine from their diet. Whilst there is little evidence to suggest that there is risk to consuming caffeine in small amounts, it can be personally irritating to some and contribute to high blood pressure, anxiety, insomnia and indigestion.
Another key element of fruit infusions is that they tend to include real fruit pieces in loose leaf form and so maintain many of the properties of those fruits when used as infusion ingredients. For example, fruit infusions tend to be high in Vitamin C and many other vitamins as well as iron, zinc and potassium and can be high in antioxidants.
So, there seem to be many good reasons to drink fruit infusions, why would they be so complex to put together? There are in fact many reasons!
If you are a non or infrequent tea drinker, fruit infusions may well hit the spot very nicely, but many who enjoy fruit teas and them move on to infusions miss the extra body provided by the tea leaves in the infusion. In order to re-create this body, a wider variety of ingredients is usually employed and getting the balance of these ingredients right without compromising the intended flavour of the infusion can be surprisingly difficult!
Also, many fruits when dried and infused don't necessarily taste the same, or even similar, to their fresh fruit counterparts and in order to to "correct" this to a flavour more familiar to the consumer a dastardly array of other fruits might be involved! Even where this is the case, getting the flavour exactly right is still an amazing challenge in itself and one that can only be achieved by constant experimentation!
As mentioned before, there can often be great expense to all of this experimentation. Dried fruits (and especially dried fruit powders) take a surprising amount of fresh fruit to make even a small amount sufficiently dessicated to use in a long shelf-life infusion. Multiply this by the wide variety of fruits that you might need to achieve the flavour you desire and you are looking at some serious strain on the purse strings!
Finally, fruits do contain sugar (and are expected to be sweet). Some fruits, like pineapple, tend to retain virtually all of their sweetness when dried and so the problem would be adding other ingredients to balance that out a bit. Even more complex are ingredients that are expected to be sweet when drinking, but where the sugar seems mostly absent from the final infusion, in this case sweetness must be added, but in the most natural way possible and without added sugars or sweeteners. In this case it might be time to get out that expensive array of dried ingredients again!
But even with the complexities of fruit blending, it is extremely rewarding to get right and to discover new fruits to add for natural sweetness or new ingredients to add body.