Despite everything we now know about sugar, it seems things just keep getting sweeter. Kellogg’s South Africa’s recent “improvement” of Rice Krispies, everyone’s favourite norm-core cereal, got the backlash it might have expected from almost all quarters. Apart from everything else they did to make the product worse taste and texture-wise, they more than doubled the sugar. Doubled! The sugar content of Rice Krispies is now high enough to make Coca-Cola look like a health option.
Why would they do this? Who knows. The point is there’s too much gastronomically pointless sugar around and at Christmas it gets worse. The stores are awash with sugar in various forms and, sadly, it’s mostly of mediocre quality. Crappy chocolate, crappy biscuits, mediocre nougat, cakes iced with fake marzipan … the list goes on and on. Now and then you’re the recipient of a proud panettone or homemade lebkuchen but, in the main, it’s all sugar without any point.
I’m quite partial so some of the super-crappy items some of the time but in December it’s just too much. One feels utterly hammered. And that’s why any tipple you have around this season desperately needs to combat the sweet scourge by upping the other tastes that our tongues are made to sense, to balance matters out. Mainly, you want lots of bitter. Some sour to match the bitter is good and saltiness doesn’t hurt either. Zesty elements, such as ginger, to add “burn” help too.
In our house, fixing the problem means stocking up on the following weapons: Angostura Bitters, citrus including its zested rind as well as soda and tonic water (salty by nature). Using herbs with bitter notes is also helpful: rosemary is a great one. Alcohol is optional in the not-too-sweet drinks picture, but Campari, gin and vodka are the easiest and happiest of bedfellows with the aforementioned weaponry. Mix, combine, play. You can’t really go wrong.
Oh wait though – things can go tragically wrong if your tonic is the default horribly sweet one (again, something which has become increasingly saccharine for no good reason I can fathom). I’m afraid with tonics, you may have to spend a little, do some label reading, or just opt for sparkling mineral water. And if you want detailed guidance on such drinks, check out: 6 bitter cocktails we love.
Bitter-Sweet Endings: Even your dessert can have a good helping of bitter to counteract the Yuletide sweet scourge. For something which is indulgent but doesn’t make your teeth ache, pour a Campari and chilled soda (no ice) into a tall glass, then carefully dollop a scoop of good vanilla ice cream on top. Serve post-haste as it froths and fizzes. Rich, creamy, bitter, tart and even a bit celebratory, all at once.