All fruits ferment naturally. An over-ripe apple fallen from the tree would naturally convert into cider inside its own skin. As a professional, our job is often little more than to steer the fermentation towards desired results.
Fruit-based alcoholic beverage is prepared and consumed across the globe. The most talked-about is the apple cider (where a barrel full of bruised apples are left to ferment and drank a fortnight later). Jamun (Navel seeds) and mulberry also make excellent deep red drinks. Unlike grapes, the fruits come in a variety of flavors and are rich in vitamins and micronutrient minerals making it a very healthy drink. If we are living in a tropical country like India, then one is spoiled for choices.
In addition, technology has solved the two biggest challenges faced by cider winemaker in the past:
- Pulping: Compared to grapes, it takes a lot more fruit & energy to extract the cold-press juice from other fruits.
- Shelf life: Grapes and raisins have higher sugar content than Fruits. Hence grape wines have high enough alcohol content that alcohol acts as a retardant to microbial action. Traditional fruit wines were not strong enough to enable storing these wines, clearing, or aging them.
Now with the easily available and affordable table sugar, it is easy to raise the alcohol content too high enough (10-13%) for the alcohol to act as a retardant for microbes. In addition, sulfites (Campden) has greatly made preservation easy. The electricity-based mechanization has made pulping of fruit to juices also easy.
The process of making a fruit wine is very similar to grape wine. Therefore, I am only highlighting the differences:
- One needs about 1.5-2kg of fruits per liter of wine (technically called Must). You can use a single fruit (like Apple, Mango, Banana, Mulberry, Jamun, Papaya, Pineapple, etc.) or a combination of different fruits and even add some flowers or herbs as well.
- Ever observed that the carbide or acetylene gas ripened fruits lack the flavors as regular organic fruits. Use over-ripe fruits (but not rotting). Ideal fruit for fermentation is very soft, juicy and often the skin starts to discolor. As the fruit naturally ripens the number of esters and flavonoids increases exponentially. The natural starch (found in Cheeku or Banana) is converted to fructose making the wines clearer (less starch haze) and with higher sugar content. Green/ unripe fruits, on the other hand, have very little sugar, taste, and juice.
- If the skin is edible and fruit organic, then do not bother to peel. Just wash and smash them and pour the whole (skin & seed included) into the fermenter. While processing large batches, I sometimes put fruit in white cotton/ nylon bags and smash the whole bag with a wooden bat.
- Unlike grapes, most fruits have low fruit juice extract and huge amounts of sediments (especially banana). So topping them up with some grape juice, water or commercial juice helps in making a sizeable batch economically. Fibrous fruits like mangoes have a lot of juice & sugars locked in the seed. A rudimentary sparging i.e. washing them with lukewarm water helps extract this pulp out.
- For clarity, use twice the quantity of pectinase (about 0.5gms per liter as compared to about 0.25gms per liter for grape wines) to help break the pectin from the cell walls and clear out the wines. Adding some Amylase enzymes (available at beer/ winemaking shops) in banana-like starchy fruits helps clear the starch haze.
- For customizing the alcohol content, add about 100-150gms of sugar per liter of juice to get the desired alcohol content. (A hydrometer or refractometer can help us achieve >1.08 S.G. after sugar addition). Unlike grape wines (where we don’t dilute), it is recommended to top banana wine up with some water/ juice.(Advanced tip): If we can freeze and thaw the fruits (remember it can take a whole day to thaw them). It can greatly enhance the exaction efficiency of juice & flavors as freezing causes the cells to swell and rupture. Also, it is much easier to destem frozen berries or small fruits.
- Adjusting Colors: If the white wine color is not golden enough, we can add some oak, black tea for tannins; otherwise, the skin of the fruit often gives adequate tannins.
- Very few people use spices in grape wines. However, most ciders or country wines have traditionally been paired with some spices to enhance the flavors.
- Some fruits have high oil content e.g. most nuts, jackfruit, etc. If these oils are not handled, there might be prominent rancidity in the wines. For chocolate, we use cocoa nibs or alkaline cocoa powder. For cashew, use the fruit instead of the nuts (but it needs to be collected and processed fresh as it rots very fast). Selecting a part of the plant that has the flavor without the oils is a better idea if one wants to naturally infuse the flavors. If that is hard to find, then infusing the spices in the secondary fermentation (where no yeast or active biochemical activity is happening) might be a good idea. I infuse my walnuts and almonds almost after 2 weeks into the fermentation.
- We will run into off-flavor problems when we make wines from Gooseberry or beetroot. Taking sweetness away from some fruits exposes their astringency and metallic flavors. There are different approaches to tackle this. Some allow them to age so that the astringency mellows down, others increase the residual sweetness so that the off-flavors are masked. Yet others use intelligent pairing with other fruits and spices. Please experiment to find your sweet spot.
- Do not bother pitting the berries or peeling the organic fruits. If these materials quietly separate from the pulp and sink in the bottom, then we can conveniently rake them away after a week. Winemaking is hard work already, and this busy work will only complicate it further. However, do remove the woody stems, insects, and rotten fruit before pulping.
- Tartness: Certain fruits (like apricots, kiwi, plum, and red currants) have high oxalic acid concentrations. This makes an overly tart mouth feel in the finished wines which do not even go away post aging. Other acids do mellow down (tartaric acid precipitates as crystals, malic acid is reduced to lactic acid which has lower tartness). Using a titration method and adding some calcium carbonate (about ½ a gram per liter) helps overcome this problem.
- Apart from these few considerations, the whole process is essentially the same. Take a large open mouth fermenter, put in large quantities of mashed fruit. Top it up with some fruit juice, and add yeast.
Do remember the more flavorful the starting fruit is, the better the wines are. Tomato can make wonderful cooking wines, especially when paired with garlic and onions. I have a friend who likes his Jackfruit and watermelon wines (but they are an acquired taste). Kokum, Beetle leaves (paan patta) and Areca nut (supari) wines are very popular in the Southern part of India. Some fruits like Yellow Neem fruit (neemoli), gooseberry, and rose hips (these are the round base of the rose flower) are used to make teas and in medicines make decent wines. Most flowers have so little juice that pairing them with another base juice/ fruit helps. Sugarcane juice wine, coconut sap wine (toddy) has its own fan base and some festivals are incomplete without them.
Lack of cold storage, food processing industry, and efficient transportation systems means that over 50% of the produce of fruits and vegetables are wasted in India. Every year, the newspaper will carry pictures of fruits being dumped along the roadside by farmers who realize the cost of transportation of them exceeds the value they will get in a mandi (wholesale farmer’s market). A simple rudimentary food processing (like what our ancestors did) might help extend the shelf life and the value of the produce. You can help farmers too, by picking up a large quantity of over-ripe fruit that has few takers.
I will be sharing four recipes one with first with pulpy fruit, second with berries, the third with flowers, and fourth with Dates. Based on the season and personal preference one can customize them to ferment anything available in our farmer’s market.