Almonds have a special something that can elevate so many foods and drinks, giving them more flavor and pop.
When I’m baking, a few drops of almond extract take my basic sugar cookies from just fine to flavorful. In my cocktails, I use orgeat, a sweet almond syrup, to add a sweet nuttiness with floral undertones. It creates layers of flavor that get my guests asking, “WHAT is in this delicious drink?!”
If you’re not well-acquainted with tiki, tropical drinks or some classic pre-prohibition drinks, orgeat may be an unfamiliar cocktail ingredient. But its presence is the backbone of many classic cocktails.
It’s simple to make at home and you don’t even have to whip up a Mai Tai or Fog Cutter to enjoy it.
Orgeat (pronounced ohr-zsa or ohr-zhaat), is a nonalcoholic almond syrup used primarily, but not exclusively, in cocktails.
This version of orgeat does have an optional ounce of vodka to extend its shelf life (the vodka acts as a preservative). While almonds are the flavor typically associated with the syrup, it can also be made from other nuts like pistachio or macadamia nuts.
Most importantly, orgeat is not almond milk. Almond milk is just almonds steeping in a liquid, while orgeat is almonds steeped in water along with a simple syrup and orange flower water.
How To Use Orgeat
Orgeat is a staple ingredient in many tiki, tropical, and classic cocktails, but it can also be added to nonalcoholic drinks where almond would complement the flavors like a sour cherry puree and soda water (and to make this recipe completely booze-free, forgo the addition of vodka).
It’s also delicious in hot or iced coffee and can be substituted for the sweetener. You could also add it into any baked good or dessert that also could use a little boost of almond flavor. I love butter cookies with a touch of almond flavor!
History of Orgeat
Orgeat as a cocktail ingredient premiered in the Japanese Cocktail in Jerry Thomas’ Bar-tenders Guide which was published in 1862.
It became a popular ingredient in tiki drinks with Trader Vic and his eponymous line of restaurants and bars in the early 20th century, when drinks like the Mai Tai and the Scorpion came into fashion.
These new types of cocktails used fresh juices and contained “secret” mixes known only to the bartenders.
Variations, Swaps or Substitutions
Almond is the traditional flavor of orgeat, but many nuts can be substituted for a variety of flavors. I’ve had luck with pistachio orgeat and macadamia.
You can swap out the same volume of nuts for these recipes as you would the almonds. I’ve also heard you can use avocado pits too but I’ve yet to try that method!
Things to Note and How to Store
When working with straining nuts, my recommendation is to use a nut milk bag. While cheesecloth will work, I find that a nut milk bag keeps much more of the almond bits out of the final liquid. Which means you’ll likely be able to skip re-straining your orgeat.
Store the orgeat in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Without the vodka, your orgeat will last one month. If you add the one ounce of vodka it will extend the shelf life up to three months. However, discard if any cloudiness or mold appears during that time.
Orgeat (Almond Syrup)
- 2 cups (10 ounces) raw almonds
- 2 cups water, filtered
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon orange flower water
- 1 ounce vodka, optional
Break up almonds:
Break up almonds by using a food processor to pulse them or by wrapping the almonds in a towel and crushing the almonds with a rolling pin. They do not need to be pulverized, just broken apart.
Steep almonds in water:
Add almonds to a medium bowl and pour in the water. Refrigerate for 8 hours, or overnight, covered loosely with a clean dishtowel.
Strain and discard almonds:
Strain the almond liquid into a medium-sized saucepan using a nut milk bag or a fine weave cheesecloth, through a fine mesh strainer. Re-strain the liquid if any almond bits appear in the saucepan.
Boil almond liquid:
Turn on the stove over medium-high heat and whisk in the sugar until dissolved into the almond liquid. Bring the mixture to just under a boil with some medium bubbles but nothing to energetic in the pot, approximately 5 to 8 minutes.
Cool liquid and add in orange flower water and vodka:
Remove from heat and let the liquid cool to room temperature. Once cooled, add in the orange flower water and vodka if using.
Store orgeat in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Orgeat can last up to one month refrigerated without the vodka or up to three months if you have added in the vodka.