At first glance you’ll probably ask, “I don’t know, Tess. Anise? Licorice? BLECK! Why would I want to buy something I don’t like?” Trust me when I say, any ingredient, no matter how funky, has the potential to be delicious.
Well, for me this particular ingredient has sentimental value. A late family friend, Joann, gave this bottle of Ouzo to my parents. At the time, she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. So (as one does when they find out they’re dying) she traveled. Greece what her first stop, and I assume she had some Ouzo and thought it was pretty good (why else would she give it to us?). We’ve had this souvenir in our liquor cabinet for over 5 years now and I believe it’s time to learn more about it and give a toast to dear, Joann.
I poured a little Ouzo into a shot glass with 1 ice cube and watched it turn from crystal clear to overcast (pretty cool, actually). Even from the tiniest sip, I experienced probably one of the most offensive things I’ve put in my mouth (next to oysters). It was sickly sweet and overpowering—like licorice extract. I spent a solid 5 minutes sticking my tongue out in disgust, trying to get the aftertaste to go away. Was Joann trying to poison us!?
But gross taste aside, I think this will be a great challenge. Imagine taking an absolutely revolting ingredient and incorporating it into a delicious dish. You just need to find the right balance of flavors to make it sing. Sour, acidic notes in particular will tone it down. Some cocktails combine ouzo with limoncello, which takes anise out of the spotlight and into background.
So if you see Ouzo at the liquor store or even on your next trip to Greece, buy a bottle, but not for drinking. Use it as an ingredient in your cooking. Read more below to learn how!
PS Learn more about Lung Cancer and how you can make a difference, here.
About: Ouzo is a sweet, anise-flavored alcoholic drink exclusive to Greece. The island of Lesvos, in particular, is said to have some of the best ouzo in the country. Similar to liqueur, Ouzo is made from the leftover skins and stems of wine grapes. They’re distilled with flavorings like anise, fennel, cloves, and cinnamon, which gives the high-proof alcohol it’s strong licorice flavor. In Greece, this drink is traditionally served with small appetizer dishes like fish, olives, and feta.
Brand: Canava Santorini
Plant: Anisum vulgare
Varieties: Absinthe • Arak • Galliano • Kefi • Raki
History: Ouzo is said to be the predecessor of Absinthe, which was invented by a group of 14-century monks. The name “ouzo” has 3 possible origins: (1) the ancient Greek word ózó which means smell, (2) the Turkish work ūsūm which means grape, or (3) the Italian phrase uso massalia which is a stamp used on high quality goods.
Nutrients: calcium • iron • manganese
Benefits: eases an upset stomach, bloating, and other GI issues • relieves pain, like headaches • can sooth a sore throat and coughing
Substitutes: other spice-flavored liqueurs
Store: available in Wine & Spirit stores in the liqueur or international section
Serving: Serve Ouzo in a small narrow glass to protect your nose from the strong fumes that come from the drink. Place one or two ice cubes in the glass and pour a small amount of Ouzo over the ice. You’ll notice the drink will turn from clear to milky, a reaction called “The Ouzo Effect”. Alternately, you can serve Ouzo neat in a shot glass mixed with a splash of very cold water instead of ice.
Storage: Keep at room temperature indefinably.
Taste & Texture: silky • potent • fiery • licorice • minty • sweet • hint of other spices like cinnamon and clove
Suggested Uses: add a small amount to baked goods • use in sauces or marinades • add to cocktails • add to whipped cream • cook with fruit
Ouzo Lemonade (via The Spruce Eats)
The Greek Tragedy Cocktail (via Vine Pair)
Thiples (via Gourmet Traveller)
Chicken in Cream Sauce (via Greek Tastes)
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Ouzo is a very strong drink with a high sugar content. Sugar delays the alcohols absorption in your body, which means you won’t feel as tipsy initially, which then means you drink more. This results in a sudden, rather quick inebriation. So do as the Greeks, and drink slowly while eating.
Another note, some people can be allergic to anise. It can also worsen symptoms of hormone-sensitive people (estrogen, in particular).
What do you know about Ouzo?