Summer is here, in all its sun-drenched, mid-90s-temperatures glory. (Proof: I got so distracted playing in the garden last night that I almost forgot to finish this post. Ooops.) Anyway, summer really means that my favorite winter drinks (rye and ginger ale, heavy brown beers) are put aside in favor of lighter things. Like vodka gimlets, gin ‘n’ tonics, and the biggest, goofiest tropical cocktails I can get my hands on.
First and foremost of those has to be the pina colada. A few recent heat-soaked trips (see above) made rum seem perfecto – and when we came home to equally hot days, it continued to seem perfecto. Rum is crisp, slightly sweet and fantastically cooling, all at once. Add the tangy sweet-sour notes of pineapple and the creaminess of coconut, and what do you get? Blissful relief in the middle of a sweltering, melty day.
But certain people (erm… me) sometimes feel ridiculous ordering giant fruity drinks in bars. So, the question became, how best to make the pineapple wonder at home? Buy a premade mix, or create one of our own with cream of coconut and pineapple juice?
Challenge: Pina Colada
The store-bought mix contains high fructose corn syrup, water, coconut juice, sugar, natural flavors, xanthan gum, pineapple juice, citric acid, clouding agent (maltodextrin, titanium dioxide, gum arabic and sucrose), sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, sodium bisulfate, potassium sorbate, sodium metabisulfite, polysorbate 60, caramel color, BHA and TBHQ as preservatives and FD&C yellow #5.
For the DIY mix: The cream of coconut contains coconut, sugar, water, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate, salt, propylene glycol alginate, mono and diglycerides (emulsifiers), citric acid, guar gum and locust bean gum.
The pineapple juice contains pineapple juice from concentrate, and water.
So! We made three batches of pina coladas.
Batch 1 (following the instructions on the store-bought mix):
8 ounces pina colada mix
3 ounces white rum
Batch 2 (following the instructions on the cream of coconut can):
4 ounces cream of coconut
4 ounces pineapple juice
3 ounces white rum
Batch 3 (following the recipe included in the Pocket Guide to Cocktails, from Parragon Publishing):
2 ounces white rum
1 ounce dark rum
3 ounces pineapple juice
2 ounces cream of coconut
To make a pina colada, the instructions are simple: Put ingredients in a blender. Blend to desired frothiness/smoothiness. Pour into 2 glasses (with the exception of Batch 3, in which you get only one glass.) Garnish if you feel like being fancy. Drink with a friend. Be cool.
Time and Cost Comparison
All three versions were fast to make, taking about 5 minutes apiece.
One liter of premade mix (33.8 ounces) cost $3.99, and then we had to add white rum to it (about $27 for 1.75 ml). So, a blender-full (two 12-ish ounce servings) of the premade pina coladas cost $2.37.
One can of cream of coconut (15 ounces) cost $3.29, and the pineapple juice (32 ounces) cost $1.79. So a blender-full (two 12-ish ounce servings) of the Batch 2: The Can Recipe, using only white rum, cost $2.49.
And a full recipe of Batch Three: The Book Recipe (one 12-ish ounce serving), using white and dark rum, cost $1.88. Two servings would cost $3.76.
Oh, goodness. Frankly, neither the premade mix nor the cream of coconut is all that natural. Both include several emulsifiers, thickeners and preservatives. The mix has more of these bad boys, in addition to food coloring and multiple forms of sugar. However, neither is going to be good for you.
And speaking of not good for you, we’ve arrived at the nutrition facts. (I’m so glad I’m writing this post-taste-test!)
One serving of Batch One contains 210 calories, 1.5 grams of fat, 45 mg sodium, 53 grams of carbs (52 grams from sugars), and no protein.
One serving of Batch Two contains 376 calories, 10 grams fat, 34 mg sodium, 46 grams carbs (45 from sugars), and 0 proteins.
One serving of Batch Three contains 508 calories, 10 grams fat, 34 mg sodium, 46 grams carbs (45 from sugars) and 0 proteins.
I think I would have been happier not knowing this.
This is what’s really important, right? Because if you’re going to consume all those calories and sugars, etc., you might as well make them worth your while. So, which was the best pina colada? Rob and I weighed in and…
The third batch, with the homemade pineapple-coconut mix and two kinds of rum, was the hands-down winner. (And, coincidentally, it has double the amount of alcohol per serving of the other two.)
The first batch, which had the premixed, store-bought stuff, was smooth, creamy and excessively, ridiculously sweet. Like, you could get the same effect by drizzling rum over a pile of sugar and eating it with a spoon. Which is not surprising, considering sugar is listed, in one form or another, 3 times in the ingredient list.
The second batch, with the homemade mix and the white-rum-only, was less sweet than the first, but also overwhelmingly coconutty when we sipped, so that we were left with a strange tangy pineapple aftertaste.
The third batch, however, was dee-licious. The addition of dark rum made the drink a little sweeter than the second batch, and the little bit of extra pineapple juice got a foothold on the coconut and they balanced out. Also, this one sort of separated, which according to the photo was supposed to happen, so there was a creamy, frothy layer on top and a smooth, velvety layer below. Not what I think of as a traditional pina colada, but entirely awesome.
2. Throw in blender. Mix. Drink. Ta-da! Only minor issue is cleaning the blender, but it’ll wait until morning. I promise.
DIY or Buy?
DIY, using the third recipe. Listen, this drink is never going to be good for you. So you might as well make the most of it, and have the one that tastes best. Right? Right!
All right: What’s your favorite summer drink? What else do I need to try making this summer?