Originating from Asia Minor, Greece’s national drink is only manufactured in Greece.
Its distinct licorice flavour is derived from anise which is a core ingredient. This liquor is grape based with herbs and spices added. Ouzo differs from island to island with Lesvos reputed to make the best Ouzo. Just like wine drinkers, Ouzo lover’s all have their own favourite be it a preference for a stronger, more robust taste, a slightly more subtle anise flavour or a product that is smoother. The five top selling brands are Ouzo Plomari (Lesvos), Ouzo Barbayannis (Lesvos), Ouzo 12 (Volos, Central Greece), Ouzo Mini (Lesvos) and Ouzo Tsantali (Halkidiki).
Ouzos differ from recipe to recipe due to the different herbs being area specific. Recipes are passed down from generation to generation and are a well kept family secret. These ouzos are generally made of distilled pure alcohol with added anise, carob, fennel and molasses or fruit like figs or plums added for natural sweetness. Some of the best ouzo is home brewed…
Ouzo is a translucent liquor which turns opaque or milky when water is added. It is drunk neat, or over ice but the classic way is with a little water to chill it on a hot Greek summer’s day. It is generally served as an aperitif with Greek mezes like grilled octopus, fried cheese, fried calamari, feta, olives, village sausage, meatballs, bread with tsatziki, fish in brine, cucumbers, tomatoes and other Greek delicacies.
Some choose to mix ouzo in cocktails. Ouzo goes well with orange, lemon, cranberry, banana, mint and some vegetable juices too. Some Greek arbiters add a dash of ouzo to their coffee while others drink ouzo alternately with their Greek coffee.
The correct way to pour ouzo: –
First pour Ouzo into the glass
Add some Water
Add ice in the End
This way the Ouzo cools down slowly, allowing the RELEASE of all the flavours
It is more than a drink – it is a way of life in Greece and epitomizes the Greek lifestyle! Going for an ouzo is a social outing which is not to be rushed. It involves eating, drinking, laughing and chatting while soaking up the sun on a hot summers day.
Benefits and Uses of Ouzo
Ouzo conjures up images of locals and tourists alike wiling away time at a traditional taverna while watching the sun move across the crystal clear turquoise blue sea.
Ouzo spells G-r-e-e-c-e with its healthy Mediterranean diet. It therefore comes as no surprise that this alcoholic beverage is actually good for one in moderation as ouzo does have high alcohol content!
- It helps with iron absorption from food.
- It dilates the blood vessels thereby reducing blood pressure.
- It has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant characteristics which help protect cells from diseases, including heart disease, some cancers and some neurological conditions.
- Anise helps promote intestinal function.
- It is purported to help fight liver disease and also help Crohn’s Disease sufferers.
- It helps reduce pain.
Ouzo is utilized in small quantities in a lot of Greek dishes to enhance flavours. It is used in flambé dishes, in vinaigrette dressings and marinades, to sauté onions and as a substitute for fennel or fennel seed. The Greeks also use it in their pie crusts as it lightens the dough and makes it crispy.
Recipes combining Ouzo
Garides Saganaki: – Prawns with tomato and feta
Garides me Lahanika: – Flambé prawns and vegetables
Kotopoulo me Lahanika:- Chicken and vegetables in a cream sauce which has had a dash of ouzo added to intensify the flavours
Dakos me Ouzo:- Cretan meze (starter) using barley rusks as a base and topped with tomatoes, cheese and olives drizzled with ouzo.
Sfakianopites:- Cretan Cheese pies from the Sfakia region.
Fish with honey and ouzo
Makaronia me Thalassina:- Seafood pasta with shrimp in a tomato and herb sauce
I personally use a capful of Ouzo in my Marinara sauce as it gives the sauce a different dimension and brings out the dill and lemon flavours in the sauce.
Cocktail recipes for Ouzo Cherry Twister, Ouzo Sunrise and Tropical Dream
Ouzo Cherry Twister
Makes 1 cocktail
- 1 ounce ouzo
- 1 ounce vodka
- 2 ounces cherry juice
- 2 maraschino cherries for garnish
Shake ouzo with vodka and cherry juice over ice.
Strain into a rocks glass; garnish with cherries.
Makes 1 cocktail
- 1 1/2 ounces vodka
- 1/4 ounce ouzo
- 1 ounce orange juice
- dash sugar
- 3/4 ounces seltzer water
- orange slice for garnish
Shake vodka with ouzo, orange juice, sugar, and ice until sugar is dissolved.
Strain mixture into tall glass and top with seltzer water then garnish with orange slice.
Makes 1 cocktail
- 1/2 ounce banana flavored rum
- 1/2 ounce coconut rum
- 1/2 ounce ouzo
- 1/3 ounce blue curacao
- 2 cherries for garnish
Shake both rums, ouzo, and ice.
Strain mixture into a cocktail glass then top with blue curacao and garnish with cherries.
Pomegranate Cocktail 'Santorini Sunset'
- 2 cups ouzo
- 1 cup citrus liqueur from Naxos island
- 1 cup fresh pomegranate juice
- ½ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (3 limes)
- Lime peel strips, to garnish
Combine the ouzo, citrus liqueur, pomegranate juice, and lime juice in a pitcher and refrigerate until ready to use. Pour the mixture into frozen martini glasses with a twist of lime peel and serve immediately.
The best place to try ouzo is obviously in Greece where you can sample different brands whilst taking in the idyllic scenery on a perfect hot summer’s day. At one of the hospitable tavernas lose track of time, savour delicious mezes, inhale the aromatic anise and determine which ouzo is your favorite – it is summer in a glass!
Travelling 2 Greece