Dreamin’ of Orange Julius
There was a time during my adolescence (in California), when I thought an Orange Julius was the best drink in the world. Better than a cherry Coke, better than a root beer float or any kind of milkshake, better than iced tea, Fanta, 7-up – even better than chocolate milk! Of course the adolescent palate is unrefined and fickle, but even among the soda cognoscenti of California, Orange Julius is up there with the big players. Perhaps Southern Californian’s are attached to this drink because of their fond association with the orange and orange orchards which sprawl across the southern counties. At one time oranges were synonymous with California, which produced nearly three quarters of all oranges nationally, now due to urbanization, the share is down to about 25% – a lot of oranges none the less. With such an abundance of oranges it’s not surprising somebody started to think of new ideas using the juice. It’s one of those rare situations where you have taken a natural resource (orange juice) and you make something special from it that’s better than what you started with (Orange Julius). Well, let’s not get carried away, pure orange juice is a thing of wonder, but as a beverage, Orange Julius is distinctly satisfying…
So what Orange Julius?
The drink originates from an orange juice stand in Los Angeles in 1926. As a company, it’s had its ups and downs, but today it is successfully selling drinks in stores, malls and – after the chain was bought by Dairy Queen in 1987 – as a trademark drink across much of the globe (but not across Europe – however, watch this space, we’re officially in Dairy Queen’s sights).
The drink itself is orange juice blended with something sweet, something a little sour, something creamy, something frothy and a little fizzy and something that’s probably vanilla. Dairy Queen cite a ‘secret ingredient’ for its distinctive taste. And indeed, whenever we drank an Orange Julius as kids, it would not be long before somebody would say, ‘I wonder how they make it?’ Well, legally, Dairy Queen have to list the ingredients so we can find out ourselves, but it’s full of the usual baffling chemicals, including Orange Julius ‘flavour enhancer’ – perhaps that’s the secret ingredient?
The secret ingredient
I believe I have identified the secret ingredient: dip-dab, or less specifically, sherbet. The taste is like orange sherbet, especially the push-up tubes of orange sherbet ice cream, or orange-flavoured sherbet powder. I’ve been to the sweet shop hoping to collect in a little paper bag flying sauces, dip-dabs, sherbet fountains, sherbet straws, the sweets of yesteryear and nostalgia… and happily I did find a dip-dab. A quick test in some orange juice and I am immediately taken toward the flavour of a Julius.
The tingling tang of sherbet
At the heart of an Orange Julius is the counter-intuitive blending of orange juice and milk. But in fact, there are historical examples of drinks made with acidic wine, ale or beer and milk, drinks which eventually became the basis of our set syllabub and posset puddings. Orange juice, milk and cream are the main ingredients in an orange ‘cream’ sherbet in my Fannie Farmer cookbook (probably the same recipe as the orange sherbet ice cream in a tube mentioned above). The recipe is a corruption of a normal fruit sherbet, which is called a sorbet in the UK. The appealing clash between all fruits and cream is essentially a mild reaction between an acid and a base. With an Orange Julius, the orange juice is full of citric acid, and the milk is a base. The milk neutralises the acid and the two together create a pleasing tang, the same tingling tang at play with sherbet. It’s what causes the fizz on the tongue when eating a dip-dab, the sherbet contains a mix of acid and alkali powders, the reaction occurs when the powder hits the saliva. Historically this powder was also mixed in water to make a flavoured fizzy drink.
Clearly mixing milk and orange together create a sherbet-like taste, but I am going to do my own ‘flavour enhancing’ and put actual sherbet in my Orange Julius.
Okay, milk and juice do go – but eggs too?
We know from Dairy Queen’s ingredient list that there are egg whites in an Orange Julius. Historically, nogs were drunk on the same principle of mixing milk or cream with acidic alcohol as well as eggs – rather like the egg nog of modern times. The result is rather like the creamy, heady tang of an Orange Julius. So the final element in the drink is the eggs – I whizzed up an egg white with orange juice and was surprised by the soft lusciousness of the foam. It made the drink smooth and silky with a good deal of effervescence and an attractive head of froth. However, it also tasted of egg, the same taste I get when I substitute powdered egg whites. Then I had a brainwave. I tried a meringue nest. It’s egg white is safely cooked with a bit of sugar – and miraculously, has the same effervescent and soothing effect on the orange juice as raw egg white – happily it also tastes more of meringue than egg.
The finished article
Based on my unreliable memories, I reckon I’ve cracked the secret to the Orange Julius. I’ve no doubt I could refine my recipe if I could compare an actual Orange Julius. But what are our adolescent memories of food about? Are they the actual taste of the food, or longing memories of how we felt at the time – a time, when we were full of youthful energy, when the sun was out, the surf was up and life was good. My Orange Julius tastes a lot like that.