You may have heard of maceration, the no-cook process that yields a delicious fruit sauce perfect for topping cake, yogurt, and ice cream. With maceration, fruit becomes a more intensely flavored, elevated version of itself.
“Maceration” simply means to soften by soaking in liquid, such as liqueur, vinegar, or juice, but the recipe I am going to share with you utilizes the liquid held within the flesh of the fruit itself. But, before you can take advantage of this liquid, it has to be drawn out.
This can be done using a principle called “osmosis.”
In chemistry, a solution is a mixture of one substance dissolved in another. The substance that does the dissolving is called the “solvent” and the substance that is dissolved is called the “solute.”
Osmosis is the movement of the solvent across a semipermeable membrane from an area of lower solute concentration to an area of higher solute concentration in an attempt to equalize the concentration on both sides.
In our “system,” the solute is sugar, the solvent is the water within the strawberry, and the semipermeable membrane is the cellular walls of the strawberry. When strawberries are coated in sugar, there is a much higher concentration of solute outside of the strawberry than inside the strawberry. This causes our solvent (water) to flow out of the fruit and into the surrounding environment. The result is a delicious, syrupy, but not cloying sauce.
Bonus: you didn’t have to heat a thing!
In the summer months, I am loath to turn on the oven. It’s a real struggle, because I love to bake, but I really despise being warm. No one should have to give up on dessert out of fear of overheating their house or guests. One could rely on a gallon of store-bought something, but then you would miss out on serving something that you made with your own hand. And I would hate for you to miss out on that; it’s usually tastier and you can brag about it. (Editor’s Note: A humblebrag like “Oh, it takes no time at all. I just whipped it up after I got done straining the homemade Greek yogurt” works really well.) I suppose you could make your own ice cream, but that requires forethought and approximately a million years of chilling everything beforehand. Plus, most ice creams require stirring custard over a heat source, so that’s out by June.
A final note of caution: because there is such a large amount of sugar in the surrounding environment, it is unlikely that the system will reach equilibrium. The concentration of sugar outside and inside the strawberry will probably never be equivalent. Therefore, it is best to make this sauce fairly last minute (same day) as the fruit will continue to release liquid until the whole thing is a mushy mess. But don’t worry; this sauce is so delicious it won’t last long anyway.
Easy-Peasy Macerated Strawberries
You will need:
- 1 lb. of strawberries
- 3 tablespoons of table sugar
- Flavorings! You can add lemon or lime zest, a couple of teaspoons of balsamic vinegar, or (my choice) a tablespoon of red wine!
1. Rinse your strawberries in a colander and let them dry on a kitchen towel.
2. De-stem and halve or quarter the berries. Don’t worry if they’re not uniform in size; it doesn’t really matter. (Who has the time?)
3. Spoon in the sugar and stir to coat.
4. Add your flavorings and stir once more. I added a tablespoon of Cab and some lemon zest (I didn’t measure the zest, just eyeballed it).
5. Let sit at ambient temperature and pressure for at least an hour. The longer you let it sit, the softer the strawberries will be.
6. Serve with ice cream or cake or use it as a pie filling!
7. If there’s any left, store covered in the fridge for 24 hours.
Wasn’t that just the easiest?
This method isn’t limited to strawberries. Apples, peaches, and blueberries are just a few of the other fruits that can be rendered into delicious toppings by way of osmosis. And table sugar isn’t your only option as a solute! Brown sugar, honey, and even salt are all great solutes that you can use to draw out moisture and create delicious syrups.
What combinations do you like? What food science do you want to know more about? Let us know in the comments!