France’s sweet cordial success

French kids and adults alike love a drop of squash... The Connexion talks to a sirop maker on the drink’s boom   

26 February 2020
Sirop being bottled at the Drôme factory of Eyguebelle, where ancient recipes are combined with modern production practices
By Jane Hanks

Cordials and squashes, called sirops, have always been popular in France, and part of most children’s daily afternoon snack, le goûter, traditionally preferred over fizzy drinks.

Sales are on the increase, and are attracting new markets with high-end, low-sugar, organic and additive-free options, aimed not only at the young, but also at adults as an alternative non-alcoholic drink and even as an ingredient in the kitchen.

Eyguebelle based at Valaurie, Drôme, produces 50 different flavours of cordial and prides itself on craftsmanship, authenticity and natural flavours.

The company bought the ancient recipes from the Cistercian monastery of Aiguebelle, in 1996, and moved from the Abbey to a new site seven kilometres away in 2006.

The monks also produced reputed alcoholic liqueurs, made from plants for their healing properties, which made up 80% of their sales.

But times have changed, and now 80% of the 5.5 million bottles they sell every year are cordials.

The company uses the monks’ traditional recipes but have an R&D department which works to develop new recipes.

Caroline Courtaliac is Communications Manager for the firm: “There is a very high demand for non-alcoholic drinks and cafés and restaurants are buying more and more cordials from us.

They will not just serve them with water, but also add, for example, nougat sirop to coffee and use some in their cooking.

For example, you can flavour macaroons, add basil cordial to strawberries, and even use them in savoury dishes. Sirops are really rooted in our culture, and adults have fond memories of them from their childhood.”

Their sirops are not just made with fruit, but also with, herbs such as thyme, cactus and even pine, nuts and flavours such as chocolate, vanilla and caramel.

To be sold as a sirop, the law states there must be at least 55% sugar and 10% fruit juice. For citrus fruit there must be 50% sugar and 7% fruit juice. 

Cordials were originally created to preserve fruit. Unlike jams, where sugar is added to the fruit, cordials are made by adding a concentrate of the fruit, plant or other flavour to a liquid syrup.

This is made of water and a sweetener, which can be cane or beet sugar, glucose sugar derived from wheat, barley, rice or maize or isoglucose, otherwise known as corn starch. At Eyguebelle they use cane sugar.

Samples from the company’s range of flavours

“One of our most traditional flavours is strawberry,” says Mrs Courtaliac. “We use the prized Carpentras variety. We buy the strawberries already puréed and add them to our syrup. Every year the sweetness of the strawberry is different so we may add a concentrate. This comes from strawberries we send to Grasse, to be distilled in a similar way to plants used in the famous local perfumes. The only ingredients in the cordial are strawberries, water and cane sugar.”

Cordials have a long history and fruit syrups were first made with honey used as the sweetener by the ancient Greeks and Romans.

In the 11th century, European crusaders discovered a drink in the Middle East called charâb, and the words sirop and syrup come from this Arab word and from the Latin sirupus, both terms used for a drink made from dissolved sugar and flavoured with a variety of different substances.

In the 17th century, Vatel, Louis XIV’s cook, discovered this method and used it in the royal kitchens.

The first recorded use of the word sirop is in an 18th century text, describing their application in both cooking and at the pharmacy. Then, the main flavourings came from flowers such as camomile, rose or elderflower.

Recipes were developed during this period and grenadine was invented.

The translation of grenadine is pomegranate, but this fruit was rare and expensive, so a mixture of red fruits was used instead, in varying proportions depending on the recipe.

The drink, grenadine, continues to use these ingredients rather than pomegranate. At Eyguebelle, they have their own recipe with red fruits plus a touch of vanilla.

Sirops continued to grow in popularity during the 19th century, drunk by children and women.

You could now buy Rossoly (fennel, coriander, aniseed and dill), Gomme (with Arabic gum, which acts as an emulsifier, prevents the sugar from crystallising, adds a smooth texture and was used as a drink sweetener), and Orgeat (almond).

Cherry, raspberry, lemon orange and grenadine also developed. In 1847, over 620,000 litres were consumed in Paris, an amount which had doubled by 1900.

In 1908, the word sirop appeared in legal texts for the first time.

Latest figures show that France now produces 193 million litres, of which a quarter is for export.

The French drink on average 21.1 litres per person a year, second in Europe behind the UK where consumption is more than 40 litres per person a year. Sales went up by 1.5% in 2017 and grenadine is by far the most popular flavour, followed by mint, lemon and strawberry.

These figures come from the Syndicat Français des Sirops which represent 13 companies which produce 90% of the country’s production and includes the more industrial ones found in the supermarket such as Teisseire, but also the more artisanal ones such as Eyguebelle and Meneau.

This is a drink with sugar as a principal ingredient at a time when we are being warned that too much sugar is bad for us.

The Syndicat Français des Sirops defends its products saying their sirops are one of the least calorific drinks on the market because they are diluted with water.

They say if water is added at 10 times the amount of cordial, the resulting drink will have on average 28 calories per 100ml drink, and say they encourage consumers to add at least this amount of water. They also say a few drops in water will encourage people to drink more – particularly important for children and the elderly.

There are free visits to the Eyguebelle site where you can see how their drinks are made, with tastings.

They have 80,000 visitors a year. eyguebelle.fr

 

Eyguebelle Recipes

Chicken with lemon cordial

Ingredients for 4

  • 500g chicken breasts
  • 3 half peppers (red, green, yellow)
  • 6 tbsp lemon cordial
  • 1 yoghurt
  • tbsp grapeseed oil
  • 5 sprigs coriander
  • 1 lime, salt, pepper

Method 

1. Marinade the diced chicken for two hours with the cordial, salt and pepper.

2. Dice the peppers. Brown the chicken in the oil, adding the marinade juice.

3. Cook at a high heat for eight minutes, turning them regularly.

4. Mix the yoghurt with any remaining cordial and add the chopped coriander and serve with the chicken.

 

Strawberries with basil cordial

Method

Simply drizzle strawberries with basil cordial, and serve with fresh basil leaves for decoration.

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