Every time I go to a restaurant and my waiter or waitress asks what I’d like to drink, I always ask for water. This isn’t because I’m particularly frugal, or because I’m conscious of the calories in soda (if you saw the way I eat, you’d never suspect that.) It’s just that I don’t particularly care for the taste of carbonated drinks.
However, something special happens right around this time of year. Maybe it’s because the heat turns up on my long walks and I need an extra sugar boost. Maybe it’s because fresh fruit is in season and my body’s internal clock craves it. Maybe it’s just because there’s something special about summer that’s synonymous with juice and lemonade. This is the time of year that’s meant for lounging in a lawn chair, smelling the grass, listening to birds, and sipping something sweet and tart and fruity.
Your standard lemonade recipe has three ingredients: sugar, water, and lemons. What proportion of which ingredient will vary depending on your tastes, but based on the top result when I googled “Lemonade recipe,” let’s assume a pitcher of lemonade has an average of 8 cups of water, 1.75 cups sugar, and 1.5 cups lemon juice. The sugar has a virtual water footprint of 1,782 liters per kilogram of sugar and citrusy fruits like lemons require about 80 liters per kilogram. Converting into cups for this recipe, a pitcher of lemonade will use about 639.5 liters of water for the sugar and 29.25 liters for the lemon juice. Add the 1.9 liters of water (8 cups) and a pitcher of lemonade needs 670.65 liters of virtual water. Not bad. Not great, but not bad.
But hold up – I live in Los Angeles, and if there’s one thing we love, it’s fancy lemonades. Want to add a few sprigs of mint so you have mint lemonade? Add a quarter liter of virtual water. Dice some strawberries for strawberry lemonade? That’s one liter for every 20 strawberries.
There is, however, another option. If you frequent a lot of Mexican restaurants, you’ve probably heard of Agua Fresca, which is sort of the more intense form of fruit-infused water. Or, another way of looking at it: agua fresca is lemonade with the lemons swapped out for hibiscus, strawberry, mango, or whatever your favorite fruit might be. You can pick a favorite fruit based on its virtual water impact (if you can harvest directly from a fruit tree in your yard, even better) and make a refreshing summer drink that won’t leave the earth parched, too.