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NPR: The Tragedy of the Pina Colada, and How to Redeem It (AUDIO)

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Jun 17, 2013
NPR: The Tragedy of the Pina Colada, and How to Redeem It (AUDIO)

Yesterday I joined NPR's Rachel Martin on Weekend Edition to talk about daiquiris and pina coladas, and to offer ways in which both of this unpleasant beverages can be improved. Listen to the segment above, or read the transcript below. The recipe for the Maddow Colada is here.

There are a lot of things that get a bad rap and then will never shake said bad rap no matter what: canned beanie-weanies come to mind, for example. They're never going to be thought of as high cuisine, let's face it. The song "Escape" by Rupert Holmes - though it has a kicking chorus - probably will not become a better song with time.


RUPERT HOLMES: (Singing) If you like pina colada, getting caught in the rain. If you're not into yoga, if you have half a brain. If you like making love at midnight, in the dunes on the cape...

MARTIN: So, speaking of things that get a bad rap and can't shake it, The Sporkful's Dan Pashman says fluffy, fruity frozen beverages with umbrellas also fall into this category. Yes, we are talking about the pina colada. But it's summer and these concoctions come out in full force this time of year. Talk to me, Dan. I'm not a fan of these drinks but a lot of people love these things.

DAN PASHMAN: They do. And I think it's an issue of something seeming good in theory and not being so great at practice, Not unlike making love in the dunes on the cape. So, you see a pina colada or a frozen daiquiri, it looks good, but don't be deceived. They seem so bright and cheery with the...

MARTIN: The umbrellas are happy drinks.

PASHMAN: Right. They look very cute. I will give you that. But they don't feel so cute when they end up in the bottom of your stomach with a thud.

MARTIN: Because these things are not always super natural beverages.

PASHMAN: Not only are they not super natural, many are made with a mix that's full of chemicals and artificial sweeteners. But on top of that, all that ice - they're huge. You don't need a drink that large. By the time you get to the bottom, they're half-melted anyway and then you're just really drinking watery syrup. They're just too much.

MARTIN: That does not sound delicious. Why are they still on the drink menu?

PASHMAN: Well, hopefully 'cause they're ready to be redeemed. But to do that, you know, I think we should look a little at their respective histories. OK. The daiquiri was brought to the U.S. from Cuba in the late 1800s. And it's a great drink in its original form. It's just rum, lime, and sugar, or simple syrup - three ingredients. Shake it with some crushed ice, strain it into a chilled glass. You got a great drink right there.

MARTIN: OK. What about the pina colada's roots?

PASHMAN: Well, the pina colada is much newer than the daiquiri. It was invented in Puerto Rico in the '50s, around the time that TV dinners were taking off. I spoke with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, who's an avid mixologist. In fact, at the MSNBC White House Correspondent's Dinner After Party, she's the bartender. And she got a lot to say about the pina colada:

RACHEL MADDOW: When we think about bad chemical drinks that make you feel bad, give you a stomach ache and make you fat, we think about having redesigned for modern ease or transportation or storage purposes drinks that were once wholesome. The tragedy of the pina colada is that the pina colada was never wholesome.

MARTIN: That's a bold statement.

PASHMAN: It's true, but she's not wrong. And it's really because the foundation of the classic pina colada is something called Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut, which...

MARTIN: Seriously?

PASHMAN: Yeah, that's what it's called. It's got a catchy name, I'll give it that. Although most of the ingredients end in the letters A-T-E, such as polysorbate. Maddow describes it basically as a chemical slurry.

MARTIN: Yeah, that does not sound delicious. I mean, can't you just use, like, I don't know, coconut to make a pina colada? Isn't that more natural?

PASHMAN: Well, it is more natural, then you lose something that is good about the classic pina colada. It's a special kind of sweetness the traditional pina colada has and you don't want to lose that. Coconut milk can't do that for you. Maddow has pioneered a new and improved pina colada. It's all natural, light and refreshing.

MARTIN: Are you on her payroll?

PASHMAN: I am not. It is my job to share with the world these great innovations, Rachel. She shared with me and she gave me permission to share it with you and the world. The key ingredient is orgeat.

MARTIN: I don't even know what that means.

PASHMAN: It is almond syrup. Yeah, it's pretty simple. It's the key component of a mai tai. You may see it in cafes. And best of all, you drink one of these things, you'll be ready to do a cannonball off the high dive.

MARTIN: I wouldn't go that far. But, OK. So, let's say I want this new kind of fangled pina colada. I mean, if I just go into a normal bar, can I demand such a drink, or is the default always going to be this, you know, the chemical slurry?

PASHMAN: I think if you're talking about the pina colada, that's a tough one because almost everyone's going to make it with Coco Lopez, or even worse, a Coco Lopez knockoff. The daiquiri, though, you know, there are bars that make a great simple classic daiquiri. But there are warning signs that you're in a bar that doesn't fall into that category. If you see a blender or a slushy machine or if the names of the daiquiris sound like desserts, they're probably coming from a mix and you should watch out.

MARTIN: Dan Pashman. He is the host of the Sporkful food podcast and blog. He'll post the full recipe for the Maddow Colada at Sporkful.com. Hey, Dan, thanks for the helpful advice. Cheers.

PASHMAN: Thanks, Rachel. Cheers to you.

Photo: Flickr CC / ruben i

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