The Secret Ingredient That Creates A Magical Color-Changing Cocktail

Cocktails aren't just delicious but represent a culinary artistry we now call mixology. A passionate mixologist will tell you that taste is just one aspect of a well-mixed cocktail. The visual presentation is also a key form of culinary expression in cocktails. Common methods for a show-stopping presentation include layering vibrantly colored spirits, mixers, and liqueurs or creating a foamy egg-white head for a whiskey sour. However, red cabbage is the secret ingredient that creates a magical color-changing cocktail.

Red cabbage isn't just a natural dye like beets or berries; it has a unique ability to change colors when introduced to different ingredients. A chemical component in the cabbage's pigment known as anthocyanin is a pH indicator, changing color as a reaction to acidic and basic ingredients alike. Red cabbage will dye a neutral liquid like water purple, changing to fuschia or bright pink with an acid or a deep blue when paired with a base. Using its role as a pH indicator to your advantage, you can make a colorful spectacle for guests as you mix their cocktails.

If you're worried about the bitter, vegetal taste of red cabbage affecting the flavor of your cocktail, rest assured that red cabbage will only impart its color-changing powers. So, you can employ it as a coloring agent in anything from a spicy margarita to a vodka tonic to transform into a whimsical adult science experiment. 

How to prepare red cabbage and add it to your next cocktail

To activate red cabbage's mystical color transformation, it might be helpful to know which cocktail ingredients are acids and which are alkalines. Most spirits, liqueurs, carbonated drinks, and fruit juices are acidic, while potential mixers like herbal tea and coconut milk are alkaline. Regardless of the pH of cocktail ingredients, you'll still get a colorful beverage by adding your cocktail recipe to red cabbage water.

Furthermore, you've got different ways to incorporate this colorful magic show into a cocktail. Any method will start by extracting the red cabbage's pigment and adding boiling or hot water to the shredded cabbage to steep it. You can blend the cabbage and water with an immersion blender or simply let it steep for a few minutes before straining the mixture into a receptacle. From here, you can create a liquid base to layer your cocktail ingredients over, or you can pour it into an ice tray for purple-colored ice cubes.

If you want your guests to see the full-color spectrum, you can start by stirring baking powder into cabbage water to turn it blue. When you add an acidic spirit, it'll lighten to a fuschia. If you top it off with more acid like lemon juice or carbonated water, it'll turn an almost neon pink. If you use them as ice cubes, the cubes themselves will maintain their purple hue while transforming an acidic drink to a lighter pink or an alkaline drink bluish-green.