Whether you shop at a Vietnamese market or grow Vietnamese herbs, there comes a point in summer when you have a lot on hand. Maybe there was a sale or the bunches were super bit at the market? Or, maybe you had to prune your plants to get more leaves to grow. Whatever the reason, you can't eat the herbs fast enough this time of the year.
One way I use up lots of tía tô, a bi-colored type of shiso favored in Vietnam, is by making a shrub (aka drinking vinegar). In Vietnam, drinking vinegar has long been thought of as a means to detox and lose weight. My aunt was a regular vinegar drinker. She was and remains thin but she's got an unpleasant disposition. I'm not sure if it's the vinegar!
On the other hand, I enjoy drinking vinegars to preserve summer, not be wasteful, and have a cheerful base for easy, refreshing beverages. To make this herbaceous shrub, you only need a handful of ingredients -- water, vinegar, a sweetener, and a big bunch of shiso! When done, you have a concentrate for mixing festive cocktails and refreshing mocktails.
My shrub recipe is based on one by herbalist and teacher Emily Han, which I featured years ago from her first book. This year, I revisited it and updated the shiso shrub recipe with apple cider vinegar for a fruitier finish. I also opted for different sweeteners.
Is Shiso Drinking Vinegar healthy?
It may be. Shiso, a member of the Perilla frutescens family, is loaded with phytochemicals that may have antioxidant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antidepressant qualities. The plant may help with skin and digestive issues too! A miracle plant?! I'm not sure but in a batch of this is shrub, you're using four ounces. That is a lot. However, you're not ingesting it raw with all the fibrous leaves, so the health benefits may be limited. Also, the health and calorie aspect depends on the sweetener used too. BAZAAR magazine in Vietnam offers information about the positives of tía tô beverages (in Vietnamese language). The American Botanical Association has Perilla insights from a food-as-medicine perspective.
Can you use other kinds of shiso or herbs?
Yes you can! The basic formula is below. Just swap out the shiso with a similar soft-leaf herb. For example, play things safe with green Japanese shiso, but know the color will obviously not be rosy. Thai or lemon basil may offer up wonderful flavor notes but will not impart joyful color either. Or, try lemongrass trimmings, including the blade-like tips if you grow lemongrass and have access to that part of the plant, for a golden shrub. It's fun to experiment with making shrubs. In the video below, I added extra shiso and Thai basil at the end.
Vietnamese Shiso Shrub video tips
Two short videos to get you motivated. First up, make the shrub. Second, make a cucumber shiso mocktail. Remember to hit "STAY" once prompted or the player will skip to the next video.
Add your tips to comments below!
Vietnamese Shiso Shrub (Drinking Vinegar)
- 1 ¼ cups filtered water
- 4 ounces Vietnamese shiso sprigs, coarsely chopped, snipped or torn (include leaves and stems)
- 1 cup apple cider vinegar or unseasoned Japanese rice vinegar
- 1 cup agave syrup, honey, sugar or a sugar substitute *
- Put the water in a small (2-quart) saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the leaves, stir to slightly soften, then lower the heat to simmer for 5 minutes. Occasionally stir to facilitate cooking the leaves. Turn off the heat, slide the pan to cool burner, and let sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes.
- Put the vinegar in a measuring cup (or bowl). Position a fine mesh strain over the cup, then pour the warm shiso liquid through to filter. Watch the vinegar turn a deep rosy pink! For a clear vinegar, strain through a coffee filter to remove lingering impurities.
- Sweeten with the agave, stirring to dissolve. If needed, pour the vinegar into the now empty pot and briefly heat to dissolve. Cool for a few minutes, taste, and if Cool completely, uncovered, then store in a glass jar with a nonreactive lid. Refrigerate for up to 1 month.