Does Alcohol Preserve Fruit?

Those with a love of fruits know that there is a range of ways to enjoy them fresh or preserve them for later. But does alcohol preserve fruit?

Alcohol preserves fruit. And not only that. Using alcohol to preserve fruit actually gives two excellent yields – alcohol-infused fruits that taste great on their own or in a wide range of recipes, and fruit-infused alcohol great for festive tipples. 

In this article, we’ll take a look at preserving fruit in alcohol. We’ll talk about how alcohol can preserve fruit. Next, we’ll examine which fruits you can preserve in alcohol. We’ll talk about what happens when you place the fruit in the alcohol and how long the process will take. And guide you through the process of preserving fruit in alcohol step by step. Finally, we’ll take a look at how long fruits preserved in alcohol will keep and how and where to store them.

How Does Alcohol Preserve Fruit?

Alcohol is a natural preservative. It is effective in part because it actively kills micro-organisms that decay fruit when used in high enough amounts and concentrations. Just as an alcohol-based hand sanitizer will disinfect hands when you wash them, alcohol can be used to create an environment for fruit preservation that kills yeasts, bacteria, and fungi.

Alcohol also works as a preservative by denaturing proteins and dissolving cell membranes. This means that the micro-organisms which are surrounded by these lipid membranes can’t survive.

When alcohol is used to preserve fruit, obviously, we do not want to use as high a percentage as is used for hand sanitizers, which are usually 60-90% in strength. Rather, we are looking at using shop-bought spirits, which are usually around 40% by volume. Any alcohol over 35% can be used effectively to preserve fruits.

This includes whisky or whiskey, brandy, gin, rum, and vodka, for example. Infusing fruits in these types of alcoholic beverages can effectively keep them from spoiling. The combination of the alcoholic beverage and the fruit means that a boozy treat can be enjoyed. As mentioned above, choosing to preserve fruits in alcohol means that you will gain alcoholic fruits and a fruity liqueur.

In such recipes, alcohol is not the only preservative. Sugar is also typically used in such recipes, and the sugar also has preservative properties. The sugar works to preserve fruit by helping to draw moisture from it. As this moisture is drawn out in an alcoholic solution, a transition happens. The alcohol is drawn into the fruits you are trying to preserve. Of course, the sugar also adds sweetness to the recipe and can make the boozy fruits and fruit-infused liquor even more appealing.

Which Fruits Can You Preserve in Alcohol?

The fruit has been preserved in alcohol in many cultures for a long period of time. Of course, in the time before refrigeration and freezers, gluts of fruits would often spoil if some other means was not found to preserve them. Fruits were often fermented to create alcohol themselves (making wines, ciders, etc.). But people also chose to preserve gluts of fruits by steeping them in spirits.

In the 18th Century, ‘brandy fruits’ was the name given to a common dessert. This was certain fruits that had been steeped in brandy – often peaches, apricots, or cherries. In Germany, Rumtoft is a centuries-old tradition, which is various fruits infused in rum. In this and many other traditions, the fruit was preserved after the summer of fall harvests and then enjoyed around Christmas time. 

Many fruits can be preserved in alcohol in this way, including:

  • plums
  • damsons
  • gages/ greengages
  • cherries
  • pears
  • apples
  • peaches
  • apricots
  • nectarines
  • blackberries
  • sloes
  • raspberries
  • blueberries/ bilberries
  • strawberries
  • citrus fruits
  • figs
  • medlars

There are a huge variety of recipes to choose from, which involve preserving fruits such as these in alcohol and sugar solutions for certain periods of time.

In essence, most recipes simply involve three ingredients – the fruits themselves, the alcohol drink that has been chosen, and sugar. However, some recipes also call for the addition of other ingredients to alter the flavor of the fruits and liqueur – such as herbs and/or spices.

Once you have decided upon alcohol and your fruit or fruits, you can experiment with different additions to alter the flavor combinations.

Another thing to bear in mind is that dried fruits (raisins, currants, mixed peels, etc.) can also be soaked in alcohol and are then commonly added to cakes, mince pies, or other baked goods.

Does Fruit Soak Up Alcohol and How Long Will That Take?

It is important to remember that the fruit preserved in alcohol will soak up that alcohol. So, of course, it is not something you can feed to your kids! It will not take very long at all for the fruit to soak up the alcohol in which it is placed. In fact, the taste of the fruit and its alcohol content will begin to change in just a matter of hours.

But if you want to obtain fruit-infused alcohol as well as alcohol-infused fruit, then you will have to wait a lot longer. The extraction of fruit flavors into the alcohol will continue over time. After around two weeks, soft fruit will have begun to flavor the alcohol. However, it will take around eight weeks at a minimum for the alcohol to take on fruit flavors if you are using harder fruits. Depending on the recipe and the fruits, leaving the concoction steep for 2-6 weeks will usually give you flavored alcohol and fruits that are still tasty.

If you are most interested not in preserving the fruit but in flavoring alcohol with the aromatic compounds from those fruits, then you will leave the mix at least six weeks, but often much longer. Over time, as more and more of the fruit infuses the alcohol, the taste can round out and become deeper and richer. The fruit may no longer be tasty by this time, but the liquor will have taken on the delicious fruit flavors. Over time, the flavors can mature and, in some cases, may take on a complex taste that little resembles the original combination of fruit, sugar, and alcohol.

Of course, one key factor that will significantly affect how long the process will take is the ratio of fruit to alcohol. The less alcohol there is in a recipe, the less solvent there is available to withdraw aromatics out from the fruit. If you want alcohol-infused fruits, then you will usually need only enough alcohol to cover them. But if you want an infused alcohol and wish to fully draw everything you can out of the fruit, then you might opt for a liquid level that is perhaps as much as twice the height of the fruit in your jars or bottles.

How Long Can You Keep Fruits Preserved in Alcohol?

Fruits will not keep in alcohol in the same way that they would, for example, in a freezer. They will not remain the same but will be in a state of change over time as the alcohol (a solvent) continues to break them down. If you wish to eat the fruits themselves rather than enjoy the alcohol in which they are infusing, you should usually use them up within 2-6 weeks.

Of course, this will depend on which fruits you are using. It is not that the fruits will go bad after this time, however. They will be preserved in the alcohol provided it is strong enough. It is just that they will continue to break down and put their flavor and aromatics into the alcohol.

Once you have taken your boozy fruits from the alcoholic solution, these should usually be eaten at once or refrigerated and used within a few days. However, dried fruits that have been infused for something like a Christmas cake can be added to these baked goods and left to mature as called for in the recipe.

How to Use Alcohol-Infused Fruit

Alcohol infused fruit can often be eaten as a dessert. It might be served on its own, with ice cream, cream, custard, or even a cheese platter.

Alcohol infused fruits can also be added to a range of recipes. For example, you might use some boozy fruits to make an alcoholic cheesecake, an upside-down cake, a pudding, or pies. The combinations of fruit and alcohol flavors can work well in a wide range of dishes and baked goods. These can work especially well at the end of a warming mid-winter meal.

Remember, fruits will be preserved in alcohol, but they will not remain unchanged. In an alcoholic solution, fruits will continue to break down and change in taste and texture over time.

How to Use Fruit-Infused Liqueurs

If you leave the fruit to infuse into the sugary alcohol, then you will also obtain a delicious fruit-infused liqueur. These can be great for cocktails and alcoholic drinks – especially over the winter holiday season.

In addition to enjoying the boozy fruits and liqueurs in your own home, you can also consider giving these away, as they can make great gifts. A bottle of fruit-infused liqueur with a nice label can make a lovely Christmas gift.

Using alcohol to preserve fruit (and fruit to flavor alcohols) can be an interesting gateway into preserving food. It is very easy and straightforward to do, so if you are looking for something new to try this year, why not give it a go?

How To Preserve Fruit in Alcohol (Step by Step)

The exact process for how to preserve fruit in alcohol will obviously depend upon what exactly you want to achieve. As mentioned above, you can obtain just the alcohol-infused fruits, both the fruits and a fruit-infused alcoholic liquor, or a rich, alcoholic beverage into which fruits have mostly broken down. However, here are the broad steps you should follow, whatever the exact results you wish to achieve.

Choose Your Fruits

Firstly, of course, you need to know which fruit or fruits you would like to work with. This can and should be dictated by the seasons. And ideally, you could be using fruits you have grown in your very own garden. It is always best to choose seasonal ingredients and to select ingredients that have been grown as close to home as possible. 

In addition to choosing the right type of fruit, you also need to make sure that all the fruits you use are:

  • At their optimal level of ripeness/ maturity.
  • Are free from pests or disease. 
  • Are not bruised, blemished, or rotting.

It is best to select only the top quality fruits for treatment/ preservation in this way because any slight off-flavors or problems introduced can be amplified in the final taste of the fruits and alcohol.

Select a Recipe

Once you have decided which fruits you will use, you need to look out for a recipe. You should find it easy to find a simple recipe for the particular fruit or fruits you have chosen. 

I have personally tried plums in vodka, a sloe gin, and bramble (blackberry) whisky, but there are plenty of different things you could try. Find new ways to make the most of the fruit that grows in your area – perhaps even fruits that can be foraged for free. 

Choose Your Alcohol

Alcohols are chosen not only for their percentage and their preservation properties. They are also selected for the flavors they themselves impart. Vodka is a more neutral-tasting spirit that will leave fruit flavors to shine. In contrast, more complex spirits like whisky bring something more to the table and hold their own against strong fruit flavors. 

Find a Suitable Container or Containers

You will need to find a suitable container in which to place the fruits, alcohol, sugar, and other ingredients in your chosen recipe. You will need a jar or bottle with a wide enough neck to fit the fruits or fruit pieces through. It will need to have a lid that seals air-tight. 

In order to preserve it, the fruit needs to be below the level of alcohol at all times. So you may need to use something to weigh down the fruit inside your container.

Fill Your Container or Containers

Once you know the ratio of fruit to alcohol to sugar that you will be using in your particular recipe and have decided which other ingredients to add (if any), it is time to fill your container or containers. Simply take your fruits or fruit pieces and add these to the bottom of your (sterilized) container. Then pour over the alcohol, making sure that it covers the fruit. Add the sugar and other ingredients, and then stir. 

Leave To Mature for the Desired Length of Time

As mentioned above, the length of time for which you will leave the fruit soaking in the alcoholic mix depends on exactly what you wish to achieve. If you want alcohol-infused fruits, then you will not wait long at all. But if you want a fully infused alcohol, then you will likely leave your containers a lot longer.

The containers should be kept in a cool, dark place out of the sunlight. If you are leaving them longer, you will turn or shake your jars periodically to help the fruits break down and all the ingredients to infuse.