Spicy Cucumber-Jalapeño Limeade

Cooling cucumber, hot jalapeños, and tart lime juice combine for a perfect play of fire and ice in this drink.

By
Daniel Gritzer
Daniel Gritzer
Editorial Director
Daniel joined the Serious Eats culinary team in 2014 and writes recipes, equipment reviews, articles on cooking techniques. Prior to that he was a food editor at Food & Wine magazine, and the staff writer for Time Out New York's restaurant and bars section.
Learn about Serious Eats' Editorial Process
Updated June 05, 2024
Trending Videos
Side view of Spicy lemonade

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Why It Works

  • Maceration allows lime rinds to express their natural oil, creating a more aromatic and flavorful drink.
  • The jalapeños' fat-soluble capsaicin dissolves into the oils from the macerated lime zest for a full-flavored infusion.
  • Weight measurements ensure the perfect ratio of sugar to citrus, despite natural variations in fruit size.

Looking back from today, it's hard to remember that spicy margaritas were not always a thing. The idea seems so obvious, so inevitable, so timeless. And yet you'd have been hard-pressed to find one on a cocktail menu before the year 2000. Point is, if you like either the spicy margarita or its close cousin, the cucumber margarita, this is the nonalcoholic drink for you. And I'd wager that this one has just as much potential to become a mainstay of refreshing hot-weather drinks for years to come.

It should be easy to envision this drink, but in case anyone is struggling: Imagine the flavor of bracingly tart lime balanced with just enough sugar to make it sing, infused with the sting of fresh jalapeños and offset by the cooling breeze of fresh cucumber. The green-on-green-on-green theme isn't an accident here—all three of these ingredients bring a verdant freshness to the glass, even as they playfully spar with your taste buds. It's like jumping into a cold pool on a very hot day.

Getting the Most Flavor Into the Glass

The key to building bold flavors is all about doing infusions the right way. For this limeade, I run two infusions side by side. The first is soaking thinly sliced cucumber in freshly squeezed lime juice, which is more than enough to draw the cucumber's flavor and water out.

Side view of juicing limes

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

While that's happening, I use a technique that is built on a cocktail ingredient called oleo-saccharum. Trus oleo-saccharum is made by muddling and then macerating citrus peel (usually lemon, but it can be lime as it is here) with sugar. The muddling and sugar together draw out the natural, deeply flavorful oils from the citrus peel; then, as the water in the peel is extracted, an emulsified syrup forms that blends the oil, sugar, and water together. It's a potent ingredient that allows you to get all that great flavor from the rind without all the acidity of the juice tied to it.

My twist is to add the minced jalapeños to this oleo-saccharum mixture as it's forming, the logic being that much of the flavor and the spice-delivering capsaicin of the chiles is fat-soluble and the oils from the zest provide that fat. The result is a more potent and complex dose of the chile in each sip.

Overhead view of limes

Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once the syrup has formed, all you have to do is blend in the cucumber-lime juice and some water and then strain out the solids to produce a concentrated limeade syrup that can then be mixed with ice and further diluted to taste for serving.

Dialing in the Jalapeño Heat

The recipe below calls for one or two jalapeños. My preference is two, for a limeade that really has some punch, but feel free to reduce the amount for a more gentle heat (or increase it if you really want to sweat). Of course jalapeños can vary in intensity, so I recommend tasting the syrup as it's forming. If you decide it's not hot enough, you can always add more minced chile and allow the syrup to macerate even longer to draw that heat out.

Recipe Details

Spicy Cucumber-Jalapeño Limeade

Prep 25 mins
Cook 0 mins
Macerating Time 3 hrs
Total 3 hrs 25 mins
Serves 6 to 8 servings
Makes 1 quart limeade concentrate

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds (1.3kg) limes (12 to 16 medium lemons)

  • 1 large 12-ounce (340g) English cucumber

  • 1 to 2 large jalapeños (2 1/2 ounces; 70g), stemmed and minced (see notes)

  • 14 ounces sugar (2 cups; 400g)

  • 20 ounces cold water (2 1/2 cups; 590ml)

  • Fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

Directions

  1. Cut off a 2-inch section from the cucumber and reserve, well wrapped in the refrigerator, for garnish. Very thinly slice the remaining cucumber and set aside. Bring limes to room temperature, then roll firmly against the counter to soften their rinds. Halve and juice; pour juice into a sealable container and add the sliced cucumber, then refrigerate.

    Side view of slicing cucumber

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  2. Cut lime rinds into 1-inch chunks. Toss with minced jalapeño and sugar in a large nonreactive mixing bowl, cover tightly with plastic, and let stand at room temperature, stirring once every 45 minutes or so, until sugar has completely dissolved, about 3 hours. (You can let the mixture stand up to 12 hours, if desired.)

    side view of adding sugar to lime mixture

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  3. Strain cucumber-infused lime juice; discard cucumber. Add water and 12 ounces (1 1/2 cups) of cucumber-lime juice (see note). Stir well, then strain through a nonreactive fine-mesh strainer or piece of cheesecloth into a glass or ceramic container, pressing to express liquid; discard solids. At this point, the concentrated jalapeño-limeade can be refrigerated for up to 1 week.

    Overhead view of straining limeade

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

  4. When ready to serve, pour spicy limeade over ice and adjust to taste with additional water or cucumber-lime juice, depending on personal preference; bear in mind, though, that the limeade will be diluted as the ice melts. (You will likely have some fresh cucumber-lime juice left over, which can be reserved for another use, though exactly how much you have will depend on how much you added to adjust the limeade.)

    Side view of pouring limeade into a glass

    Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Cheesecloth or nonreactive fine-mesh strainer, 2-quart pitcher

Notes

How many jalapeños you use will depend heavily on your tolerance for heat. In our testing, 2 large jalapeños produced a limeade with strong but tolerable heat. Depending on your taste, you may want to use more or less jalapeño for hotter or milder effect. You can also use smaller green chiles such Serranos, but keep in mind that you may need to use a different total weight of those to compensate for their heat. If in doubt, start with less and taste the jalapeño-lime syrup as it develops; you can always add more but cannot remove the chiles if they're too much.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The concentrated jalapeño-limeade can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
209Calories
0gFat
54gCarbs
0gProtein
×
Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6 to 8
Amount per serving
Calories209
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 0g0%
Saturated Fat 0g0%
Cholesterol 0mg0%
Sodium 5mg0%
Total Carbohydrate 54g20%
Dietary Fiber 0g2%
Total Sugars 51g
Protein 0g
Vitamin C 12mg62%
Calcium 16mg1%
Iron 0mg1%
Potassium 109mg2%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

More Serious Eats Recipes