I fell in love with hot drinks as a child. Their warm sweetness welcomed me after an afternoon of playing in the snow. A fixture in our house on the weekends was the old Betty Crocker Crock Pot filled with apple cider (nonalcoholic) and left to stew with spices and lemons. The smell wafted through the house. So deep is this memory the smell of apples and spice warms me from the inside.
One December I found myself in Sweden where friends convinced me to try the traditional glögg, a warm spiced wine, at the local Julmarknad in Skansen instead of my beloved spiced cider-which was also on offer. It was a wonderful grown up version of my childhood spiced cider that made it the perfect drink on that evening. A light snow was falling as we wandered the stalls in total darkness at 5 pm, munching on reindeer that had been cooked over an open fire while admiring all the handcrafted goods. The setting was the definition of Christmas, everyone should get to spend a bit of Christmas in a Nordic city.
Warm spiced wine is a traditional drink spanning many cultures, going by as many names. Glögg, gløgg, glögi, glühwein, kuhano vino, mulled wine was taken by Europeans as they colonized the planet to take on the flavours and characteristics of its new home like vino navega’o (navigator’s wine), vinho quente and my must try, Canadian Caribou which is sweetened with maple syrup.
The one thing that they have in common is a red wine base. Some variants call for the addition of other alcohols such as vodka, brandy or cognac making this drink a migraine in a glass. All this alcohol is a migraine trigger. The normal way to metabolize alcohol is for the liver to produce nitric oxide. This very large organ dumps the excess nitric oxide into the bloodstream and it seeks out receptors to bind with. For the migraineur those receptors are the blood vessels in the brain, which in turn swell, putting pressure on nerves and cause the migraine. Mulled wine is a double whammy as red wine is a good source of nitrates and nitrites, the chemical fuel for the nitric oxide system. Two glasses of wine is equivalent to 25% of your daily nitrate/nitrite intake targets. Unlike nutrients, nitrates and nitrites are considered harmful to the body and the UN Health Organization has set a maximum daily intake limit. So when you drink red wine not only are you waking the beast, you are feeding it as well.
I challenged myself to come up with a substitute for red wine that I could use in cooking that wasn’t grape juice. You see it is the grapes that are naturally high in nitrates and nitrites so grape juice has the same metabolic response as wine. I drew on my knowledge of reds that I acquired living in South Australia, one of the best regions for reds in the world. In particular I like the cherry finish of South Australian reds and the feel of the tannins on the tongue. I found that I could replicate a red with a combination of cranberry juice for the acidity, cherry juice for flavour and pomegranate juice for tannins. I promise that you won’t be able to tell the difference between this alcohol-free, Migraine-friendly version of mulled wine and the real thing. Enjoy my friends.
Migraineur’s Faux Mulled Wine
The perfect round the fire drink on a cold winter’s evening without the migraine triggers.
Required skills: boiling water; using a measuring cup instead of eyeballing it.
The key here is the mixture of the three juices which make up the “wine” base for the drink. If you have a favourite mulling, glühwein or glögg spice mix you might want to stick with a tried and true recipe. Just be sure that it is preservative free, especially any dried fruit that you might be adding to the mix and certainly don’t add any alcohol to the pot.
- 250 ml preservative free, organic if you can get it, cranberry, cherry and pomegranate juice. This amount of juice is the equivalent volume of a bottle of wine. You can actually make as much you like; it’s a 1:1:1 ratio of the juices.
- 1 unwaxed orange cut into 8 wedges
- 1 unwaxed lemon thickly sliced
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 5 star anise
- 2 tablespoons of cloves
- 8-10 whole allspice
- 2 tbsp organic honey or maple syrup plus additional to taste
- A large pot or a crock pot/slow cooker
- Dump the juice into your cooking vessel. If you like the glug, glug sound of it coming out of a bottle by all means put it in clean wine bottle for the flourish. It’s also an easy way to trick those who are determined that you must use wine.
- Toss in the citrus fruit, spices and 2 tbsp honey.
- If using the stove top bring to a simmer for 1 hour. A simmer is just when you can see champagne like bubbles coming to the surface.
- If using a crock pot/slow cooker to onto high for 1 hour or low for 2 hours.
- Taste and adjust the amount of honey/maple syrup as necessary.
So my friends, what is your favourite warm drink?