Kitchen science experiments: Violets and pH

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Kitchen science experiments: Violets and pH

Let me tell you a story about a sunny afternoon walk… that turned into a major research project.

Oh what a sunny, gorgeous day in early March.  Dragging myself away from the computer, I headed outside, only to stumble across what can only be described as a carpet of violets in the grass.  Immediately inspired, I thought back to the gorgeous violet syrup I’d seen in Toulouse, and thought I’d just pick a few violets and whip up a bottle.  After all, a syrup is really quick and easy to make – it would take me 30 minutes tops.

How wrong I was.

It’s not the syrup’s fault.  You can see my violet syrup recipe here if you’d like to make some yourself.  The syrup was sweet and captured the powdery scent of violets, that was great.  The problem was the color.  It was green.

And violets (as the name implies) – are, well, violet.  So the syrup should be at least a deep pink.  Why was my syrup greenish blue?!

But I carried on – I figured, well, homemade violet syrup must just look different – and I proceeded to spend ages doing a full photoshoot of my violet syrup (and even making a violet martini!)

After cleaning up the sticky syrup from around my kitchen and tidying everything away, I decided to ask the oracle of google my question: why was my violet syrup blue?

And there the science experiment began…

VintageAmanda_GreenVioletMartini
My slightly green violet martini…before I learned the color-changing secret.

It turns out that violets are pH sensitive.  So when you make a violet infusion – or a violet syrup, like I did – it will change color based on the pH of the liquid.

That’s why if you mix the violet syrup with a base / alkaline (‘high pH’) it will be green/blue, but if you mix it with an acid (‘low pH’) it goes bright pink!

Let’s take a look:

VintageAmanda_VioletpH1
Here are two identical bowls of violet syrup.

 

I added a spoonful of apple cider vinegar to the bowl on the right, you can see it start to change color around the edge.
I added a spoonful of apple cider vinegar to the bowl on the right, you can see it start to change color around the edge.
...and after a quick stir, the violet syrup with the apple cider vinegar turns bright pink!
…and after a quick stir, the violet syrup with the apple cider vinegar turns bright pink!

I found this so incredibly cool.  As we’re going through our days – occasionally there are moments where you just stop and think ‘isn’t nature amazing?’ – and this was one of them.

SO – you could use this fun fact about violets in several different ways (beyond a kitchen experiment):

  • Add apple cider vinegar to the syrup to make a shrub (recipe coming soon!)
  • Add lemon juice to the syrup to get the same color change, but a fresh, classic taste.
  • Make violet syrup but omit the lemon juice so you get a nice green color.  Then surprise your guests by serving a slice of lemon with their violet syrup, so they can see the color change themselves!
  • Maybe you could even serve a little bottle of violet syrup with lemon sorbet – and when guests drizzle the syrup over, the color would change? (I’m just making this up … if you try it, let us know how it works!)

Back to reality and what turned from a quick 30 minute violet syrup, to an entire afternoon of syrup, photos and research … and I realize that all of my photos showed green syrup – not pink.

So I dug everything out again, and started re-shooting photos, with pink syrup this time…

VintageAmanda_VioletSyrup-12

I have to say, I really enjoyed that violet martini after my long afternoon in the kitchen!

What would you like to try with violet syrup to make the most of the color change?  Let us know in the comments!

 

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