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Use these Malaysian herbs to enhance your homemade cocktails

You’ve purchased some basic bartending tools to kick-start your homemade cocktail journey. You’ve also been experimenting with different types of tonic waters to add a whole different dimension to your gin and tonics. Now, it’s time to add even more pizzazz to your homemade cocktails with some Malaysian herbs that you can find easily from your local markets.

Why Malaysian herbs? Simply put: everyone knows how to use ‘western’ herbs like rosemary, thyme, and basil leaves. But if you want to really do a local take on certain herb-infused cocktails, it’s worth considering local herbs. After all, plenty of bars in KL regularly give classic cocktails a Malaysian variation by using local ingredients and infusions.

Not sure where to begin? Allow some of the local bars to point you in the right direction. Omakase + Appreciate currently has four cocktails with Southeast Asian influences — the Dub Kantan cocktail has torch ginger flower and assam boi, while the Irish in Malaysia cocktail heroes the kedondong juice. Over at PS150, their own version of the Bee’s Knees cocktail has a lemongrass sous-vide London Dry Gin, while the Rumble in the Jungle cocktail mixes a coconut and pandan-infused rum.

Garnish your cocktails with the herbs, muddle them, or even try your hand at infusing your spirits with them. The possibilities are endless. So the next time you’re over at the supermarket, head towards the section that stocks local herbs — you won’t be sorry. Read on for a list of Malaysian herbs to add to your cocktails the next time you’re making them at home.

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Bunga kantan (torch ginger)

If you frequent the wet market, chances are you’ve seen these beautiful flowers that are indigenous to our rainforests. Many local dishes including the assam laksa and nasi kerabu have the torch ginger as one of their key ingredients. The torch ginger will be great as an infusion for your spirits to fully appreciate its flavour.

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Kaffir lime leaves

If you’ve been frequently using lemon and grapefruits for your cocktails, it’s worth looking at the indigenous limau kasturi or limau purut as a citrusy alternative. The latter’s leaves are also great to be added into cocktails for a zesty finish. Simply crush the leaves to release its refreshing scents before adding into your cocktail.

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Pandan leaves

Chances are, your mother probably already has this growing in her garden. Otherwise, a quick walk around your neighbourhood and you might be able to forage some — just remember to ask your neighbours for permission. It’s worth noting that pandan leaves have a pungent smell and flavour, which will overpower other subtler flavours in your cocktail. Proceed at your own risk.

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Bunga telang (butterfly pea flower)

More aesthetic than flavour, you should definitely get a packet of bunga telang the next time you’re at the supermarket. Know how nasi kerabu gets its blue colour? You have this flower to thank. It’s the best and natural way to enhance the look of your cocktail with a gorgeous blue dye. Simply steep in your spirit or mixer for as long as you please.

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Similar to the pandan, you can find lemongrass growing in most landed households in Malaysia. It is easily propagated and can thrive well in our natural conditions. Like the pandan, it has a strong flavour which may overpower the other flavours in your cocktail. Infuse your spirits with lemongrass leaves or garnish your cocktails with them.

PohNee Chin
Editor, Kuala Lumpur
Poh Nee is the editor and writes about travel and drinks. When she's not living out her holiday dreams via Google Earth and sipping on an Old Fashioned down at the local bars, you can find her snug at home bingeing on Netflix and mystery fiction.