I've had my share of batidos. Growing up in the Dominican Republic, my mother would always whip up thick shakes with produce from her favorite street-side fruit carts. She'd add the fruit, milk and ice to a blender and serve a simple, yet delicious, batido. The chilled drink would cool anyone down on a hot, humid day.
So, maybe it was my "mother knows best" attitude that kept me from venturing a few blocks away from hectic Brickell Avenue and toward Los Pinareños Frutería on Eighth Street. Sure, they won the Best Of Award last year for their batido, but what could really be so special about it? It's just fruit, milk and ice, right?
Well, on an early morning this past week, I figured I should at least give it a try. I walked up to the open air fruit stand where Angel Hernández, a proprietor of Los Pinareños, was standing behind the bar. He quickly greeted me with a smile and kindly asked whether I would like anything. I answered with a simple and honest question, "Yes, can you teach me what's so special about your batido?"
Angel understood exactly where I was coming from. He laughed and invited me behind the counter, where I entered a scene full of antique juicers and knickknacks, even an old school cash register, the ones with the typewriter-like buttons.
He skillfully began chopping up chunks of a ripe mamey, adding the bright reddish pieces of the fruit straight into a vintage-looking blender. There was no Vitamix, or fancy blender, in sight.
As Angel added a spoonful of sugar into the blender, he began explaining the true secret behind a perfect batido. "Our batido is the best because we never use frozen fruit. We only use fresh fruit".
"That's it?" I thought. It seemed quite obvious, the very best smoothie joints and juiceries never have clumped up chunks of ice and fruit. It's always about the fresh flavor.
But, right after that thought popped in my head, I asked Angel exactly where his mamey was from.
"Oh, it's from Homestead. I'm getting about 200 more pounds of mamey today," he said.&
That was it. Simply and honestly, the secret behind the best batido isn't technique, equipment, or even the gracious hands that chop up the fruit. It's all about using local, fresh fruit.
Angel added a splash of milk to the blender and promptly turned it on. A huge roar erupted from the tiny Hamilton Beach appliance, as he turned away and continued attending other visitors who where anxiously awaiting a dose of fresh squeezed orange juice.
As he juiced the oranges, he explained that mamey is practically available year-round, though it can get scarce in the winter months. He also reminded me that mango season is coming up, and also stressed that he always prefers local mango.
"When you buy mango off season in Miami, it's probably imported from overseas and the USDA requires it to go through a hot water treatment for sanitation," he explains. "This process ends up taking away a lot of the fruit's flavor."
I had actually never heard about this hot water treatment before. I checked with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) with the USDA for the regulation of mangoes imported from the Dominican Republic, and it states, "Mangoes must be treated with a hot water dip at an APHIS approved facility in the Dominican Republic. Each box must be marked with the statement, 'USDA APHIS Dominican Republic Treated & Released.'"
In the hopes of avoiding fruit fly infestation, the treatment is required for mangoes also imported from Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico and many other countries. The treatment for fruit flies requires heating the fruit in water at high temperatures, of about 115ºF (46.1ºC) for up to 110 minutes. That'll obviously take the kick out of any mango, or any tropical fruit for that matter. So, Angel prefers local fruit, because it has better flavor.
Once finished juicing a few oranges, Angel turned off the blender and poured my batido into a Styrofoam cup, adding the touch of a straw. After just one small sip, I understood what all the fuss was about. There was flavor, bold, fresh fruit flavor in that small white cup.
I left Los Pinareños with my batido de mamey, sipping as I walked away from the fruit stand, heading back to the hustle and bustle of Brickell. I realized that not only was Angel's batido delicious, but also why my mother's batido was always good too. She also uses local fruits as well.
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I eventually reached my apartment and came face to face with the fancy, expensive smoothie blender that was waiting for me on my kitchen counter. Seriously, what a freaking waste of money.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.