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Tea is not just for drinking

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 (iStock/ Lipton Pure Leaf)

Attention tea drinkers: It’s time to think outside the kettle. While tea can be enjoyed hot or iced, using the tasty brew in your cooking can add a new depth of flavor to recipes. There are many ways to infuse tea into your cooking.

Cooking with tea can be traced back to ancient China, where tea leaves were frequently used for added flavor and texture to food. Tea-preserved eggs have been a delicacy in China for 700 years. Tea is also full of anti-oxidants and has been long-touted for its health benefits. 

“There’s tannin in tea. It’s similar to how there’s tannin in wine, so it really gives a great compliment to food,” said “Top Chef” host and Food and Wine magazine contributor Gail Simmons, who recently teamed up with Pure Leaf Iced Tea to develop recipes using iced tea. “It kind of brings out the flavors of whatever you’re eating it with.”

Brewed tea is great for marinades and sauces. Simmons uses unsweetened tea in her recipe for Tea-Marinated Duck Lettuce cups. She combines tea with Asian-inspired ingredients for her duck marinade, and also infuses tea into the dressing for her fresh vegetable salad.

“I mix Pure Leaf unsweetened tea with really great traditional flavors, which also bring out the flavors of the duck like ginger, soy,” said Simmons. “When you marinate it overnight, it really absorbs those flavors, so when you sear the duck, you get this great bound of delicious, rich duck flavor with the flavor of real-brewed tea.”

Recipe: Tea-Marinated Duck Lettuce Cups

Simmons recommends using a cold-brewed tea for marinades because it saves you the step of brewing tea yourself and waiting for it to cool and use.

Brewed tea can also be used in place of water or stock when poaching or braising food. Try cooking grains in brewed tea instead of water. It adds flavor without overwhelming the recipe with added sugar or salt.

Tea leaves can be just as great in cooking as brewed tea. You can add tea leaves straight to recipes for flavor and crunch. Crushed tea leaves can be incorporated with spices into a rub for meat or fish. Finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves are key to this shortbread cookie recipe.

Keep in mind that the variety of tea has an impact on the flavor. Milder teas, like Jasmine, can be used with fruits and sweeter recipes. Smoked teas can add extra smoky flavor to meats and fish.

But why limit tea to food? You can kick up cocktails with tea and fresh fruit.

“Tea, because of the properties it has, the flavor is perfect for cocktails,” says Simmons. “It’s great with everything: rum, tequila, vodka. If you’re going to entertain, it’s such an easy summer cocktail.”

Simmons uses flavored teas for her tea-inspired cocktail recipes, pairing lemon iced tea with ginger syrup for a new take on a Mint Julep, and using peach iced tea, club soda, ginger syrup and fresh peach for a refreshing Peach-Ginger Fizz. Both drinks can be made as non-alcoholic or as cocktails.

Recipe: Lemon Ginger ‘Tulep’

Recipe: Peach-Ginger Fizz

So the next time you want spice up your dishes, without adding sugar or fat, try tea.