Food & Drink, Green

Strawberry Sensation or Alien Aspartame?

July 5, 2013
Strawberry Sensation (Strawberry Cordial & Cava)

Strawberry Sensation (Strawberry Cordial & Cava)

This post started out as a very simple but totally delicious, in season strawberry cordial recipe, as per the usual food blogging posts. However, as I was researching it and in particular the area of food sweeteners versus sugar, it became a lot more.

The recipe for the very tasty summer drink is at the bottom of the post. If you don’t want to know about ASPARTAME just scroll down to the vibrant strawberry picture below and you’ll find it. I can’t recommend this strawberry cordial enough (if you have a supply of strawberries)! Seven out of seven people ranging across three generations loved it when I offered the first sips around the table here.

(If you’re growing strawberries and are looking for tips on looking after them or getting more out of your patch, here’s some older blog posts on them.)

But back to the Aspartame (*renamed AminoSweet®), why the concern?

We first heard about aspartame in the late 1980’s when it was linked with causing the symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome (‘Large quantities of aspartame sweetened diet soft drinks were provided to Gulf War troops, often times sitting in high temperature conditions. This artificial sweetener breaks down at roughly 85 °F (29.5 °C) into, among other things, methanol, formaldehyde, diketopiperazine and formic acid.’

However, it’s only in recent years since the arrival of our children, that we really started becoming concerned about the food we eat on a daily basis and have tried to cut the amount of artificial chemicals the family consume. It’s a personal choice for us to want to eat and drink food that’s been naturally produced – and by natural I mean from field to fork or well to tap. Luckily we’re in a place where the majority of the time we can do that. We’re by no means perfect, we have food stuff in our cupboards that contain additives and preservatives not considered ‘healthy’ but we’re working at it.

Having reduced the amount of pesticide and herbicide residues in our food by growing our own, we started to look at the rest of the ingredients in the cupboards. Would it surprise you to find that almost every cordial for sale in supermarkets has added sweeteners and in particular aspartame to make it ‘healthier’ and ‘sugar free’? I know I was. Having gazed at the row upon row of ‘fruit’ squashes in the larger and smaller local supermarkets, the only brand I’ve been able to find that doesn’t contain artificial sweeteners is Ribena. That’s it. A zillion and one choices yet only one ‘natural’ one? That can’t be a good start for our younger generations, the biggest consumers of squash I would imagine by far.

But we don’t want to consume sweeteners, we’re wary about them, even though they’re considered safe.

The official conclusion from the IFSA states that “The safety of aspartame has been extensively studied over the years and experts worldwide agree that aspartame is safe for use. This has been restated by the EU Scientific Committee for Food in 2002 and by EFSA in 2007 and 2009. In terms of the types of studies and the amounts given to human subjects in controlled studies, aspartame is one of the most thoroughly tested food additives. The approval of aspartame will continue to be kept under review by bodies such as the European Commission and EFSA as new scientific information becomes available. If this information shows that the conclusion that aspartame is safe for use is no longer valid, action will be taken immediately to review its authorisation.”

We’re supposed to be happy with the official line but it’s difficult. After years of being let down by authorities we’re supposed to trust, who do we believe? Call it old age or a natural cynicism but for over forty years there have been health concerns surrounding aspartame and many peer reviewed papers have been published collaborating those concerns. So why is there still an issue? If we’ve nothing to worry about as the IFSA suggests why are we still reading stories telling us that aspartame is dangerous, that it causes headaches, brain tumours, seizures and many more health issues?

Is it all about the money?

A post by Dr Jane Hull certainly makes you wonder (you can read it here.) In it she concludes that the Japanese owners of aspartame Ajinomoto, have invested over US$125 million into that one product alone. Would it not be disastrous for them if it were found to be unfit for human consumption? Would a company be willing to give up on a project they’ve invested so much into or would they lobby every power that be and pay scientists of their own to ‘research’ it and make sure that aspartame is considered safe?

* As a result of it’s unpopularity, Ajinomoto have rebranded aspartame and the Japanese “Pal Sweet Diet®” as “AminoSweet®” and replicated the 1982 American marketing campaign claiming that aspartame was all natural. (I’m curious to know how they can claim that having read the history of it.)

In light of all this uncertainty, we’ve chosen to avoid aspartame as much as we can, are buying Ribena with sugar and not sweeteners and are making our own real fruit drinks. These are being limited to mealtimes due to the quantity of sugar added to them and we’re trying to teach our kids the difference between real and artificial flavours in the hope that when they start buying food for themselves, they can do so having made informed choices.

What are your thoughts on aspartame? Does it bother you that it’s added to everything?

So now that’s covered, back to the scrummy strawberry cordial mentioned in the introduction with a link to another seasonal cordial recipe made from hedgerow elderflowers. Hope you enjoy making your own 🙂

strawberry cordial

Ingredients for Strawberry Cordial

(makes just over 2 x 750ml bottles)

500g crushed strawberries
1 unwaxed lemon, thinly sliced
900g caster sugar
40g citric acid
500ml water

  1. Place the strawberries and lemon in a large glass bowl with the sugar and citric acid.
  2. Bring the water to the boil and once boiled, pour it into the bowl and stir until all the sugar has dissolved.
  3. Leave to cool, cover and place in a fridge for 4 days.
  4. steeping cordialUsing a clean spoon, taste the concentrate to see if it is strong enough. If it requires further steeping, leave it in the fridge for another day or so.
  5. Strain through a sieve lined with muslin and decant into sterilised bottles. Keeps in the fridge for up to 6 months.
  6. When serving, dilute with still or sparkling water to taste.

For a very special drink for adults, dilute the cordial with Cava or sparkling wine and don’t plan on driving anywhere!


Lastly, if you’re feeling naughty, don’t discard the pulped strawberries. You can whisk them together with 250ml of double cream and fill a couple of meringue cases to make a quick but tasty dessert.


  • Reply bridget July 5, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Great recipe! Totally agre with you about aspartamane…deadly stuff. Better to make your own whenever possible.

  • Reply Lorna July 11, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    I agree – just have to wince at all the sugar I put in the elderflower cordial to realise that whatever replaces all that sugar can’t be good. Just harvested some strawberries tonight – must earmark the next lot for this recipe 🙂

    • Reply greensideupveg July 12, 2013 at 12:14 am

      I took several cordials to the community garden on Weds and the strawberry won hands down, I’m sure your family will love it Lorna 🙂

  • Reply Dr. Janet Hull August 10, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Thank you for referencing my post on aspartame in Japan. My book, Sweet Poison, has been published in Japan now, and translated into Japanese, so we are “stirring the pot” of awareness in Japan – the origin of the original aspartame.

    Keep up the good work informing others – the truth about aspartame dangers will never be exposed by the corporations, as you so very well put.

    • Reply greensideupveg August 10, 2013 at 5:45 pm

      You’re welcome and thanks for taking the time to comment. Hopefully your book will help to inform many, many more 🙂

  • Reply Susan August 28, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Each sip EVERY user, consuming aspartame gets a micro-dose of three poisons, two of which (formaldehyde and formic acid) are known carcinogens… along with that side-order of DKP, the tumor agent. A science report was done on diet cokes. The contents of the unopened cans was later evaluated by a reputable food testing laboratory that proved the methanol to formaldehyde conversion, even in the unopened container cooling off in the refrigerator, and the phenylalanine to DKP conversion

    • Reply greensideupveg August 28, 2013 at 9:40 pm

      That’s scary stuff Susan. I wasn’t aware of the science but am even more glad we drink very little diet soda or squash. Thanks for the information and taking time to comment.

  • Reply How to make blackcurrant juice June 22, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    […] our quest to avoid the aspartame (see the post here on our reasons why) I’ve scoured the books looking for ways to make some of our produce into cordials. This week I […]

  • Reply Hui shin ngiam October 5, 2014 at 5:02 am

    Hello Dee, I stumbled upon your post because I was looking for a way to make cordials for my kids and had just finished off our last stash of Ribena. Was happy to note that Ribena is just filled with sugar and no sweeteners 🙂 anyways I just had a question about the recipe, how do you crush the strawberries? Do u boil them and then mash them in the pot or do you already do the crushing before hand?

    • Reply greensideupveg October 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm

      Hi there, I just squeezed them in my hand which worked a treat, and yes, just keep an eye out for the original and not the No Added Sugar, enjoy 🙂

  • Reply Jenna February 3, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    I’m a bit late to finding this, but better late then never! Thanks for posting this recipe AND all the info on artificial sweeteners. The cordial recipe is just perfect for my upcoming weekend plans – a cordial making party! Last summer in the midst of utter chaos (my fil was diagnosed with cancer in January last and died only 5 months later which sent my husband and I into hyperdrive once it became clear his mom couldn’t live alone. So instead of my usual summer routine, it was a mad dash of house hunting, all the frantic panic THAT entails, moving us ~and~ her, and we’re still trying to get the two houses sold but at least we’re all settled into our new home at last. AND I scored a massive new kitchen and several acres to garden in instead of my little house in the city before, so it’s been good chaos to) instead of all the myriad of preserving methods I usually lean towards – canning/pickling/dehydrating – I reached a point where, in order to not just waste huge piles of produce (if I threw away good food, both now long deceased grandmothers would have haunted me forever! lol) I started frantically freezing in the hope that once all the madness calmed, I would have time to properly manage things for the pantry. (thank heavens for chest freezers!) While things are still on the frenetic side, I’m taking this Saturday with a friend and we’re going to make a half dozen or so flavors of cordial to split between our families. While we work, my husband is going to hack her soda maker the same way he fully voided the warranty on ours (a commercial brand I won’t name make a unit that carbonates water, but only using tiny air canisters that have to be sent back each month for expensive refills which while still a bit cheaper then buying ‘real’ soda, still adds up quickly and is pretty bad all around on both the environment and our wallets – so with a lot of tinkering and accepting we would never be able to send it in for repairs, it was torn apart and rebuilt to instead use the same canisters paintballers use, at only $5 a refill here in town for more then 10x the capacity!) so the last cord to commercial sodas can be cut. The cordials are the perfect add in to carbonated water – lots of flavor, even a bit of fruity goodness, no artificial sweeteners OR dyes. Just perfect all around. Honestly, I might not make it to Sat and today mix up at least a small batch of this strawberry. 14 inches of snow and more to come… I need some summer in a glass! Thanks so much!

    • Reply Dee Sewell February 3, 2015 at 2:36 pm

      My goodness, what a busy time! I felt tired just reading that 😀 Same here re chest freezers, they’re a lifeline for busy people and I’m so glad you commented as I’ve been looking at some frozen strawberries from last year in my own and now I know exactly what to do with them. You also have a very good point… I have a cupboard full of chutneys and jams that only my hubby and I eat. Making cordials with the fruit would be much better as the whole family would drink them! Best of luck with your cordial making session and roll on spring!

  • Reply Jordy February 8, 2015 at 1:38 am

    Where can one buy citric acid from?

    • Reply Dee Sewell February 8, 2015 at 8:58 am

      Hi Jordy, here in Ireland all the chemists sell it.

  • Reply Rowena February 27, 2015 at 12:01 pm

    Hello I’m wondering if I could substitute the sugar for honey? Or agave nectar?

    • Reply Dee Sewell March 1, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      Hi Rowena, I honestly don’t know the answer to that I’m afraid. I’m still learning about honey and how we can swop it myself. If I ever find out I’ll let you know, sorry I can’t be of more help.

  • Reply Carol Garland December 26, 2017 at 10:11 pm

    Hello 2017/18 Summer here in New Zealand hot hot days 32oC
    I also was picking Black currants and making cordial.( I have 11 grandies) After doing the work
    ( read juicing and creating a stained mess), decided to seek internet advice.. and found your blog.. very interesting reading.

    So here is another hint: after juicing straining or what ever method you use to get fruit plulp, I put it into an old open roasting dish under the trees and would you believe, hundreds of honey bees descended and consumed kilos of this pulp ..They ate it all in a few days.. There was no area not covered in bees
    Recycling in a different method
    Love to all home gardeners, I am picking strawberries, red currants, black currants, raspberries, courgettes, AND our best cherries ever. New potatoes yummy..
    Carol G Christchurch NZ

    • Reply Dee Sewell February 12, 2018 at 3:27 pm

      Brilliant idea, thanks! Your harvest sounds fabulous and makes me dream of summer here, thanks for sharing Carol.

  • Reply Christian Baker April 1, 2018 at 9:15 am

    Ribena has just changed its recipe, they now add sucralose and acefultame k

    • Reply Dee Sewell April 4, 2018 at 3:19 pm

      Thanks for that, a good reminder to keep an eye on the ingredients lists on products.

  • Reply David Kirwan May 16, 2018 at 8:11 pm

    I’m not too worried about the health issues – it seems everything I like is bad for me or will be one day.i just don’t like the taste of the sugar replacements. I spent a lot of time over the past few years seeking out the drinks without artificial sweeteners. Ribena was my last holdout but they have thrown in the towel and their new stuff tastes like it’s watered down. Now I’ll move to making my own.

    • Reply Dee Sewell June 8, 2018 at 11:37 am

      Yes, agree with you there on the flavour. We’re stilling holding out as much as possible and thankfully have great tasting water, but so easy to bow to the commercial pressures. Enjoy your homemade cordials 🙂

  • Reply David Kirwan May 16, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    If there are any manufacturers out there who would like to get on the “”Classic” bandwagon – I’d rather pay the sugar tax.

  • Reply tanshepTan Shepherd September 11, 2018 at 11:49 am

    Delicious! I used the dregs under a sponge pudding and as a sauce with ice cream. I particularly like that it is not cooked which may destroy the vitC.

    • Reply Dee Sewell October 2, 2018 at 1:38 pm

      That sounds really good! I’ve just heard that someone uses the left over sloe dregs in jam after making sloe gin, need to look that one up too!


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