Ouzo is a sweet, yet potent liqueur. Its sweet black licorice flavor makes ouzo a favorite sipping and mixing liquor as well as a common helper in the kitchen. While many people love the taste of ouze, the flavor is not unique -- both alcoholic and non-alcoholic ingredients can successfully mimic it to give your drinks and dishes the necessary flavors.
What's With Ouzo?
Ouzo is such an important part of Greek culture and the country's economic structure that the government successfully lobbied the European Union in 2006 to trademark the liquor as an exclusive national product. The liquor's black licorice flavor is actually anise, which is added with other optional flavors during the distillation process, resulting in a liquor with an alcohol by volume range from a required minimum of 37.5 percent, or 75 proof, to 50 percent, or 100 proof. In Greece, Ouzo is often mixed with water for a cloudy sipping cocktail or imbibed as a chilled shot as an aperitif.
With A Kick
Ouzo's got a few similar tasting alcoholic alternatives that originate in areas both near and far from Greece. Raki, a Turkish alcohol, sambuca, an Italian liquor, and Middle Eastern arak are also flavored with anise. Pastis, a French liqueur, also tastes of anise. Even Spanish-speaking countries such as Colombia, Mexico and Spain have anise-flavored beverages; in Colombia, the liquor is guaro; in Mexico, it is aguardiente; and in Spain, it is anisette liqueur.
Appropriate For All Audiences
A few non-alcoholic ouzo alternatives may sweeten up your drinks and dishes without killing any brain cells. The French liqueur pastis actually comes in a non-alcoholic version, which tastes, smells and even appears like its boozy counterpart. Another liquid substitution is anise-flavored syrup intended for Italian sodas and coffee drinks. Going to the source is another good way of substituting ouzo without the alcohol -- add a pinch of either whole or crushed aniseed to your concoctions. Similarly flavored fennel and star anise will work as well.
Too Much Time On Your Hands
Another solution to the ouzo substitution problem is to make your own. Though the finished product won't actually be as refined as professionally distilled ouzo, it will have the basic flavors and a near enough potency that will get the job done with only two ingredients: aniseed and vodka. For the vodka, select at least an 80-proof one so the finished pseudo-ouzo will have the required minimum proof. Crush the aniseed in a mortar with a pestle, then stir in a dash of ground aniseed for every tablespoon of vodka for the ouzo substitute.