A well-crafted cocktail depends on balance. Often, a measure of simple syrup or a few drops of saline solution is all you need to calibrate a recipe. But leaning fully into salty, vegetal and umami ingredients can shift the balance to highlight a bolder flavor profile complemented by sweetness, bitterness and acidity. To introduce a new dimension to citrusy highballs or spirit-forward classics, here are five ingredients to give your cocktails a concentrated, savory spin.
Kelp and Seaweed
Find ocean-kissed salinity in both types of algae’s various forms—dried sheets of nori used to wrap sushi, freshly cut kelp, or pulverized nori in furikake seasoning. To extract its saltwater essence, fat-wash tequila with a duo of kelp blade and tahini, then pair with lemon and furikake syrup for a seaside-friendly sour. When dried seaweed is rehydrated in water—known as “seaweed water”—the resulting liquid can lengthen a savory yuzu-scented riff on the Paloma.
Whether juiced, steeped in a spirit or bitters, celery adds an earthy, vegetal dimension to just about any cocktail. When paired with like-minded bell peppers and snap peas in a cordial, it evokes the brightness of a vegetable garden, invigorating the Margarita blueprint. Celery stalks, meanwhile, can be soaked in gin for a full day, resulting in the two playing off of each other's clean, herbaceous qualities.
Different types of mushrooms account for a spectrum of flavors beyond umami—with dried shiitake having the most concentrated, meaty flavor, while richer and smokier notes come through from black trumpet mushrooms; maitake offers a milder, woodsy aroma. In a Japanese-inspired Bloody Mary, dried shiitake–infused vodka presents an extra dose of full-bodied savoriness, whereas maitake “dashi” sugar functions as a nutty syrup to complement Cognac and Champagne.
The main ingredient for Bloody Marys and Micheladas, tomato in juice form merely scratches the surface of the fruit’s umami potential. Transformed into "grenadine" for Team Lyan's postmodern take on the spicy Margarita, it balances the citric tang of lime. Similarly, clarified tomato water is a sly Martini inclusion for a subtle whisper of complexity you can’t immediately put your finger on.
Pouring leftover brine into a drink may be one of the most straightforward ways to unlock the savory side of cocktails. These applications stay close to their original iterations—with a double punch of salinity from olive brine and manzanilla sherry in a Dirty Martini Highball to a well-crafted Gibson that leans on its allium-heavy flavor through a lightly boiled garnish and a few barspoons of its salty, bracing brine.