The Many Kinds Of Cocktail Garnish
While a cocktail garnish can serve as more than a purely decorative gesture, in most instances whatever is used as a garnish often has little effect on the taste of the drink. Garnishing cocktails might in a way be compared to the habit of placing a sprig of parsley on a plate of food. In nearly every case, after all the food has been eaten and the plate taken away, the parsley is still there. It's a bit of a shame, as parsley, in small amounts, is very good for us.
Some cocktail garnishes, like wedges of orange or lemon, or an olive, are good for us as well. Olives, and maraschino cherries as well, usually are eaten. Some martini lovers can become quite insulted if served a martini without an olive in it.
A cocktail garnish is rarely selected for reasons of nutrition though, but more with the idea of adding a bit of flash or style to the drink being served. This seems to be particularly the case with tropical drinks such as the Mai-Tai or the Singapore Sling, both of which would seem somewhat naked if not for the garnish.
Fruits As A Garnish - Aside from olives and the cocktail onion, most food items used in garnishing cocktails are fruits. The cherry is a popular garnish as are lemons and limes, both of which go well with a glass of beer. Citrus fruit garnishes are usually served as wedges, slices, twists, or spiral-shaped peels. By their very nature, citrus garnishes usually add some flavor to the cocktail and are chosen for that reason. Limes in particular go part and parcel with the Margarita, and perform the useful task of moistening the rim of the glass so that salt will stick to it. A wedge of lime in a highball glass gives the drinker an option to squeeze a little more lime into the drink if desired.
A twist of lemon is used in a number of different cocktails. The twist enables some of the elements of the peel to get into the act. The peel of a lemon, the inside of the peel that is, contains a number of highly nutritional elements. If may be stretching things a bit to say that it will actually make a cocktail containing 80-proof alcohol healthy, but it certainly won't hurt anything, and can often subtly contribute to the flavor of the drink.
Pineapple slices or wedges are very often used as garnishes for tropical drinks as well as slices of wedges of other tropical fruits, and seem to fit in particularly well with rum-based drinks.
When It's Snowing - Raisins may seem to be a bit of an odd choice for a garnish. They certainly can't be attached to the rim of a glass, and simply dumping them in the drink would seem pointless. If you think wintertime however, and think of having a mug or glass of hot spiced wine or Scandinavian gløgg, you have drinks that literally cry out for raisins, and not just a few but quite a few, with almond slices added.
No Limp Cucumber Please - One of the oddest choices for garnishing cocktails might seem to be the cucumber, even though a cool fresh slice, wedge, or spear of cucumber is pleasant tasting. Adding cucumber as a cocktail garnish, or as an ingredient in a mixed drink gained some notoriety some years back in an episode of Cheers. One of the cardinal rules for a cocktail garnish is it must be fresh, unless it's a cocktail onion or cherry that comes out of a jar. A limp cucumber slice would not be any more acceptable than would a limp sprig of mint or an overripe chunk of pineapple. Of the three, a limp slice of cucumber would probably be the worst.
There are other kinds of cocktail garnish, including edible flowers, but the examples given above probably cover 90% of the cocktails that are commonly served.