Taste This: Clamato Juice

Gene-splicing fruits can create some interesting cross-breeding. If nothing else, the names are fun: grapple, tangelo, pluot and graisin, for instance. But what about "clamato?" The tomato/clam beverage has long been on my non-shopping list, and the sigh

Gene-splicing fruits can create some interesting cross-breeding. If nothing else, the names are fun.

There’s the grapple (part grape, part apple), tangelo (tangerine and pomelo or grapefruit), pluot (plums meet apricots) and the graisin, a giant raisin that messes with not only genetics but the time/space continuum, resulting in grape-sized raisins. These fruits were created to enhance flavors and nutrients; some have even been invented by global aid groups searching for easy-to-grow veggies and fruits that have extra vitamins for Third World countries with food shortages.

But what about “clamato?" The beverage has long been on my non-shopping list, and the sight of it at the grocery store always makes me retch a little, then wonder exactly who would drink this and why. Perhaps it was part of a global food conspiracy, meant to be exported to thirsty countries we really don’t like?

Mass produced by Mott’s, according to the way-too-informative Web site (there’s even a Clamato song and music video in Spanish!), clamato is a “tomato cocktail” that was first embraced by farmers who used it to quench their thirst on hot days. Created 40 years ago, the juice is indeed a combination of concentrated tomato juice and clam broth. The web site claims the drink is huge in Mexico (and amongst Latinos in general) and Canada, where it's allegedly the main ingredient of Canada's “Number 1” cocktail, the Bloody Caesar, essentially a Bloody Mary with a li’l clam kick.

I'd always suspected that clamato’s main use was probably as a drink mixer, specifically to be mixed with vodka for early morning drinkers. But the placement in the grocery store makes it confusing.

It's almost exclusively found near the tomato and V8 juices instead of next to the margarita and Bloody Mary mixers. I found my bottle next to the equally cringe-worthy sauerkraut juice, which is apparently “nature’s laxative,” again making it remarkably out of place (unless V8 has some powers I’m unaware of).

The mixer-that’s-not-by-the-other-mixers placement might be due to clamato’s (again alleged) other use as a cooking ingredient. As I reluctantly took my first sip, it became clear why: Clamato juice is heavy on the salt, and the slightly spicy tang might make it an interesting base for a gumbo or shrimp creole.

My biggest fear in trying clamato was the “clam” part and not so much the “mato.” I can’t think of one instance where seafood is an appropriate ingredient for a beverage — the only one off the top of my head is cod liver oil, which, as far as I know, might be the main ingredient in the German Whiskey Sour. But like the vegetables in V8 juice, the clam taste in clamato thankfully is very slight, overrun by the sodium and tomato flavor. It essentially tastes like a bottle of tomato juice that someone accidentally left open in a fridge full of fish.

Clamato has spawned its very own self-contained alcoholic beverage, which actually manages to make it sound even less appetizing. Two years ago, Budweiser began marketing Chelada, a canned mix of clamato and beer (Bud or Bud Light, for those alcoholics watching their waistlines). The brew is based on “Micheladas,” a Mexican drink that combines beer, limejuice, peppers, various spices and tomato or clamato juice.

Though I’ve seen plenty of Budweiser Chelada tall-boys at local grocery stores, they seemed to have disappeared recently, perhaps going the way of the McRib. You can still grab a can of Milwaukee’s Best, squirt some ketchup in there and garnish it with a fish-stick if you’re really desperate.

The Poor Man’s Bloody Mary was probably invented 100 years ago by drunk college kids. It’s nice to see it finally coming into its own.

The web site prominently declares, “People who use clamato to prepare food and drinks fondly refer to it as ‘My Clamato.’ ” I’m just hoping “My Clamato” stays put, since it would probably taste even worse coming up than it did going down.


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