Posted in Eating, Island Life

The Anatomy of a Mai Tai: Think Before You Drink

Ahhhh, the Mai Tai. The exotic, artificially bright, rum-filled cocktail that epitomizes the perfect summer vacay.
 Usually comprised of light & dark rum, Cointreau, orgeat syrup and lime juice, ‘Mai Tai’ translates to “out of this world” in its native Tahitian – which is fitting, given its unique, syrupy yumminess. It’s the classic, alcoholic poster child of island getaways and kicking back in far-flung tropical paradises.
Here in Hawaii, the Mai Tai is inescapable.  It’s served at virtually every tourist-geared restaurant, bar and hotel.  If you’re lucky enough to fly first class, expect endless rounds of these beauties on the plane here and back home. It’s also the prize idol of late night, afternoon and early morning happy hours. Hello, day drinking!
At as cheap as $3 a pop at Shorebird and Moose McGillycuddy’s, the Mai Tai’s a tough cocktail to contend with.  Even worse, they’re universally adored; I have never, ever heard of anyone that can resist the rummy sweetness of this devil in disguise.
Don’t let the pink umbrella fool you –Mai Tai’s are a dietary disaster. If you prefer to drink your calories, bottoms up. But for the health and/or calorie minded individual, here’s the scoop: an average serving has 305 calories and a staggering 27g of sugar for a single cup. As in a measly eight ounces.
Since plenty of places seem to serve their Mai Tai’s in giant glass orbs instead of normal sized cups, be prepared to sip down much more than the baseline 8 oz. Plus, who goes to happy hour or wherever and has only a single, teeny-tiny 8 oz. Mai Tai? They’re delicious. And they often come in mango, guava, and other fruity varieties, which are even more tempting. Plus, the combo of a 17% alcohol level, sweetness and sunny weather is guaranteed to persuade you to order another, and probably multiple, rounds.
Why is this tropical cocktail so calorie-ridden? Like most mouthwatering, summery mixed drinks, the harm is in the syrup’s excessive sugar. The American Heart Association recommends a daily limit of 30 g of sugar for the average woman; a single cup of these bad boys meets close to our entire sugar budget for the day. Since sugar is in everything, your numbers will surely surpass the prescribed daily dose. And you’re probably on vacation, so caloric caution is already thrown to the proverbial wind.
Is it possible to make a healthier, less destructive drink? Thankfully, you can curb the calories by asking the bartender to use juice instead of syrup; any kind of tropical variety will do, and bars are usually stocked. Keep in mind that the drink is likely made with juice cocktail, which still has considerable sugar content. Asking for less juice = less damage done to your diet.

Even better, try using fruit nectar; the thickness will give the Mai Tai more of its usual syrup-like consistency. The bar might not have any on hand, but practically any alcohol/fruit nectar combo is divine. For a tropical, islandy twist, try mixing lilikoi, guava, or mango nectar with a flavored alcohol or even a good rum or whiskey.
To make your own at home, try out this recipe from (the recipe lists 2 cups orange juice, but I swapped it for pineapple.) 
This recipe’s cherry because it uses limeade, which I can make myself without loads of sugar. Plus, it uses fresh fruit – although I’d definitely opt for pineapple chunks instead.
 Calories aren’t listed, but I’m guesstimating that they’ll ring in at 175-230 for an 8 oz. serving. Like I mentioned, you could always use less or no-sugar-added juice or blend up some fresh fruit instead.
Aunty Kathy’s Mai Tai Recipe 

1 1/2 cups dark rum
1 1/2 cups light rum
2 cups tropical juice (pineapple, mango, etc.)
1 cup limeade
2/3 cup lemon juice

1. Mix all together.
2. We prefer Bacardi Gold for dark rum.
3. I have used Bacardi Limon and Malibu Pineapple rum before and both are GREAT!
4. I have sliced oranges, lemons and limes and added for extra fresh flavor.

Happy drinking!


Aloha and welcome! I'm a small business owner, athlete, and mom-to-be in Honolulu, Hawaii, seeking to live the kindest and most compassionate life I can. From plant-based recipes to low-waste beauty to business lessons to travel, this blog is all things real life.

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