My AeroGarden must know it is spring. It is growing with a fervor I’ve never seen before. The basil, thyme and dill are going well. The parsley, so-so. And, technically the chives never came up - not that they would have had a chance to grow in the shade of the mint monster that is taking over my kitchen. Easily half the space in my seven-pod garden is full of mint - which would be nice if I knew what to do with it. So, last weekend I decided to make mojitos. Traditionally one would muddle the mint in the glass, but I had a different idea. I made a mint simple syrup and it was wonderful. I used it to make fabulous mojitos and foolproof iced tea (ala Cook's Illustrated).
Mint Simple Syrup – combine 1 cup sugar (refined white or raw), 1 cup water and 1 packed cup mint leaves in a small sauce pan. Heat over med heat and stir frequently until sugar is completely dissolved (do not let the mixture boil to better preserve the mint essence). Remove from heat and let sit until cool. Strain syrup, mashing the mint leaves against sides of strainer before discarding. Use as needed (refrigerate the unused portion).
Mojitos – combine 2 oz mint simple syrup, 2 oz golden rum, 1 oz fresh squeezed lime juice, 4oz club soda. Serve in a tall glass filled to the top with crushed ice. Garnish with additional mint leaves and enjoy!
Cook’s Illustrated iced tea – combine 5 tea bags with 32 ounces (1 qt) water in a medium sauce pan. Heat 10-15 minutes over medium heat until instant read thermometer reads exactly 190 degrees. Remove from heat and let steep for exactly 3 minutes. Remove tea bags (don't squeeze them) and combine tea with 32 ounces of ice cubes. Stir until ice is almost completely dissolved. Add Mint Simple Syrup to taste. Pour into ice filled glass and enjoy.
All of the above were exceptionally delicious…but I had a question. My inquiring mind wasn’t happy with the vague use of the term “mint.” Which kind of mint did I use? I know there must be dozens of types, so I decided to do a little research. I learned mint belongs to the family Lamiaceae (which, oddly enough, includes a bunch of other aromatic herbs including basil, lavender, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, savory, thyme and more) and the genus Mentha. The Mentha genus is further divided into many species the most common being peppermint, Mentha peperita, and spearmint, Mentha spicata. Good to know, but which made my ice tea so cool and refreshing and my mojito so minty? I went to the AeroGarden website. It said I had “mint.” The catalog said “mint” as well, so I called the company. The lady who answered said I am growing…"mint." Ug.
Cook’s Illustrated uses mint throughout its many recipes, so I decided to check there. The 2004 annual has a beautiful “field guide” (above) illustrating ten different species including pineapple mint, orange mint, apple mint and chocolate mint. But, it was in the 2003 annual where I found my companion in confusion. A equally agitated colleague questions which of the many mints is meant in a recipe for asparagus salad. Cook’s Illustrated answers as such:
“It may sound rather simplistic, but, like most recipe writers, when we call for mint as an ingredient, we are thinking of the mint that is available in the grocery store, which is often labled only as ‘mint.’ After doing a little research, we learned that supermarket mint is in almost all cases spearmint (Mentha spicata) rather than peppermint (Mentha peperita). While peppermint certainly can be (and sometimes is) used in cooking, it is more commonly used as a flavoring or scent in commercial products…”
The article continues by explaining the differences in the leaf and stem colors and aromatic oils flavoring each (peppermint gets its taste from menthol and spearmint, from the “light sweet flavor” of carvone).
I concluded, because my mint has pale green leaves and green stems (unlike the darker leaves and brownish stems of peppermint), I have spearmint...tons of it. All for my own enjoy-mint!