In this article we’ll discover how to choose, process and preserve mint.
I began asking myself the first questions regarding this plant when I became a Drink Factory trainer. The trainees, particularly the beginners, needed to have clear and structured information on how to choose mint for a Mojito.
The choice of mint was the most difficult aspect to overcome. In fact, every time you buy it from a wholesaler, the label doesn’t indicate the species or the variety that is inside the packaging. Similarly, if you are supplied by any local seller, they’ll tell you that you are purchasing ‘Yerba Buena‘: Yerba Buena is not a term used in taxonomy (in taxonomy you first use the genus, then the species and finally the variety) yet it is part of the common jargon; it is also a name that is reminiscent of Cuba and Mojitos and is therefore, too often, exploited for commercial purposes.
It is believed (it’s not 100% sure) that the mint used in Cuba for Mojitos is the Mentha x Villosa var. Nemorosa. It is difficult to find on a large-scale distribution, yet easy to find at specialist nurseries (with online sale of seedlings as well).
How can we use the Mentha nemorosa at the bar, since we can’t build a greenhouse next to the coffee machine? The answer is actually quite simple: we don’t necessarily have to use this particular mint, we have alternatives! Starting with the assumption that there are numerous varieties and that many of them resemble one another, thus making it difficult, if not impossible, to be sure which one is being used by only observing the leaves or the stem (beware of know-it-alls who claim to recognize mint just by the leaves).
We have to rely on our sense of smell!
In fact, the main aromatic component of Mentha x Villosa is carvone, while the main aromatic components found in Mentha x Piperita are menthol and menthone. I’ve used peppermint as an example because it is very widespread. The mint you use for Mojitos must contain mainly carvone, which has a less balsamic odor than menthol (often used in toothpastes and mouthwash) and menthone.
This is what I did: I went to a trusted nursery and bought Mentha nemorosa (Yerba Buena), I let it grow in a vase and learned how to recognize its scent and how to flavor a Mojito. Now when I go to buy mint from the supplier or the fruit seller, I use a finger to scratch the lower part of the leaf (where the glandular trichomes are found, rich in essential oils) and evaluate if that product is the one I want for my Mojitos.
This should help you understand that the technical and scientific aspects are very important when working with food, but it is also equally important to train your own senses (taste and smell) and entrust yourself to them.
That being said, if you are trying to understand why it’s wrong to crush the mint leaves in a Mojito, I suggest you read my article on this drink.
Finally, in order to preserve this plant, do not remove leaves from the stem, remove the elastic band that holds together the bundle, dampen it slightly (do not water down!!), wrap it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge; be careful that it doesn’t touch the cooling coil otherwise it may be subject to cooling damage, and thus turn black.
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