No Need to Sugar Coat It: Peppermint Is the Hottest Herb of the Season

peppermint extract

peppermint extract

Along with Christmas trees, gingerbread and chocolate, peppermint is one of the season's most powerful aromas.

Along with Christmas trees, gingerbread and chocolate, peppermint is one of the season's most powerful aromas.

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Candy canes are one of the most iconic elements of the holidays, but the herb behind all those sticky sticks has some semi-scandalous roots. “In Greek mythology, Pluto (the god of the underworld) was attracted to Minthe,” says Briscoe White, head farmer and owner of The Growers Exchange near Richmond, Virginia. “When his wife, Persephone, discovered his transgressions, she transformed poor Minthe into an herb.

And a mighty herb at that. According to White, peppermint has the strongest flavor of the entire mint family, has been used to cure headaches and indigestion and even acts as a “natural barrier against unwanted insects and pests,” he says. “Plant peppermint around the foundation of your home to thwart ants, mice and pesky vermin that might try to break into your home. Use crushed peppermint in your windowsills, pantries and utility rooms to keep these pests at bay.”

It’s a good thing pests don’t like peppermint. That just leaves more for us! Here are a few ways chefs and mixologists around the country are incorporating this awesome angiosperm into drinks and dishes, plus more tips on growing and maintenance from White.

Earl the Pearl

At Beauty & Essex in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, beverage director Peter Kane loves the bright, refreshing flavor mint adds to cold-weather cocktails.

1.5 ounces vodka
1.5 ounces Earl Grey tea
1 ounce lemon juice
.75 ounces peppermint simple syrup

Peppermint simple syrup
1.5 cups packed fresh peppermint leaves
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

Chop mint. In a saucepan, bring sugar, water and mint to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Simmer syrup, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Pour syrup through a fine sieve, pressing hard on solids, and cool.

Combine all ingredients, shake and strain over ice. Garnish with lemon.

Peppermint and Almond Salsa Verde

At No. 246 in Atlanta, Georgia, co-owner and executive chef Drew Belline uses peppermint to spice up the almond salsa verde he serves with Maplebrook Farm burrata cheese on grilled bread.

1/2 cup minced fresh peppermint
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/4 cup finely sliced chives
1/4 cup chopped toasted almonds
2 finely diced shallots
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon of whole grain mustard
Zest of one lemon
3/4 cup EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
Salt, pepper and chili flakes to taste

Combine all the ingredients above in a mixing bowl and season to taste.

For the burrata:
Find a great burrata from your local cheesemonger. It’s best served at room temperature.

For the Flatbread:
Source your favorite baguette, rub it with some garlic, EVOO and salt, then toss it on the grill until it gets some color.

While the bread is still warm, top it with the burrata and spoon over some of the peppermint salsa verde. To garnish, tear some more fresh peppermint over the top and season with sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.

The Pom-Iranian

We’d order this cocktail based on the adorable name alone—and the fact that black-eyed Susans are used as a garnish—but Scott Beattie, mixologist at Living Room at the W South Beach uses peppermint to cool off the hot combination of pomegranate, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper.

10-15 peppermint leaves
¾ ounces mandarin orange blossom vodka
¾ ounces vodka
¼ ounce simple syrup
¾ ounces spiced pomegranate juice
½ ounces fresh squeezed lime juice
Black-eyed Susan petals, cut into chiffonade
Peppermint sprig for garnish
Amaranth sprig for garnish

Spiced pomegranate juice
4 large pomegranates or 1 1/3 cups of 100% pomegranate juice
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon black pepper

If using whole pomegranates, juice them using a manual or electric juicer. Strain the juice through a fine-mesh strainer or chinois to remove any solids. Place the juice and the spices in an airtight container and shake well to combine. The juice will keep for up to one week refrigerated in the airtight container.

Place the peppermint leaves in the bottom of a mixing glass and tap a few times with a muddler. Add the vodkas, juices and simple syrup and stir well. Add a small pinch of black-eyed Susan threads and enough ice to fill the mixing glass, cover and shake a few times. Pour into a tall Collins glass and garnish with the peppermint sprig and a few more threads of black-eyed Susan.

Mint Chocolate Cake

Sure, you could use peppermint extract, but that would take all the fun out of squeezing the oils out of the mint and into the cream for the frosting of this rich cake, created by pastry chef Eric Wolitzky of Cakes & Ale in Atlanta, Georgia.

For the cake:
2 sticks butter
2 ¼ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 egg yolk
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 ¼ cups cake flour
¾ cup cocoa powder
1 ½ teaspoon baking soda
¼ and 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup hot coffee
1 ½ teaspoon espresso powder

For the frosting:
10 ounces milk chocolate, chopped
5 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 ½ tablespoon corn syrup
1 bunch fresh peppermint
1 ¾ cups heavy cream
2.5 sticks butter

For the glaze:
4 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 ½ teaspoon light corn syrup
3 tablespoons frosting

Grease three 8-inch round cake pans that have been lined with parchment paper. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, salt and set aside. Dissolve espresso powder in hot coffee and then whisk in buttermilk.  Set aside.

In the mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add eggs, yolk and vanilla, scraping down the side of bowl as necessary. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with 2 additions of coffee mixture.

Divide batter evenly among cake pans and bake for approximately 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let cakes rest in pans for 15 minutes and then unmold on a wire rack to cool completely.

For frosting: Chop chocolates and combine them with corn syrup in a medium bowl.  In a medium saucepan heat cream until scalding and add the bunch of fresh mint.  Cover and let steep for half an hour. Squeeze out all the oils from the mint into the cream and discard mint. Reserve 3 tablespoons of this cream for glaze. Reheat cream until boiling and pour over chocolates. Wait one minute and then stir until smooth. Place in a mixer fitted with paddle attachment and beat for 10 minutes or until completely cool and the color has lightened considerably. Now add softened, room temperature butter and paddle for an additional 5 minutes until mixture is thickened and is spreadable.

To assemble cake: Trim tops off cakes to even out. Place one layer of cake on serving plate or cake turntable. With a spatula spread about 1 ¼ cups of frosting on top of cake and then top with another cake layer. Repeat this procedure. Frost outside of cake with a thin coat and place in refrigerator for about 15 minutes until it firms up.  Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Refrigerate for 10 minutes to firm up.

To make the glaze, place the chocolate, butter, corn syrup and reserved 3 tablespoons of mint cream in a small saucepan. Stir over low heat until completely melted and smooth. Let cool for about 10 minutes, stir, and then drizzle glaze over cake. Garnish with a mint sprig.

Briscoe White’s Peppermint tips

  • Peppermint should be grown in large containers, as it can overwhelm a garden with its quick, robust and thick growth.
  • Choose containers made of porous material like clay or terra cotta to help keep soil moist.
  • Mint likes full sun, at least 7-8 hours, but will tolerate some shade.
  • Rotate pots weekly.
  • It likes moist soil, so water often.
  • Mist weekly to prevent spider mites.
  • Use organic fertilizer at half strength monthly.
  • Don’t be afraid to prune and cut ruthlessly.
  • Dainty purple flowers will bloom in late spring or early summer.
  • Peppermint’s flowering spires attract pollinators like butterflies and honeybees.

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