There is something magical about the bright flavor of peppermint. I love to add peppermint extract to my coffee, particularly when I need a little extra perk. The freshness perks me up. With mint growing all over our yard and increase in the forest nearby, of course I’ve wondered how to make peppermint extract myself.
Herbal extracts are really very simple. All you need is a fresh herbs, alcohol, and time. There are websites all over the Internet that will explain to you how to carefully harvest and rough chop your herbs and then add them to a high proof alcohol to create your own herbal extract, peppermint extract included. However, if you’re like me, you may have tried it and wonder where all the flavor went. The devil’s in the details on peppermint extract. There are two details that matter in creating a successful peppermint extract, in my opinion. First, pay attention to the plant itself. Is your peppermint really peppermint? Second, use the herbalist trick of multiple infusions to get an optimum flavor out of your herbs. Let me explain both points.
Is your peppermint actually peppermint?
First, dollars to donuts, the plant you have grown or purchased as “peppermint” is probably not peppermint. More commonly, plants sold as peppermint are actually some sort of spearmint. The fresh herbs sold in your local grocery store as peppermint are very likely to be spearmint as well. It is still great and cooking but it will not give you the full flavor you were expecting. Even in high quality nurseries you often find that plants labeled “peppermint” are some sort of spearmint instead. I brought a “peppermint” plant home a few weeks ago to show my mom, more adamant and opinionated on this issue than anyone I know.
“Here’s a plant labeled ‘peppermint,’ Mom!”
“That’s not peppermint! Shame on that nursery! Where did you find it?”
“At your favorite nursery.”
As I said, it’s hard to find actual peppermint.
Spearmint has a nice flavor, a bit more earthy and less “bright” than peppermint. It certainly does not taste like Christmas candy canes.
If you use spearmint for your extract, you’ll have a nice flavor but don’t look for the brightness of peppermint.
At the risk of being overly obvious, keep in mind that there are four million types of mints out there. I found some bergamot mint in a local creek and while it would be a great extract project in itself, it will never taste anything like peppermint.
Triple, quadruple, quintuple infusions
Whether you manage to find a peppermint plant or use one of the other many mints, I recommend you plan on multiple infusions for a full flavor.
A single infusion is simply the process you will see described most often: Add the herbs to a high-proof alcohol, let the mixture sit for weeks in a dark place, strain out the herbs, and keep the alcohol extract.
A double infusion is simply another round of the above: strain out the herb and add new, fresh herb to your alcohol. Do that again for a “triple infusion” and so on. For triple infusions, I typically let each infusion sit for about a week before straining out the herb and adding more.
Here is my basic recommended process but it is extremely flexible. Do what works for you. If you are buying your mint at a market, time your infusions with your shopping.
Basic mint extract steps
- Collect your fresh herb material. Wash it as necessary. Allow it to dry so that it does not add extra water to your alcohol.
- Once dry, rough-chop it to increase its surface area.
- Place it in a mason jar and cover it with a high-proof alcohol. (A high-proof grain alcohol like Ever Clear is your best bet. Next best would be a high-proof vodka since it will not add flavor to the mixture, though I can seem to find it much higher than 80-proof compared to Everclear’s 151 proof.)
- Place the jar in a cool, dark place for a week, gently shaking it daily or as you remember it. (*cough*)
- After a week or so, strain out the mint and retain the alcohol. Repeat the steps above adding the fresh mint to the same alcohol mixture.
Each additional infusion of mint into the alcohol will add more flavor to your extract.
You can keep infusing for an eternity. Give it a shot until you like the flavor or until you have worn yourself out.
But speaking of bergamot mint in the local creek, I’ll take this opportunity to embed a couple of superfluous mint “living pictures” for your viewing pleasure. These “photos” may be like none you’ve ever seen. They are a 3-D-type technology from the Lytro Illum camera (here at our Amazon partner). Click on a photo and it will “come to life,” sort of video-style. At that point, use your mouse to click on different parts of the photo and see what happens.
Go ahead. Explore the picture with your mouse (or your finger on mobile).