30 October 2011

Our Agony With Peppermint

Our Agony With Peppermint

Peppermint has been giving us here a headache over the last few months.  Somehow our peppermint just was not quite good enough and we have spent lots of time trying to work out why and what we could do about it?  Firstly, the peppermint tea was minty but missed that zinginess and spiciness that we really craved, while the peppermint extract was more tea-like than peppermint-creamy.  They were what they said on the tin, but for Steenbergs it was not good enough.

The first thing we needed to track down was the right peppermint.  Peppermint is a hybrid that crosses watermint with spearmint that was originally found in England but probably occurs elsewhere in the wild.  It has a higher menthol content than other mints, having a spicy and zingy flavour reminiscent of watercress rather than that sweeter and fruitier taste from spearmint.  Just like at Summerdown in Hampshire*, we fell for the Black Mitcham variety; actually, ours was sampled as a Mitchum strain originally from Montana on the west coast of America, but later it transpired that this was actually Black Mitcham.  Mitcham is in the Borough of Merton in Greater London and was well known for its lavender and peppermint crops.  Steenbergs organic Black Mitcham peppermint comes from a few plants that one of our suppliers took out to their project in Egypt several decades ago and has become the basis for their whole peppermint crop; it is grown organically and biodynamically.  It brews a tar black brew that has that powerful aroma from the menthol; if you brew the tea in a pot, then lift the lid off and stick your nose into the pot, you get a really powerful hit of menthol that is wonderfully cleansing.

We then debated adding back some peppermint oil to the leaves to increase the menthol strength of the leaves, but felt that this enhanced the aroma before brewing but slightly dulled the actual taste when you made the infusion.  In the end, we felt steeping the leaves a little longer more than compensated for any slight loss of volatile oils from the drying process.  We feel that that Steenbergs organic peppermint now compares well against leaves picked straight from the garden and the Black Mitcham variety has lifted our Moroccan Mint, which we sell as Green Tea With Peppermint.

As for the organic peppermint extract, it just did not feel or look right.  The old extract was deep green like an herbal infusion and had a strong alcohol nose, which worked well as an addition to herbal tea, but never felt quite right for that peppermint cream taste and aroma reminiscent of Bendicks Bittermints. So while it pains me to say it, we just needed something better.

We have done two things.  Firstly, we have put the organic peppermint extract on an organic sunflower oil base, rather than its previous alcoholic base, which has removed the strong boozy notes.  Secondly, we have sourced a good peppermint oil, whereas the previous version was more of an alcohol-peppermint infusion, which has dramatically improved both the aroma and taste.  It has all cost us a lot more in raw materials' costs, which we are absorbing for the moment by holding our prices for Steenbergs Organic Peppermint Extract until 2012.

I hope the improvement pleases everyone as much as it does us.  Also, as an aside, we welcome constructive criticism anytime as it was one of our loyal customers who kicked me into action to make this change that I had been thinking about for some time.

However, ff you need something stronger, then I would suggest a pure peppermint oil rather extract, which is even more potent, but as of yet we are not geared to packing little bottles of oils.  Summerdown do a good non-organic one, or Baldwins have an organic essential oil.

Two quick, easy and tasty uses of Steenbergs Organic Peppermint Extract are to be found in my next blog...

* I must confess that I was disappointed by the Summerdown Peppermint Tea that I have tried, even if it is better than Twinings.  There was a hint of sweetness to it that I did not expect; in fact, I felt that it had a spearmint taste to it that should not have been there and is not right in a peppermint tea.