This experiment is in progress; I will report back about the results.
Problem: I have three beds of mint and the first of them is in flower. All of them were getting tall and leggy and badly needed cutting.
Other problem: I love mint tea, but I have a hard time making it as strong as I like it.
After a little bit of looking around the internet, I saw several approaches to making herbal tea concentrates or flavored simple syrup. I decided to try an electric pressure cooker experiment.
I took my 8-quart Instant Pot vessel straight out to the garden and started cutting mint straight into the pot. What, I'm gonna wash my herbs? Hell no, it rained today, the leaves are clean and "better than organic", they're not unduly buggy, and they're all gonna get zapped with hot steam and then strained out. It will be fine.
I packed mint in the pot (not jumping up and down on it, but pressing it in firmly) until the pot was half full. Once I stopped pressing down, the mass of mint rebounded most of the way to the 2/3-full "max fill" line. You can just see the half-full mark if you squint:
Since the goal is a "weak simple syrup" flavored as strongly as possible with mint as possible, I added 2 quarts of water and 8 cups of sugar. That's a 1:1 water/sugar ratio by volume, making this a "weak" simple syrup that's the standard in the USA. (I'm too lazy to weigh my sugar to make the ration 1:1 by weight as it should be; I also don't need that much precision.) "Strong" or "rich" simple syrup is the bartending standard overseas, and has a 1:2 water/sugar ratio. But I am not doing this for sweetness; the sugar is primarily to stabilize the mint syrup for storage, so I don't need it super-sweet. This way I can use more syrup (get more mint flavor) before my beverages get too sweet.
I threw in one Lipton "Orange Pekoe" black tea bag (individual serving size, not the bigger "family sized" or "iced tea" bags) to provide a little bit of tannin, color, and body.
Based on various recipes and suggestions I found around the internet, I settled on pressure cooking it on the high-pressure setting for three minutes, followed by "natural release" (letting the pot come down to zero pressure over time without releasing any steam/volatiles) and then an overnight cooling/steeping process. That's underway now.
My plan is to strain the cool syrup off the spent vegetative matter and store it in quart jars or bottles. The internet always recommends keeping this sort of thing in the fridge for no more than a couple of weeks. You may can syrup if you want to keep it for longer than that.
I will report back tomorrow on how it worked and what adjustments I might make for next time.
Very cool and timely!
I have been considering the possibility of creating a mint beverage by packing chopped mint in sugar.
This pressure cooker/simple syrup method seems like it could work on other tea ingredients.
William, yes! I've had great luck using the method to make citrus syrups with citrus too old to be great for eating.
As for this experiment, right now it looks like an educational failure. I ended up with thin syrup that had a nice mint flavor but not as strong as I was hoping. Not useful enough to store in that quantity. Perhaps more mint, less water next time. Or another method to extract/concentrate the flavor.
Meanwhile for this batch I am boiling it down to about half its volume. If that goes as expected, I'll lose some flavor in the process, but I'll end up with a quart and a half of heavy/strong simple syrup that's green and at least vaguely minty, which I can use by the tablespoon in cocktails and to sweeten teas. At least the sugar I used won't go to waste.
And, indeed, I ended up with slightly less than two quarts of rich green thick somewhat minty syrup. I'm now wondering about making a batch of mint extract (alcohol based) and "enhancing" it. Home alchemy for the bored...
That looks great! We have had good luck with mint simple syrups just on the stovetop (and we are major users of pressure cookers. Two Instant Pots live side by side on our counter). As far as ratios go, the amount of mint was as much as we could fit in the pot. We also used a 2:1 sugar to water ratio, and were always pleased with the result. Strongly minty, but not quite as pleasingly dark as yours.
We have a book called The 12 Bottle Bar. The authors ran the experiment of how long simple syrups keep in the fridge. They found that 1:1 lasted a month, 2:1 lasted 2 months, and if they added a little vodka (I forget the exact amount), it lasted longer than they cared to keep going. Your mileage may vary.
Clay, shade, neighbor’s Norway maples.....we’ll work it out.
A lot of the compounds responsible for the "minty" flavor are ones that evaporate easily. You might find you can get a stronger flavor using methods that don't involve heat. Then, to make it into a syrup, make a syrup separately that is more concentrated than you want the final syrup to be, and mix it with your mint extract.
Personally, if I was looking to make a super-strong mint syrup, I'd start with a large wide-mouthed jar, either a quart or a half-gallon, and pack it as full as possible with mint. Use a tamper or a wooden spoon or something to bruise the mint as you pack it in. Add water to cover, then put the lid on and stick it in the fridge for 24 hours. Then strain, using a press to squeeze out as much juice as possible. A potato ricer makes a decent herbs press in a pinch.
Repeat the process with a fresh batch of mint, using the liquid from the first batch.
After the second pressing, the liquid should be very, very minty! Time to make the syrup part, using plain water and sugar. You'll add the mint after the syrup has cooled. Measure the mint liquid, you'll need that number.
The strength of the syrup depends on how concentrated you want the mintiness of the final syrup. For example, if you make the syrup 1:4, then mix 1 part syrup to 4 parts mint liquid, you should end up with a very minty 1:1 syrup at the end. Or you can make a less-concentrated syrup with a 1:2 simple syrup, and mix it with 1 part syrup and 2 parts mint. Use the amount of mint liquid to calculate how much syrup you'll need to make for your desired concentration.
(Please double-check my numbers. I'm having a dyslexic day and it's making math interesting.)
The above method works well with any water extraction that is sensitive to heat. Try it with flower syrups!
I also saw a suggestion elsewhere to extract minty goodness by chopping the mint and macerating it with dry sugar, letting it sit for awhile to absorb the oils from the mint. It seems to me that doing that with one batch of mint and then using the minty sugar in making the syrup with another batch of mint could help.
Dan Boone wrote:chopping the mint and macerating it with dry sugar, letting it sit for awhile to absorb the oils from the mint.
This is what I would try. Not sure about quantities, but I would smash up the mint, mix up well with sugar, and see what you get.
(it's a brilliant idea what you're doing- my mint is winter dormant now, I just pulled out the dry stems yesterday, but now I know what I'll be doing in the summer when I need to cut it back.)