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Watermint



Mint is almost as widespread as mankind itself - with representative species in all continents except Antartica. There are citrus scented mints (Bergamot mint), apple or pineapple scented mint,  and even a chocolate mint (a type of peppermint, really). In her book Fragrant - The Secret Life of Scent, author Mandy Aftel praises mint's homely qualities, and how it can be not only grown everywhere but also used in family recipes books called "Books of Secrets". I have many recipes in my own "Book of Secrets" that incorporate mint in this form or another: my first tea blend, for example, which was inspired by the Charisma perfume and the beautiful herbs that grew on the footsteps of my cottage in the Galil (lemon verbena, spearmint and lemongrass) combined with jasmine green tea are the brew to inspire dreams and happiness. Likewise, a more earthy and rustic brew of cinnamon sticks and wild, medicinal white mint can always be found in my mother's spice shelf, and if you're lucky she'll also have some of her own home-made pickles, which she beautifully serves on a tray with crackers and aged cheese, blanched almonds and whichever other dried fruits or nuts from her pantry. Each home has its own secrets, after all...

What gives mint its refreshing aroma and cooling sensation is a molecule called menthol. In its pure form, menthol has the consistency of white crystals in room temperature. When mixed with all the other elements of peppermint oil the appearance would be liquid. But this winter, temperatures in my studio plummeted, and my peppermint oil (and several others, including ginger lily CO2 and rose otto) have radically crystallized. It certainly is amusing, but makes working with the oils a bit cumbersome in the winter months.

It is interesting to note that menthol from natural origin (that which is found in countless mint varieties), as well as the leaves of pelargonium (AKA geranium) is different than that which is synthetically produced and in used profusely in the flavour industry - in anything from soft beverages, liquors, candy, bubble gum, toothpaste and other medicinal preparations. It is a very subtle difference, but nevertheless noticeable. Natural menthol is the isomer d-menthol, while the synthetic one is l-menthol. There is also a subtle difference that can be detected by discerning noses - it has a more metallic, cold quality than the (natural) d-menthol.

Most mint oils for the flavour industry are rectified in order to remove some of the grassy components, as well as the bitter-tasting component menthone. They are also more stable this way, resulting in a water-free, and colourless liquid (the water content can spoil the oil). Different mints have different molecular contents.
For example: peppermint has mostly menthol (29-48% or even more in some teroir), mention (20-31%), menthyl acetate, menthofuran, limonene, pulegone and cineol.
Spearmint has a significantly different chemical makeup, containing as much as 50-70% L-carvone, which gives it its characteristically warm mint-like character, as well as dihydrocarvone, phellandrene, limonene, mention, menthol, pulegone, cineol, linalool and pinene - which add a sweeter, more refreshing and complex aroma to spearmint. 
Lastly, Japanese mint (AKA Cornmint) has an even higher menthol content (70-95%), menthone (10-20%), pinene, methyl acetate, isomenthone, thujone, phellandrene, piperitone and menthofuran. The menthol is usually removed, because that would make it solid at room temperature!

Peppermint oil is the most versatile and useful of all three for aromatherapy, medicinal and flavour purposes. The oil can be mixed with a fixed oil and then rubbed on the belly to relieve stomach ache, can be added to smelling salts or to lavender and rosemary oils to relieve headache, and also added to cough drops and syrups to soothe sore throat. Spearmint is less potent medicinally, and is used as a milder, gentler substitute for young children. It also has more versatile use in soaps, colognes, sweets and soft drinks etc.

Peppermint (Mentha piperita), one of the most popular of all mints, is in fact a cross between
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) and Watermint (Mentha aquatica), the mint that grows wild on the banks of brooks and creeks in Europe and the Middle East. There are countless hybrids of mint, as the species spontaneously cross-fertilize (something to keep in mind when growing them in your garden - if you are interested in keeping a particular type of mint and maintaining its qualities), creating many new varieties with subtle flavour and aroma differences. 



As far as its limited perfume use goes - I've enjoyed working with peppermint in an eau de cologne formulation to add a distinctively cooling effect; and with spearmint in Charisma - one of my favourite perfumes, where the refreshing coolness of spearmint is contrasted by sensuous jasmine and precious woods. I also used spearmint in a OOAK perfume that was inspired by the quiet afternoon teas with my Moroccan grandmother - alongside rose, anise and almond notes.

When visiting in Israel this month, we spent a blessed day in the wild hiking with my brother, sister in law, her parents and my two nieces. To call it hiking is an overstatement - because we followed the pace of my 3 year old niece, and the trail was a very easy, relaxing one. Which allowed us to fully appreciate the beautiful scenery. Snailing along between the old growth oaks and the flowery meadows was a most relaxing way to spend a Friday afternoon and pay attention to the versatility of flowers in bloom in all colours of the rainbow. 


Towards the end of the day, we stopped at Tzippori creek for a little impromptu outdoors tea party. We picked wild mint that grew along the banks - probably Silver mint (Mentha sylvestris), AKA Horse mint (Mentha longifolia). We brewed a simple tisane, and enjoyed it with fruit and nuts, plus chocolate bars that a generous Bedouin woman who picnicked with her family under the eucalyptus down the stream offered us - perhaps as a prize for the girls for being able to so bravely cross the step-stone bridge. If you've been following SmellyBlog for long enough, you'll know by now that this is not the first time I experience an outdoors tea party with my brother. It's never too much of an ordeal for him to carry in his backpack a small propane burner and a kettle, and brew on the spot wild herbs we find on the way - white mint (Micromeria fructose), sage, or whatnot. Worse case scenario, there is always some black coffee in his backpack to cook a strong cup of Turkish coffee.  



White mint (in Hebrew we call it Zuta Levana, in Arabic it is called Isbat Il Shai - meaning tea herb) can be found in the east Mediterranean countries: Israel, Lebnon, Turkey and the Balkans) is a precious wild herb most valued for its fine aroma as well as its medicinal properties. In folk medicine and herbalism it is used to reduce stomach pain, and also is considered helpful in reducing blood pressure, as well as colds, flu and coughing. It is especially fantastic when combined with cinnamon, for a warming and sweet-tasting tea in the cold winter months. It dries very well, maintaining its delicate flavour very well. It is reminiscent of both spearmint and hyssop in flavour - fresh yet a little warm and spicy as well. The fresh leaves are fantastic when paired with citrusy herbs such as lemongrass and lemon verbena, as well as pelargonium.

Are there any wild mint varieties growing in your area? Or any other wild herbs you an brew as tea on your next hiking trip? 

Fresh Charisma

Lemon Verbena by Ayala Moriel
Lemon Verbena, a photo by Ayala Moriel on Flickr.
After a long retirement, my teas are finally being gradually re-stocked. It's been a long journey - and I'm still walking the last few steps of it - getting all my ducks in a row so to speak. Tea blending is a whole other world, and its similarities to perfume development are also the culprit of this endeavor. Tea requires TIME. Time to source, evaluate, steep, re-steep, take notes, blend, make errors, re-blend, steep, re-steep, re-steep again... You get my drift.

As for Charisma tea, the formula or recipe was developed long time ago. In fact, it was the first tea I've designed by myself. The challenge now was acquiring lemon verbena. I'm a bit sentimental, but I am incredibly partial to the lemon verbena that grows in my home village of Clil. I've told you about it and how much I enjoyed the fresh leaves this summer. Whenever possible, I prefer to source from small grower and harvesters, or harvest myself. Verbena only grows in the summer, and is dried late summer and early fall. Which means that once the supplies run out, you'll have to wait another full year to enjoy it again.

This is true to most if not all tea types. Some are harvested only once a year (such as the white teas), and therefore once they're sold out, it requires taking the product off the shelves for a while. This is perfectly fine by me, and part of the beauty of nature's cycles. However, it did take me a bit of time to learn these cycles - and I still am learning. Which means that my teas are not available year-around, but only while quantities last and until the next harvest is ready.

The other ingredients in Charisma also had to be top quality: fragrant jasmine sambac tea, organic spearming, and the most luscious, apricot-y and velvety osmanthus blossoms available.

I love the new packaging for my teas, and each tin holds different weight of each tea (but the volume is, roughly 2oz). Some leaves are larger and looser than others (i.e.: the silver needle that makes most of Zangvil tea), and some are more dense (i.e.: Immortelle l'Amour, which is based on rooibos tea, is like tiny packed red twigs).

I'll be releasing more teas as the winter holidays approach and the packaging is ready for my full collection to be re-instated: Charisma, Immortelle l'Amour, Roses et Chocolate and Zangvil.

And next year, prepare to enjoy some more innovative teas, some featuring wild-harvested botanical from the Pacific Northwest rainforests!

Amaluna

Untitled by kivellotephotography
Untitled, a photo by kivellotephotography on Flickr.
Every once in a while, I owe myself a visit to the circus. It doesn't only wake up the sleepy towns in Carnivale, but also the soul: bringing unsurfaced fantasies into the mundane and awakening the never-ending quest for more. And so I found myself at Cirque de Soleil's newest performance Amaluna last night, amazed at the commitment and dedication that each moment of the show requires from a host of artists - off and on stage.

The show surrounds the moon and it's fluctuating cycles, battles between fire and water, and the constant quest for love despite obstacles. One of my favourite scenes was the balancing act of sticks shaped like prehistorical bones, floating in space in a breath-stopping, slow-motion spin (pictured above).

The morning after, I pulled out my sample of Eva Luna that Charna from Providence Perfume Company kindly sent me at the end of 2012: a sheer concoction surrounding two unlikely partners: carrot seed and jasmine. Both related to the moon (as most aromatic seeds and white flowers are), it just seemed befitting to wear after the show.

Eva Luna begins with the jasmine being far more prominent than the carrot, paired with watery spearmint note. Bright, sheer and beautiful, it soars above the skin like a seagull from the water. The carrot seed whispers in the background with warmth anchored by the muskiness of ambrette seeds. Chased with a fresh yet sweet amber and frankincense accord, Eva Luna is unexpectedly easy to wear, more of a summery daylight scent than a lunar orchestra.

Morrocan Ice Tea


Ice Tea, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

A refreshing way to get just a little energetic boost is to prepare your own ice tea concentrate. It makes a great cooling beverage and your guests will be grateful to be greeted that way after they made their way to you in the heat.

1/2 Liter boiling water
2 tsp. Darjeeling tea
2-4 Tbs. raw cane sugar (depending on how sweet you'd like your ice tea)
6 sprigs of fresh spearmint, rinsed and dried (use a lettuce drier or let to drip dry on a towel)
Cold water
Ice cubes

For the
Steep the tea leaves in the water for 5 minutes. Add sugar, stir well and add 4 sprigs of fresh spearmint. Let cool and remove the spearmint sprigs before storing in the refrigerator.

To prepare the ice tea:
In a large glass pitcher, mix together half of the ice tea concentrate and fill the rest with cold water and ice cubes. Stir well and add a few fresh spearmint leaves before serving.

Mojito, Jalapenos & Chocolate


Jalapeno Chocolate, originally uploaded by Ayala Moriel.

On the hottest day of the year, I've made the crucial mistake of making chocolate truffles. And not just any truffles, truffles that are stuffed into hot peppers! Where did I get this idea? I've wintessed, in some crazy birthday party of a friend, people pouring tequila into halved jalapenos and after drinking the burning liquor, chewing up on the entire pepper! Being neither a fan of jalapenos nor tequila, I've decided to adopt the idea and make something that is not for a faint-of-heart like me. And I've decided to add some mojito flavours to the mix...

The biggest problem is that the truffles melt in your fingers before even going through 1/4 way into the batch...

Well, aside from the meltage factor, the crucial mistake turned out quite good, actually. I've made two experimental batches - both with dark chocolate. I've split the ganache into half, so I can make two flavours and not have too many truffles at hand... This proves to be quite detrimental to the balanced diet I try to maintain on a daily basis - unless I make sure I have company every single evening...

Both batches had a bit of vanilla extract and rum added to them:

Jalapeno Truffles:
First batch was flavoured with lime and spearmint essential oils. Some of it I've stuffed into those green hot peppers (these are actually not jalapenos, because I couldn't find small enough jalapenos. Instead, I've used the hotter than fire serano peppers... Ouch!). They are topped with very thinly sliced fresh and sweet lime.
The result?
If you're like me (meaning: don't mind some spiciness but don't seek the fire-hot sensation on your tongue), you may not want to bite into the pepper itself (unless you belong to the other kind of people). You may just want to scoop out the chocolate. After chilling in the fridge for several hours, the chocolate have absorbed enough hotness to satisfy me. The strange (in a good way) thing is: this combination, along with the pepper, tastes a lot like fig! I don't know why, but it certainly does.

The remaining of the batch, I've turned into "normal" truffles, which were very minty and quite delightful. Espeically if you love mint. The lime was in the background, quite quiet...

Lavender & Nutmeg Truffles
The second batch was where the real surprise was. This is the first time I'm making truffles with no perfume inspiration behind them, yet the result was immensely perfumey! Some kind of mysterious alchemy is going on there. The nutmeg I've used is nutmeg absolute, which is well-rounded and full bodied, smoother and sweeter than the nutmeg essential oil. The lavender is lavender Mailette from France, which is very floral and light. The two notes, along with chocolate, clash to create a very peculiar flavour that feels so familiar... I'm transported to the Wadi where my friend Zohar used to live, yet I can't say if it's her house that I'm smelling or if its a particular wild herb that I can't recognize, in the midst of the wadi... Either way, I'm enjoying these immensely. They are floral, exotic, unusual, strange, yet the flavour is very harmonious. I can't believe I'm saying it, but think these are my favourite truffles so far!

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