I love experimenting in the kitchen. My mother taught me to cook when I was quite young, and since she liked to try new things in the kitchen, I guess it rubbed off on me. The latest thing I’ve been playing around with is infused simple syrups. I already knew how to make a simple syrup, so all I needed to figure out was exactly how to infuse it with my herb of choice! Since we have a lot of mint growing in containers, I decided to start by making a mint infused simple syrup.
For my first attempt, I chose a variety of spearmint called ‘Mint Julep’ that has a strong and characteristic spearmint flavor. I gathered a handful (3 or 4 sprigs) of this mint and give it a quick rinse. For the sugar I used some organic turbinado sugar, which I thought would give the syrup a nice flavor and color. I combined equal parts of sugar and water (1 cup each) in a small saucepan and brought it up to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Then I added my mint and stirred it in the sugar water mixture until it was covered. I removed it from the heat, covered the pan, and let it steep for about 30 minutes.
After steeping, I poured the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a glass jar, then refrigerated. Once it had cooled down, I began experimenting with using the syrup. It was great mixed in with some sliced strawberries for dessert. And it made a lovely iced mint flavored sweet tea. If I were still imbibing, I am thinking you could mix it with rum for a killer mojito.
I enjoyed the mint simple syrup so much I decided to try making one with lavender. My wife is the queen of lavender around here, and she grows several different varieties and dries the flowers for later use. Melissa is a pinkish-white flowered English lavender variety we grow that is supposed to be great for culinary uses. So I made another syrup that was infused with some of our 2012 dried Melissa lavender. I used 4 tbsp. of dried lavender in the syrup, using the same amount of sugar and water (1 cup each) and the same basic method. For comparison, I also made a syrup using some dried Provence lavender.
Tasting the lavender infused syrups was quite interesting. There was a definite difference between the Melissa and Provence versions. While the Provence syrup was stronger, it also had a pronounced aftertaste, no doubt due to the camphorous components in the essential oils of this Lavendin (L. x intermedia) variety. Overall the Melissa version tasted much better. In the future I think I will stick to varieties of English Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) like Hidcote, Munstead or our Melissa.
Of course, mint and lavender aren’t the only two herbs that can be infused in a simple syrup. Rosemary sounds like another interesting option, as does basil. Just this week our friend Mary was telling me about a strawberry basil sweet tea she had tasted recently, and that was sweetened with a basil infused simple syrup. I also found recipes for strawberry basil sorbet. I am thinking the possibilities for herbal infused syrups are limited only by the imagination! Lemongrass and lemon verbena are two more candidates for infusing. I can see them working well with fruits.
I will keep on experimenting with herbal infused syrups, and I would like to try infusing some honey when we have some of our 2013 crop harvested. So what about all of you out there, have you made or tasted herb infused simple syrups? If so, I’d like to hear all about it!