Mint was never my favorite flavoring. In fact I find mint a highly ironical flavor. It leaves a polar storm in the mouth and stupefies the tastebuds, such that every successive mouthful becomes increasingly vapid and tasteless.
How does this funny effect come about? Menthol is a monocyclic alcohol extracted from the peppermint plant Mentha arvensis and used in a wide range of products such as confectionary, candy, toothpastes, vaporubs and aromatherapy inhalations. It acts on the cold-sensitive Trpm8 ion channel receptors and upon activation, Trpm8 allows the entry of sodium and calcium ions into the cell that leads to depolarization and generation of an action potential. The signal is conducted from primary afferents eventually leading to the sensation of cold. Apart from chemical ligands such as menthol, Trpm8 is also activated by innocuous cold (8°C to 26°C). To establish this, mutant mice without the Trpm8 protein became almost entirely insensitive to cold temperatures and menthol. Some people may enjoy the cooling and numbing sensation of mint as it relates to a refreshing perception.
Despite my cool reception to mint, I had purchased a bottle of peppermint extract from iHerb recently to explore flavor extracts beyond vanilla and almond. A right opportunity came along to test it out in create-your-own ice-cream exercise for the Matthew Kenney Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine. Chocolate Chip Mint ice cream, here we come!
The basic elements of an ice cream are fats, sweetener, emulsifier, and air.
Fats make the base and they are paramount for richness, smoothness and density. Vegan ice creams usually are made with one or more combinations of the following fat bases: coconut milk, coconut meat or soaked nuts, preferably cashews in favor of its neutral taste.
Sweeteners contribute to sweetness and also lowers the freezing point of the ice cream to reduce that icky deplorable rock hard iciness. Types of sweeteners include maple syrup, agave, yacon, coconut nectar and honey.
Emulsifiers help to bind fats and other liquids together and improves stability of the ice cream mixture through their hydrophilic and lipophilic properties. Emulsifiers include lecithin and xanthan gum (to some extent).
Air greatly affects texture, volume and mouthfeel. The term overrun indicates how much air an ice cream acquires during churning, as a result of air bubbles becoming trapped by the fat. Emulsifiers encourage higher overrun. Typical overrun for ice cream is between 50-100 percent and for sorbet 30-40 percent. While overrun is desirable, too much dilutes the flavor and produces an undesirable, overly airy flavor. This is why premium brands have their levels at lower range, and economy products contain significantly more. Home ice cream machines are not as powerful as commercial ones. One tip to maintain air is to be careful NOT to pack the ice cream down when transferring to an ice cream container or you will eliminate the fluffiness that helps make for a smoother texture.
This mint ice cream carried a cashew and coconut meat base and was lightly sweetened with honey. I omitted the emulsifier as I did not have lecithin on hand. The mint flavor was very strong, which may be mistaken for ice cold toothpaste if a blind test was conducted. I used Herb Pharm peppermint spirits which I believe is highly concentrated. For additional color I added basil and spirulina powder but they do not add to the taste. Since chocolate sauce was on the side, I dipped fresh mint leaves from the garden in excess sauce for garnish. Crunchy and bitter cacao nibs provided contrast against the cool background.
The ice cream is best scooped and enjoyed 5-10 minutes thawed. It is slightly harder than regular ice cream.
- ½ cup cashews, soaked
- ¼ cup young coconut meat
- ½ cup coconut water
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon basil juice
- 1¾ tablespoon honey
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- ½ teaspoon spirulina
- ¾ teaspoon peppermint extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- Cacao nibs
- Fresh mint leaves
- Melted dark chocolate
- Blend all ingredients in your blender or food processor on high until very smooth. Pour into ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturers instructions. Transfer the mixture to an ice cream machine and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Remove and store in a bowl in the freezer for at least an hour and up to a week.
- (No ice cream maker method) Pour the mixture out onto a shallow tray and place in the freezer. After two hours or when almost frozen, churn the mixture in the food processor to incorporate air and lightness. Repeat twice. Store ice cream in the freezer in an air-tight container, preferably with plastic wrap over the surface to reduce ice crystal formation.
- Serve with chocolate coated mint leaves and cacao nibs, if desired.