The Traditional Mojito is a true classic cocktail, that when prepared correctly, you can taste the hard work of the artisan in every sip. Perfectly illustrating the phenotypic beauty of a hand-crafted cocktail, the Mojito is as visually pleasant to the eye as it is deliciously tasteful to the pallet. Thus, it is easy to see why when ordering the Mojito, one can quickly turn into two!
However, to thoroughly enjoy the Mojito, one must follow a scientific formula during preparation to ensure the perfect outcome. Within the confines of this popular cocktail lies true significance as to its preparation and ingredients. Both are equally important to the cocktail’s outcome and its flavorful profile. Prepared incorrectly, and the taste can be quite repugnant, leaving even an avid Mojito enthusiast regretting they ordered a Mojito in a restaurant or bar.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
Rum – 1.5 oz (60 ml) Light White Rum
Sugar – 2 tsp (8g) White Sugar
Lime – 1 tsp (Juice of ½ Lime)
Fresh Mint Leaves – 6 to 12
Gently muddle, using a wooden muddler, the mint leaves in the cocktail glass with the sugar and lime juice.
Fill the glass with ice.
Pour the Rum into the glass.
Fill with soda water and stir.
Garnish with Mint Leaves.
Preparing a Traditional Mojito is a journey. Although made with just five simple ingredients, when it is not prepared correctly, the result can be more like a science experiment gone wrong than a delicious cocktail. The time and a preparation involved cannot be over emphasized. When making a Mojito, patience is a virtue, and the resulting taste is a true measurement of the level of patience of the preparer.
But first, before analyzing the preparation and dissecting the ingredients of the cocktail, we must understand how the traditional Mojito came to fruition. The Mojito was the first cocktail to combine artistry and science. As craftsman-like as the Mojito cocktail is considered today, its original ingredients and origin may have been out of necessity. Much like the Daiquiri, a pleasant cocktail experience was likely not the initial sought outcome. According to legend, the Mojito has roots dating back to the 1500’s when Sir Francis Drake, an infamous Naval Captain who served under Queen Elizabeth the First’s flag, combined an unrefined rum called aguardiente with sugar, lime, and mint. He is said to have coined it, “El Draque” or “The Drake” (1). Like the Daiquiri’s inception, the concoction was likely developed to alleviate the effects of scurvy and dysentery. As Sir Francis Drake was using Cuba as an island base during this period of history, this is likely how the foundation of the drink was introduced to the Island, or the drink was introduced to the man. And while the origin of the name of the cocktail is up for much debate, the Mojito’s international acclaim owes much of its popularity to Ernest Hemingway, who was known to enjoy them at La Bodeguita del Medio, a local Cuban bar. James Bond in the 2002 movie, “Die Another Day,” likewise elevated the cocktail’s reputation when he ordered a Mojito instead of a martini. It is through these two pop culture icons’ appreciations for the Mojito that we are re-introduced to this muddled cocktail.
The technique of muddling used in the architecture of the Mojito is a true labor of love that has ties to ancient history. A wooden muddler is used to muddle the mint leaves to build the cocktail. The wooden muddler, which looks like a wooden dowel or a small baseball bat is a type of pestle. A pestle is a tool that has been around for thousands of years, used normally with a mortar in both food and medical applications for grinding spices, herbs, and medicines. In the world of cocktails, the first time a bartender used a wooden pestle to make a Mojito cocktail would be analogous to man discovering fire for the first time, and it would have been epic! Unfortunately, it is very easy to spoil a Mojito by over muddling, and this is the devil in the details why many of us have had a ghastly experience with the Mojito.
So why does over-muddling effect the taste of the Mojito? Unbeknownst to many, it has to do with mint, or Mentha, as it is known scientifically. There are over 20 different species of the genus Mentha and all of them contain chlorophyll and carotenoids which are phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are chemicals produced by plants that play a role in the biological activity, plant growth, and plant defense against competitors, pathogens, or predators (2). Simply look at a mint leaf and you will see plant veins containing chlorophyll and carotenoids which are known to be bitter tasting. In fact, during a recent study, Mentha spicata (spearmint), which is one of the more popular mint varieties used in the preparation of a Mojito, was found to have the highest content of carotenoids, compared to other species in the Mentha genus (3). Thus, when preparing the Mojito, many believe to release the aromatic compounds of the sought-after mint taste, that drilling the mint leaves with the wooden muddler is required. Violently shredding Mentha will release phytochemicals during the cocktail preparation process and irrevocably harm the flavor profile of the Mojito, not to mention allow for tiny pieces of mint to find their way in between your teeth when you drink the cocktail. Instead, to protect the scientific and artisanal integrity of the Mojito, only a couple gentle turns of the wooden pestle against the mint leaves are required to release the mint’s flavor.
Because the Mojito uses Light Rum which lacks a strong suite of esters, which are more common in heavier rums, the cocktail relies on other ingredients to give it is characteristic delectable taste. Lime Juice, Sugar, and Mint (Mentha) all play an integral role in the flavor profile of the Mojito. Through the act of muddling during the initial preparation of the cocktail, Lime Juice, Sugar, and Mint all react with one another. The use of Lime Juice, which is a significantly strong citric acid and key indicator of sourness, is balanced with the sweetening properties of sugar, much like in the Daiquiri. However, by adding Mint, menthol is introduced. Menthol is a terpene alcohol and is the main active ingredient of mint. In nature, Mentha produces menthol as a deterrent to insects to protect itself. However, when consumed by humans, menthol makes our mouths feel cool because menthol binds to and triggers the cold sensitive TPRM8 receptors in our months (4). Thus, it is imperative that gentle muddling is exercised to release this active chemical ingredient to ensure our Mojito’s taste cool and minty.
Mentha, specifically spearmint (Mentha spicata), one of the common base ingredients of the Mojito, possesses several biological activities that have been linked to folkloric medicine. It has been prescribed over the centuries as treatment for colds and upper-respiratory tract infections, as well as a treatment for stomach-aches. While there lacks true scientific evidence to support these uses of Mentha, the use of Mentha to enhance cocktails is well documented. While the use of Mentha in the Mojito distinguishes it nutritionally from its cousin, the Daquiri, the Mojito cocktail is a healthy cocktail containing only 205 calories per 8 oz (5).
(Amount Per 1 fl oz)
Total Fat: 0.01 g
Cholesterol: 0 mg
Potassium: 6.25 mg
Total Carbohydrates: 3.63 g
Dietary Fiber: 0.15 g
Sugar: 3.25 g
The traditional Mojito is a cocktail that has deep colonial roots and remained relatively unknown to the modern world until the 20th century. Prepared correctly and carefully, the Mojito is a refreshing cocktail, and the use of the wooden pestle in the preparation of the Mojito is a true testament of a bygone tool maintaining a timeless usage in a modern great cocktail.
- Behune, M. (2015). Cuba’s Finest Export: The Mojito. EATER. Retrieved from: https://www.eater.com/2015/10/16/9549971/mojito-history
- Molyneux, R., Lee, S., Gardner, D., Panter, K., and James, L. (2007). Phytochemicals: The good, the bad and the ugly? Phytochemistry. 68: 2973–2985.