How (I Failed) to Make Mint Extract @OmNomAlly | "This is supposed to be easy, right?"

How (I Failed) To Make Mint Extract

Alison Murray Dairy-free, DIY, Gluten-free, Kitchen Garden, Natural Living, Nut-free, Paleo, Recipes, Resources, Seasonings, Vegan, Vegetarian 8 Comments

How (I Failed) to Make Mint Extract @OmNomAlly | "This is supposed to be easy, right?"

Making flavouring extracts is supposed to be insanely easy, yet I’ve just wasted experimented with 2 bottles of vodka making mint extract recently.

It all started out well enough – I read a few blogs, gathered my ingredients and got about infusing my vodka. It’s easy stuff in theory, bruise a whole lot of fresh mint leaves to release those delightful oils, pack into a jar and fill up with vodka to infuse. Screw on the lid, store in a dark place and give it a gentle shake or inversion every now and then. After a few weeks, voila! Mint extract!

In fact there’s lots of bloggers out there who are enjoying their homemade mint extract right now (read these instructionals from Mommypotamus, The Prairie Homestead, Whole Natural Life, Healthy Green Kitchen and Crafting a Green World to see what inspired me to try this homemade mint extract). But I’m not one of them. It didn’t work for me. All I’ve got is a whole heap of frustration… and store-bought mint extract.

How (I Failed) to Make Mint Extract @OmNomAlly | "This is supposed to be easy, right?"

What happened?

I didn’t half-arse this homemade mint extract – it took four attempts before I finally threw in the towel. So what happened in each attempt to make it such a failure?

Problems of the first two attempts:

  1. Leaves above surface of vodka wilted, browned and rotted within 2 days. Ick.
  2. Used a little plastic baggie filled with water to keep leaves under the vodka. Seemed to be going okay for a few days but a couple of weeks mixture turned into a black/green sludge and smelled only mildly minty (but mostly like rotted, fruity water). GAG. Just look at that image below – this mint extract legitimately looks like pond water; it somewhat smells like it too!

Problems of the last two attempts:

  1. Followed this instructional that recommended only infusing mint leaves in the vodka for two days so it doesn’t go ‘black and bitter’. Yay, the leaves didn’t spoil! But BOO, no minty smell or taste in the extract.
  2. Decided to keep the extract longer and try out the advice here to persevere even if mixture going brown or black, then after a few weeks to put strained liquid in freezer to split oil/water off vodka. Nope. Smells and tastes sour and hardly minty at all.

I’m calling it, this is a complete fail. I give up. 

How (I Failed) to Make Mint Extract @OmNomAlly | "This is supposed to be easy, right?"

At least I’m not the only one feeling let down, as Isn’t Everything In The Kitchen A Trial And Error also felt they couldn’t get the process to work. I’m reading everywhere how easy this process is but, honestly, I don’t really know definitively what’s going on here.

Some potential problems I read about include:

  • Mint leaves not being aromatic enough – These bunches were from Kam’s work and they smell like you’re being punched in the face with mint!
  • Mint leaves not dry enough – This one could have been an issue as I washed my mint thoroughly to remove any grit, then spot checked for any discoloured or damaged areas and removed. After that the leaves were spun in a salad spinner and patted with paper towel to dry (for the first attempt), or dehydrated lightly until just dry (for the subsequent attempts).
  • Not leaving it to infuse long enough / infusing for too long – I saw recommendations from 2 days to 2 months listed, though none of my attempts within this time range seemed to work.
  • Using cheap quality vodka – I think we may have hit the nail on the head! I bought the cheapest vodka I could find for this recipe ($32 700ml/bottle) at the time,and the alcohol level is only 37.5%. I shouldn’t have cheaped out though, as in the end I wasted two whole bottles for a totally unusable extract. Next time I’ll splurge out for the good stuff, as you need at least 80 proof, like The Herbal Spoon recommends!
  • The weather being too hot in my location – While most instructions for homemade mint extract stated that it should be done at room temp in a dark spot (or some in the sunshine…. noooo!), I found a comment that on a blog post that suggested doing the process in the fridge. While it would definitely take longer, the process would also reduce the amount of spoilage of the leaves themselves. This one piques my interest and I may do a follow up to explore this (while also using much better quality vodka!).

How (I Failed) to Make Mint Extract @OmNomAlly | "This is supposed to be easy, right?"

What are your experiences with homemade extracts? What could I have done differently to make it work?
xx Ally

Comments 8

  1. Whenever you make a liquid extract like this, be it with alcohol or oil or vinegar, your enemy is air. AIR=MOLD.
    Chop up your leaves, say in a food processor, to break open as many cell walls (where the oils hide) as possible and scrape into your jar. Or just put in the jar and cut, cut, cut with kitchen scissors. But really break it up.
    (You can even add some of the extracting liquid to the food processor to make the whole thing into a more manageable mass.)
    Fill the CLEAN jar 3/4 to mostly full of FRESH plant material- drying destroys lots of oils (one major exception is rosemary, it somehow gets stronger).
    Then fill the jar TO THE BRIM with the extracting liquid. Grab a chopstick and gently stir/prod/release any potential air bubbles and REFILL till it’s really at the brim. When you cap, some may run over. That’s ok.
    (Oil will eat away at plastic and vinegar will eat metal so cover them with parchment paper first. Vodka and other alcohols are inert so they can touch the cap.)
    Removing the air removes the ability to rot/spoil/turn nasty. Using fresh plant material introduces water so make sure you use at least 100 proof alcohol, or use some heat with oil infusions (windowsills can get warm enough. Uncap regularly to let pressure out.) Vinegar only come in 1 strength but are generally OK.
    Things can still go wrong, so don’t use anything that looks or smells nasty.

    1. Post

      Lots of great information here Paula! Thank you so much for your in depth information and troubleshooting 🙂 I definitely agree about air being a big problem, the leaves were absolutely spoiling in the jar (hence the colour and the off smell).
      I think my other issue was the infusing liquid itself. Next time I attempt this extract I’ll have to spend up big and get the strongest proof vodka I can get (which is still only about 80 or so), or ‘Spiritus’ which seems to be the only 100 proof we can get in Australia (and is very, very hard to find at that).

  2. I’m sorry your efforts didn’t work, but am always glad when people share details of things that don’t work out for them! It helps us all feel better about our own kitchen fails, but is also so helpful to be able to find details of things that don’t work if you are searching for advice on (eg) making mint extract. You tried hard, so enjoy the store bought stuff 🙂

    1. Post

      I really like to hear about the less-than-perfect results too Kari! I’m always wanting to know the good and bad of different processes – recipes for fermenting are never an exact science for example – and it usually takes a few tries of something new until you get the hang of it.
      I’ll definitely savour this supermarket mint extract now!

  3. I haven’t tried to make mint extract and I’m surprised to hear what can potentially go wrong! Yikes! Thanks for sharing your experience – it definitely helps (and makes me feel better about my own, many fails haha!)

    1. Post

      I was actually surprised by how wrong it really could go! I think I’ve given up on this one – normally I stubbornly push through a fail until it works, but I think I’ve had it with the mint extract flavouring for now haha

  4. I have only made vanilla extract, but I’ve wanted to branch out and try to make other extracts so I really appreciate your post. I have always used the cheapest vodka I could find and made sure it is 80 proof and I have never had a problem. I shake my jar once or twice a day and let it infuse about three months before using, and I never remove the beans. I have left it for over a year adding more vodka when it got low and it has been just fine, even when the liquid became lower than the beans. But I did refill it and try to keep them submerged when I had vodka on hand. Love making my own extract, I used to run out so fast and hated having to purchase it three or four times a year.

    1. Post

      It’s funny you say that Bethany – I’ve always used the cheapest Vodka for my vanilla extract (as vodka can be REALLY expensive!) and I’ve never come across these issues before. It must have been the plant material in the mint version going off; I was just unprepared for how different the outcome was. So frustrating!
      I think I’m going to have a crack at making your vanilla extract now, I like the idea of leaving the beans in and topping up the liquid continually. I’ve always removed and dried the beans for powder in the past, so I love the idea of having a perpetual supply!
      Thanks so much for the comment 🙂

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