Experiment #2: Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream – Fresh Mint Leaves vs Mint Extract

Mmm…Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.

Many of us share fond memories with the stuff from when we were children, although I remain uncertain as to why this is such a childhood favorite. Perhaps its the simple but refreshing flavor of the mint with the added bonus of chocolate chips that causes kids’ taste buds to tingle. In any case, while working at an ice cream shop for the past few months, I’ve noticed that Mint Chocolate Chip is a favorite not just among children, but also among adults.

Although most people seem to love it anytime/anywhere, there remain some disagreements about the manner in which the mint flavor should be incorporated into the ice cream. There are generally 2 camps when it comes to Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream: those who prefer the use of mint extract, and those who would rather the use of fresh mint leaves. Its actually pretty fascinating to see peoples’ different reactions to our Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream at the shop, which is made by steeping fresh mint leaves into the ice cream base. Some people think its the best they’ve ever had, while others would prefer to go pick up their favorite store-bought ice cream that is undoubtedly made with mint extract. Children can typically pick up on the difference between the two types of ice cream as well – especially if all they’ve ever known is the store-bought mint extract-laden stuff.

Of course, nobody is wrong in their preference, since it is just a preference that is a combination of childhood nostalgia and actual physical differences in our tasting abilities.

Nonetheless, I’ve decided to pit these two versions of Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream against each other so that I could see (uhhh and taste) the differences between them for myself. Since I typically don’t have access to both versions of the ice cream at one time, I decided to make them both for myself for both a fair and easy side-by-side comparison.

I used the same exact recipe for making both ice cream bases, but when making the mint extract version I substituted the mint leaves step in the recipe with the amount of mint extract prescribed in this recipe.

Here’s my step-by-step procedure:

Please see the photos/descriptions below. It makes the most sense to follow along with the recipe while looking at my photos.

Observations and Stuff I Learned

Cook the ice cream base slower and lower:

Cooking the ice cream base (after combining cream/milk/mint with eggs/sugar) resulted in a very chunky mix – lots of solids were filtered out by the sieve compared to the vanilla ice cream I made last time. I may have cooked it too fast on too high of a heat (it did not quite reach 170ºF, but the custard had already thickened a lot so I stopped cooking it). Even with filtering, the mix that was placed in the fridge overnight was very thick. Next time, I plan to cook it using a lower heat (medium-low), aiming to reach the 170ºF temperature over a period of 15-20 mins.

The more salt on the ice, the merrier:

Last time (also the first time) I made ice cream by hand, I messed up during the churning process by not putting salt in the ice bowl. This caused the ice cream to not freeze at all during the 45 mins in which it was in the freezer between churning sessions. This time, I made sure to use plenty of salt, so the mix was a lot colder during initial whisking. After sitting in the freezer for 45 mins, much of the mix was pretty frozen (mostly on the bottom and sides of the container). It took some very serious whisking to get it mixed together. In retrospect, I should have used a spoon to loosen the frozen bits from the wall of the bowl and mix them in with the rest (I did this later).

Melting the chocolate worked great:

In terms of the chocolate, the double boiler that I put together worked excellently. I used a 3 qt mixing bowl for the chocolate, which sat on top of a small saucepan that was filled ¼ to the top with water. I first brought the water to a bowl, and then I put the mixing bowl w/ chocolate on top of the pot. There were a few inches of space between the boiling water and the bottom of the mixing bowl, which is ideal for double boiling – you want to heat the top bowl with steam, not direct-contact boiling water. The chocolate/canola oil mixture took maybe 2 mins to melt completely, and I stirred it frequently to ensure the oil and chocolate were well combined.

I need a third hand:

It would have been nice to have one person whisking the ice cream while another person poured in the chocolate. However, I poured a little bit of chocolate in at a time and whisked/mixed it for a minute until all the chocolate was used, and this worked okay. The chocolate formed into nice little chips, and they get nice and hard during freezing.

I prefer smaller ice cream storage containers

Instead of storing the ice cream in the freezer in the mixing bowl, I poured/scraped the ice cream into two 2-cup tupperware containers. The smaller container size allowed the ice cream to freeze faster, which prevented ice crystals from growing too large.

The ice cream started solidifying very nicely after being in the freezer for about an hour. I then checked it again at the 10 hour mark, and it was a pretty nice consistency. Much better than the Vanilla that I made last time, as it had a much more consistent structure throughout (more ideal ice crystallization). It could still be a bit creamier though, so I’ll have to troubleshoot that!

Which ice cream wins?

The one made with fresh mint leaves or the one made with mint extract??

Both ice creams were really delicious (I know that’s not a real answer)…

I personally prefer the ice cream made with the fresh mint leaves, and my sister-in-law agrees. It has such a fresh, herby flavor to it. The mint extract ice cream tastes a little bit too oily for my preference.

However my girlfriend and my brother both prefer the ice cream made with mint extract. They think the fresh mint leaves bring too strong of a flavor, saying that it tastes like you’re biting into a mint leaf. It also nostalgically brings them back to the Mint Chocolate Chip ice creams that they ate during childhood, which undoubtedly were made with mint extract.

We all agreed that perhaps the two approaches for making the ice cream could be merged, resulting in a delicious Super Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream that would please every palette by bringing fresh mint leaves together with mint extract.

Perhaps this will be a future experiment…

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