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For the past month I’ve been experimenting with agar agar. Agar agar, a gelatinous substance derived from red algae, is popular in Asian desserts. It’s also used as a vegan alternative to gelatin. (While often used as a gelatin substitute, agar agar has a different texture and cooking properties – see cooking tips below.) The alcohol-free agar agar seen here was made with a Hibiscus and Mint herbal tea from Austin-based Nile Valley Herbs. The Hibiscus creates a lovely floral taste with a vibrant, all-natural red. The touch of mint and sugar provide a cool sweetness.

A few tips for making agar agar desserts from scratch:

  • Agar agar can be found at most Chinese grocery stores.
  • In my experience, alcohol prevents agar agar from setting. If anyone knows how to make boozy agar agar molds – please let me know!
  • Use 1-teaspoon agar agar for 2-cups liquid.
  • Using the 1-teaspoon to 2-cups of liquid ratio creates a stiff jelly, often too stiff to work with gelatin molds. Instead pour into a shallow pan, let cool, and cut into squares. To create a softer substance, increase liquid.
  • Agar agar sets faster than gelatin, and can set at room temperature.
  • Check out my other agar agar recipes: Blood Orange Agar Agar and Blackberry and Tea Agar Agar.

Recipe for 4-cups

  • 4 cups water
  • 4 hibiscus mint tea bags
  • ½ cup sugar (or to taste)
  • 2 teaspoons agar agar

In a medium bowl, pour 2 cups of boiling water over 4 tea bags. Let steep for 15-minutes, remove tea bags. In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the other 2 cups of water with sugar and agar agar. Boil for 15-minutes. Stir the boiling water with the tea. Pour into shallow pan to cool. Once set, cut into cubes.


The mojito is one of my favorite summer drinks. Sweet, sour, minty, and bubbly. Here I suspended strawberries and mint leaves for visual interest, and added blueberries to create a patriotic theme for 4th of July.

Making cocktail-based molds from scratch is a challenge! I finally decided to steep lime zest and mint leaves in a hot lime syrup (water, limes, sugar). The lime/mint combination tasted great, but I was heavy handed on the rum. Even my alcohol loving friends admitted it was strong.  A bit more practice and I’ll hopefully unlock the secret to cocktail-based gelatin molds.


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