Huacatay (also known as cream of black mint) is a popular herb, widely used as an essential ingredient in Peruvian food. It’s a Peruvian staple because of its aromatic and robust flavor. Huacatay is an important ingredient in potato dishes and it’s used to make ocopa sauce.
Ocopa is a smooth sauce that’s served hot or as a dressing. Additionally, you can use this tasty herb for flavoring fruit juices and adding a mint-like flavor to drinks. Serve huacatay leaves with barbeque, or chicken, or it can be cooked in soups or curries.
You can use dried huacatay leaves for seasoning purposes that give unique and regional flavor to local dishes. It is not easy to find a huacatay substitute because of its unique flavor profile.
In this post, you’ll learn what huacatay tastes like and 4 unique substitutes that will provide a similar amazing taste to your foods.
What are the Health Benefits of Huacatay?
Huacatay contains Ocimene which is a terpene that has various health benefits. The herb is an excellent source of antioxidants, iron, potassium, and calcium.
You can use dry or fresh huacatay leaves to make a tea that prevents inflammation. Furthermore, the herb can deal with respiratory problems like the common cold and even asthma.
The herb can also be concentrated into an oil that can assist with:
- Stomach cramps
- Intestinal parasites
- Skin rashes
If you live in a region that has plenty of insects such as mosquitos or pests such as bats, a bunch of fresh huacatay is said to repel them. Eating fresh leaves can help with various ailments such as muscle cramps and discomfort.
What is the Flavor Profile of Huacatay?
To find a proper substitute for huacatay you must know exactly what the flavor profile of this herb is. You can then make foods that have a similar taste to huacatay. One of the reasons people love to cook with huacatay is because it has a unique flavor such as:
- Sweet basil
When the leaves are cut you’ll also notice a distinct scent of citrus, cilantro and licorice. Experts say that huacatay is more closely related to marigolds than to mint but it does have a strong mint fragrance and taste.
Huacatay Characteristics – What it Looks Like
Since huacatay is rare outside of South America you may not know what to look for when you go shopping. It’s a fairly small plant with pointy leaves with tiny yellow and green flowers.
The leaves are a glossy green and when the flowers are cut it produces a strong scent because it contains essential oil. The leaves grow on a long stem that can easily be cut. These huacatay plants grow in large bushes in coastal and jungle regions in Peru.
What is Huacatay Used For?
One of the advantages of huacatay is that it’s a versatile herb that you can make various dishes. Here are popular ways you can use this beneficial herb.
If you’re suffering from inflammation, an upset stomach or you have a parasite infection then huacatay tea is the best remedy. Simply boil fresh leaves in a pot and then pour the liquid into a cup. Sip on your tea or pour it into a bottle to preserve it for later.
One of the most popular ways to use the huacatay herb is by making a lovely green salsa sauce. You can then use this sauce to pour over salads or dip chicken strips into it. As mentioned before, huacatay is also used to make ocopa that can be poured over crispy baked potatoes.
You can use fresh huacatay leaves as a garnish for meats, soups or pasta. The fragrant leaves will transfer a slight flavor to your dish but it won’t be as strong. Make your garnish decorative by folding the leaves in various ways to place them neatly on top of your food.
If you want to add an interesting and unique flavor to your soups then chop some huacatay into your mixture. Three to four leaves can add a burst of flavor to your soups. What’s more, since huacatay has medicinal properties making huacatay soup is the best way to remedy a cold.
Huacatay has a unique spicy flavor and fragrance that’s perfect for curries. You can either chop the leaves and throw them into your curry or you can make a paste with a pestle and mortar. Use the paste on your bread before dipping it into your curry.
- Lamb Sauce
Mint or pesto is usually placed with lamb shanks. But if you want a spicier and citrus flavor, you can make a paste out of your huacatay leaves and drizzle it over your meat. You can add lemon juice to your paste and salt and pepper to taste.
Can You Grow Huacatay in Your Garden?
If you have a green thumb and you live in a hot climate then you can possibly grow huacatay at home. To grow the seeds you need rich soil and constant sun exposure. The benefit of growing this plant at home is that it’s resistant to pests and deer.
The huacatay plant will grow much faster and taller if you have an irrigation system but it’s possible to maintain the plant without it. You’ll find that growing the plant is effortless if it’s grown in the right environment.
However, huacatay seeds may be difficult to come by especially because the plant is native to South America. You’ll then need an alternative herb to make your favorite foods.
It is rare to find huacatay outside South America and sometimes it’s not even available after its growth season ends. If you can’t find huacatay but you still want its unique flavor in your foods, then try one of the following four substitutes.
The taste of cilantro is similar to Huacatay because of its herbaceous nature and citrus flavor. Various cuisines use these herbs extensively. Cilantro is easily available in grocery stores in America and Western Europe.
Thus, we recommend Cilantro as a substitute because of its easy availability. Similar to huacatay, cilantro has many benefits. It helps reduce anxiety and improves mental health. But most importantly, the flavor profile of cilantro and huacatay is extremely close.
Hence why they are used to substitute each other in recipes, especially for those with an aversion to either one.
Muna belongs to the Lamiaceae family. It’s also an aromatic and flavorful plant. This herb has a similar fragrance and taste to mint, rosemary, or oregano. Muna can be used as an ingredient for soups, sauces, or chupe. Like huacatay, muna is used in cooking popular Peruvian food.
Muna has similar benefits to huacatay as both play their role as a seasoning and as medicine. You can replace huacatay with muna stews and juices. Muna can replace huacatay for seasoning a pachamanca dish. This is a dish that uses hot stones to cook meat.
In addition to this, muna has a healthy composition and contains large amounts of calcium. Another benefit that muna and huacatay share is the ability to improve digestion. You can make use of muna as a tea herb just like huacatay.
Epazote is a sweet-smelling herb popular for its medicinal properties. The leaves and tender stems of this herb are used in various recipes too. Epazote has various medicinal and health benefits similar to huacatay. But the difference is that high levels of epazote could be toxic.
Additionally, epazote is another herb that’s not easy to find in stores. The epazote plant plays the role of both a leaf vegetable and a herb. The powerful fragrance of this plant is a good addition to dishes such as legumes or corn. But some people don’t like its strong flavor.
- Lemon Verbena
If you want the citrus characteristics of huacatay then perhaps lemon verbena will be a better alternative for you. This herb is also extremely versatile because it can be used in many dishes. The leaves and flowering tops of lemon verbena are useful in medicines.
Tea made with lemon verbena can help to treat fevers and chills. As the name suggests, lemon verbena has a lemony flavor which makes it ideal for seasoning meat or making a delicious sauce.
You can achieve the minty huacatay flavor by using a combination of lemon verbena and spearmint leaves.
In a Nutshell
So, we can conclude that we have various options in case of an emergency shortage of huacatay herb. You can use any of the above-mentioned huacatay substitutes for your Peruvian dishes. Each has its distinct properties and flavor profile that mimics the huacatay herb well.
Cilantro, muna, lemon verbena, or epazote all have health benefits that are similar to huacatay. Try each one of them in various dishes to get the flavor you’re looking for. Enjoy your recipes by using the best alternatives for huacatay.