Such a delight to discover a widely used Mexican herb, hoja santa or Mexican pepperleaf, that has nearly the same taste as sassafras! It helps me bridge the cultural gap between Pennsylvania, where I brewed this, and Oaxaca, whose mole negro recipe inspired this twist on chocolate stout.
Hoja santa (Piper auritum) or Mexican pepperleaf is also sometimes called root beer plant due to its taste, described by one online retailer as containing “notes of licorice, eucalyptus, sassafras, anise, nutmeg, mint, tarragon, and black pepper.” They add: “Despite their culinary popularity, fresh leaves are very difficult to find in grocery stores or at markets, so growing this hardy plant at home is a great idea.” The dried leaves I got off an Amazon retailer were intensely favorful, I thought, but perhaps drying doesn’t preserve the complete spectrum of flavors. The Wikipedia entry has this to say: “[Hoja santa] is often used in Mexican cuisine for tamales, the fish or meat wrapped in fragrant leaves for cooking, and as an essential ingredient in mole verde, the green sauce originated in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. It is also chopped to flavor eggs and soups, such as pozole. In Central Mexico, it is used to flavor chocolate drinks. In southeastern Mexico, a green liquor called Verdín is made from hoja santa. It is also used for tea. In some regions of Mexico, goat cheese is wrapped with the hoja santa leaves and imbued with its flavor.
“While typically used fresh, it is also used in dried form, although drying removes much of the flavor and makes the leaf too brittle to be used as a wrapper.”