A Mojito is traditionally made of five ingredients: white rum, sugar (traditionally sugar cane juice), lime, sparkling water and mint. The original Cuban recipe uses spearmint or “Yerba buena”, a much lighter mint variety very popular in the island. Its combination of sweetness, refreshing citrus and mint flavors are intended to complement the potent kick of the rum, and have made this clear highball a popular summer drink.
When preparing a Mojito, lime juice is added to sugar (or syrup) and mint leaves. The mixture is then gently mashed with a muddler. The mint leaves should only be bruised to release the essential oils and should not be shredded. Then rum is added and the mixture is briefly stirred to dissolve the sugar and to lift the mint sprigs up from the bottom for better presentation. Finally, the drink is topped with ice cubes and sparkling water. Mint leaves and lime wedges are used to garnish the glass.
Cuba is the birthplace of the Mojito, although the exact origin of this classic cocktail is the subject of debate. One story traces the Mojito to a similar 16th century drink, the “El Draque”, in honor of Sir Francis Drake. It was made initially with tafia/aguardiente, a primitive predecessor of rum, but rum was used as soon as it became widely available to the British (ca. 1650). Mint, lime and sugar were also helpful in hiding the harsh taste of this spirit. While this drink was not called a Mojito at this time, it was still the original combination of these ingredients.
Some historians contend that African slaves who worked in the Cuban sugar cane fields during the 19th century were instrumental in the cocktail’s origin. Guarapo, the sugar cane juice often used in Mojitos, was a popular drink amongst the slaves who helped coin the name of the sweet nectar.
There are several theories behind the origin of the name Mojito; one such theory holds that name relates to mojo, a Cuban seasoning made from lime and used to flavour dishes.Another theory is that the name Mojito is simply a derivative of mojadito, Spanish for “a little wet”, or simply the diminutive of “mojado” (wet).
The Mojito was a favorite drink of author Ernest Hemingway. Ernest Hemingway made the bar called La Bodeguita del medio famous as he became one of its regulars and wrote on the wall “Mi mojito en la Bodeguita” (My mojito at the Bodeguita). This expression can still be read on the wall of the bar today, in his handwriting.