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History of the Mojito: How Ernest Hemingway's Favorite Cuban Drink Became an Artisanal Latin Staple

First Posted: Jun 13, 2014 05:29 PM EDT

"A mojito is one of Cuba's oldest cocktails — it comes from the African word mojo, which means to place a little spell." — The Havana Journal.

As history has shown, a spell has indeed been cast.

Legendary American author Ernest Hemingway loved mojitos and helped make them famous with his presence at Havana's La Boguedito del Medio, as well as in Key West, Florida.

While the author of "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and "The Old Man and the Sea" had the right idea, he wasn't the only one who helped put them on the culinary map in the U.S. Pierce Brosnan drank a mojito as James Bond in "Die Another Day, and the drink made an appearance in "Miami Vice," as well as "The Rum Diary" starring Johnny Depp.

The mojito has become a signature staple in both Latin and American cuisine, incorporating fresh ingredients like lime, mint, sugar and rum. Numerous versions incorporate passion fruit, which reaches peak popularity during the summertime.

Havana Central, a restaurant and bar located in New York City's Time Square, captures the essence of both the mojito and Cuban cusine — a task that requires an understanding of history. while making you feel like you've stepped back in time in Havana, Cuba.

"Let's start with the fact that mojitos are a combination of sweetness, refreshing citrus, and mint flavors that emerged as a perfect complement to the hot, sticky weather of the Caribbean," Jeremy Merrin, CEO and founder of Havana Central, told Latin Post. "Rum, perhaps one of the world's first distilled spirits is made from sugarcane. And the largest producer of sugarcane and rum in the 18th and 19th centuries was Cuba."

"Mojitos quickly became the drink of choice in Havana and have remained so through many generations," he added. "As for me, I am a big Hemingway fan. [He] wrote: 'My mojito in La Bodeguita, My daiquiri in El Floridita.'"

According to Havana Central's Marketing and Social Media Manager, Ashley Leon, whose favorite mojito is the Passion Fruit Guava Gosling Black Seal Mojito (a rum from Bermuda) suggests that mojito aficionados try different versions of the famous Cuban drink that incorporate light, gold or dark rum.

"At Havana Central, one out of every two alcoholic drinks we sell is a mojito," Merrin said. "We sell the classic mojito cocktail, we make versions with tropical flavors, and we make them with different types of rum that sometimes have strong, and sometimes subtle effects on the taste and potency of the drink."

Leon shared his passion for the delicious Cuban drink and suggested three top mojitos: the Havana Central Classic Mojito, "a perfect balanced drink," Passion Fruit Guava Gosling Black Seal Mojito (a rum from Bermuda) and the Ultimate Mojito, "a Trinidad Rum 10 Cane," which is Havana Central's best seller.

"We freshly muddle limes and sugar with our secret ingredient into a mojito glass, making sure not to hit the rim of a lime to not make it bitter. We then add our Castillo White Rum for a Havana Central Classic Mojito topped off with soda and Sierra Mist," Leon told Latin Post.

Leon also added that mojitos complement Cuban cuisine that often has tropical and citrus-based flavors, which further intensify the taste.

To incorporate this intensified tropical fusion, Leon suggests pairing these three signature mojitos with signature Cuban dishes, such as the homemade Guava Glazed Ribs topped with mango slaw.

"The best dish that goes with this is a Vaca Frita with cilantro rice al Caballo (egg on top)," he added. "The meat is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside." (The meat goes through a long process that includes being marinated, steamed and then fried to give it a unique taste and texture.) You can also keep it simple and have a classic Cuban dish, the Arroz con Pollo (chicken cooked in rice), which is common across all Latin cuisine.

For appetizers, Leon suggests the Queso Fundido de Pollo (melted Latin cheese with pulled chicken) and the Taquitos de Carnitas con Guava (pork Taquitos with guava sauce) on a bed of mango slaw.

While mojitos can complement any dish, Leon's suggestions will enhance the flavors of the versatile drink.

Legend has it that it was discovered by pirates who were on a mission to find gold in Cuba. "Mojito was a drink that legend has it was create by an English pirate by the name of Richard Drake," Leon explained.

"Bacardi traces the drink's roots to 1586, when Francis Drake and his pirates tried to sack Havana for its gold. While the invasion was unsuccessful, Drake's associate, Richard Drake, was said to have invented a mojito-like cocktail known as 'El Draque' made with aguardiente (a crude forerunner of rum), sugar, lime and mint. Early on, it was consumed for medicinal purposes," according to the Havana Journal.

"Around the mid-1800s, the recipe was altered and gained in popularity as the original Bacardi Company was established. In 1940, Cuban playwright and poet Federico Villoch proclaimed: "When aquardiente was replaced with rum, the Draque was to be called a Mojito. Other accounts suggest that slaves working in Cuban sugar cane fields in the late 19th century invented the mojito."

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