Basin City tea company to pasteurize its own peppermint, spearmint leaves

Aromatics Inc. will begin pasteurizing its own peppermint and spearmint leaves destined for tea in the next few weeks.

The wholesale company's $1.2 million addition to its Basin City home is Aromatics' latest effort to meet the needs of its customers, who are under more scrutiny thanks to the Food Safety Modernization Act.

Kurt Amoth, who owns Aromatics with his wife, Lara, said it used to be enough for tea makers to direct consumers to brew tea in boiling water.

With the act, that changed, he said. For the past two years, Aromatics' mint leaves have been pasteurized in Reno, Nev., and then reprocessed at the Basin City plant.

Amoth said they decided it would be better to pasteurize the leaves themselves. The result is the 26,000-square-foot pasteurization facility, a u-shaped building that includes a warehouse for processed mint leaves, a pasteurization room and a second warehouse for pasteurized mint leaves.

They intend to add between five and seven positions to their current staff of 25 with the expansion, he said.

The mint leaves will be rapidly heated to a temperature that kills any pathogens using steam and then rapidly cooled, with the key being to maintain the quality of the mint, Amoth said.

The fragrant smell of mint surrounds Aromatics' buildings at 230 Center St. in Basin City.

Amoth said the company is just getting the first shipments of the new crop in this week.

The peppermint and spearmint is dried naturally in the field, Amoth said. Then, a combine goes through and harvests the leaves, with some stems getting in.

That's the raw material that Aromatics has to work with.

"Our job is to take something completely nonuniform and make it uniform," he said.

That means making a course-cut and a fine-cut leaf that customers can use. The raw material is processed to remove everything from stems, rocks and insect parts, leaving only the leaves behind.

Peppermint and spearmint primarily are grown for essential oils in the Columbia Basin. Those oils then are used in everything from toothpaste to gum.

Washington is the leading producer of mint oil nationwide. Washington farmers produce the most spearmint oil and the second-most peppermint oil, with about 17,000 acres of spearmint and 16,000 acres of peppermint, according to the Washington Mint Commission.

Most of the 150 mint growers in the state are in Adams, Grant and Yakima counties, according to the commission.

The area's dry, arid climate, the availability of water mint plants need and the access to mint growers make Basin City a good location for Aromatics, Amoth said. Aromatics, started in 1990 and opened its Basin City location in 2002.

Amoth said his company has found a niche market, supplying tea companies.

"Our customers really like the strong flavors of our peppermint tea," he said.

Aromatics operates year-round, with leaves processed and pasteurized to fill orders. The dried mint leaves can be stored for a year, Amoth said.

Aromatics sells peppermint and spearmint in 50-pound bags, which include enough mint for at least 11,350 tea bags, Amoth said. Most is exported to Europe, with Germany a key destination for Aromatics' mint leaves. Others are sold in North America.

There is a good chance that tea Tri-Citians can find at grocery stores use Aromatics peppermint or spearmint, Amoth said

Amoth said customers may use the mint as an ingredient in a tea they blend.

"Peppermint has health benefits, and it also tastes good," he said. Peppermint aids in digestion and calms the stomach.

That's why some tea makers will use mint to mask the taste of other healthy herbs that don't have the benefit of peppermint's yummy taste, he explained.

Amoth said they will have between 200 and 300 truckloads a year of product sent out.

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