Hoegaarden Mint Balls

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The Hoegaardse mumbollen, a dialectic version of muntbollen, or mint balls from Hoegaarden, were and are still made from only four ingredients: sugar, honey, butter and mint oil. Today, some have replaced the honey with glucose, but the rest of the ingredient list and the production process has remained the same since the beginning.

To make mumbollen, the sugar and the glucose or honey are heated in an open kettle with the butter. When this liquid caramel is ready, it is poured upon a cold marble stone, which helps in the solidification process. Fresh oil of the water mint (not peppermint) is sprinkled over the sugar paste and worked into the paste by folding it over and over again. At this point, the liquid caramel will have turned into a workable mass or paste. The sugar mass is divided in pieces and rolled through a sugar roller which gives it the typical shape of the mumbollen. The shape is at this point only imprinted; when completely cooled, the big rolled-out pieces are broken along the imprinted lines by dropping them from a certain height. The broken, smaller pieces are called mumbollen. The final taste is very particular, somewhere in between the sweet and nutty flavors of caramel, and the refreshing taste of mint. The art is to find the right balance.

Mumbollen have been made since the beginning of the 19th century, when sugar factories started to open their doors in Hoegaarden and Tienen (two municipalities in the province of Flemish Brabant, at a distance of 10 km from each other). The earliest mumbollen were only made from sugar, and were locally called "lekstekke" or "kermelle" ("lollipops" and "caramels"). In the early 1800s, the workers at the sugar factories were paid in money, as well as in food and household products such as coal, bread or sugar! Often a family had too much of a product, such as sugar, and so they had to find ways to make it last. One of things they did was transforming the sugar in candy or caramel by boiling it.

A first real recipe of the early mumbollen was traced back to Leuven, another municipality of Flemish Brabant at 30 km distance of the other two cities. In 1854, Jean-Bapist Putzeys – who was the town baker of Hoegaarden, bought that recipe for a golden coin worth 20 franks. He was the first to attribute the typical shape that the mumbollen have today, by pouring liquid sugar on cross-lined surfaces to create square cleavages. These were back then called ulevellen, referring to the name for the lines on the surfaces. In the mid- to late 19th century, the quality and refinement of the sugar was still very lacking, and so the candies were very dark colored. Slowly, with the improvement of the sugar, the quality taste and color of the mumbollen advanced as well. The ulevellen changed into mumbollen when the mint oil was added to the sugar paste. Water mint (Mentha aquatica) still grows abundantly in the region. Since sugar and mint used to be considered very healthy – they both were treated as medicines and sold in pharmacies – they were combined into this small candy.

The Hoegaardse Mumbollen are produced in the province of Flemish Brabant, in Flanders. By 2015, a single remaining producer was located in Hoegaarden, with a production based upon a recipe that he received from a schoolteacher from Hoegaarden, many years ago. The mumbollen are no longer made at home, and very few artisans are interested in making them. Everything has to be made by hand, and it’s a very labor-intensive activity. Also, the mumbollen cannot be made by machines; the mint oil cannot be added to the boiling sugar and butter, but must be worked in afterwards. Since the balance in flavor between the caramel and the mint is so fragile, everything must be done by a skilled hand. However, there is still commercial interest, and people recognize the importance of this traditional and historical product; but if no one continues the trade, there will be no mumbollen left.

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Production area:Hoegaarden region

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Cakes, pastries and sweets

Nominated by:Tine Devriese