What Kind of Mint Am I Growing In My Garden?
Someone recently asked me about the mint growing in their garden. Is it peppermint, spearmint, or some other kind of mint?
I had no idea so I did a little research so I had a better understanding of mint varieties and then went out to taste what was in our garden.
Mint Grows Like a Weed
Let me start by saying, if you plant mint in your garden or in a flower bed like we did, BEWARE, in a concise period of time you are going to have a lot of mint. Enough for all the mint juleps, mojitos or recipes you will ever consume.
It just keeps coming. Every year at about this time, my wife cuts all the mint back to the ground and every spring it grows back and then some. I believe the term mint is invasive.
There is no way we can use but a fraction of what we grow but it does make the patio smell minty and is nice to have around when you need some for a recipe, iced tea, or an adult beverage.
There are hundreds of mint varieties. They are part of the Mentha genus. Some of the more commonly grown mints for the garden include ginger mint, orange mint, basil mint, lavender mint, grapefruit mint and apple mint.
But the two most popular and I'm guessing the two you are most likely going to find in your garden are peppermint and spearmint.
Remember, not all mints are used for cooking or making fancy drinks. Some are used for their medicinal properties while others are used just for their aromatic properties. And then there are some used for ground cover or how they look.
Is It Peppermint or Spearmint?
Who hasn't heard of peppermint? I think of peppermint ice cream, peppermint bark at Christmas time, and peppermint toothpaste.
Appearance-wise, peppermint has fuzzy leaves with jaggedly toothed edges. If you crush a leaf in your hand, it's going to have a strong minty aroma.
These properties also belong to spearmint. Looking at peppermint and spearmint with your eyes and smelling them with your nose is not going to reveal which is which.
The best way to distinguish one from the other is to taste them both. Peppermint contains 40% menthol while spearmint contains less than 1% menthol. This means peppermint is going to have a more intense “minty” flavor than spearmint.
So if you grab a leaf of your garden mint and taste it, if it has a powerful minty aftertaste, you are dealing with peppermint. If you have a lighter flavor that borders on sweetness, you're most likely tasting spearmint.
Cooking with Peppermint or Spearmint
If you are looking for a really intense minty flavor in a dish, peppermint is the way to go. If you are looking for a milder minty flavor that won't overwhelm your dish, spearmint is the better choice.
If I'm going to add mint to a recipe while it's cooking I have two choices. I can chop it up so it is part of the dish that will be eaten or I can add whole stems to the pot while it is cooking making it easier to remove at the end.
Most of the time I use fresh mint as a garnish or I'll add it to a dish at the end of cooking. Because mint is a relatively delicate herb, the finer it is chopped or minced, the more oils are released resulting in more flavor and fragrance. These flavors and fragrances don't last long and is why I chop and add them to the dish just before serving.
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Spearmint is invasive in my garden. It's controlled by a stone barrier but this year it has managed to get though. It's enough to use as a vegetable rather than just a flavoring. I'm thinking about inventing a meal with a lot of spearmint.
Keep in mind that it's toxic in large quantities. Google how much is ok per day. I wouldn't eat a salad of mint. And in super large quantities, drinking essential oil can kill you. obviously you aren't going to get that much into a meal, just to say that you should research before eating more than the traditional amount.
Tabbouli, if you have equal parts parsley.
I had peppermint in a garden plot bounded by a stone sidewalk. It went UNDER the sidewalk and came up in the grass on the other side!
G. Stephen Jones
Wow, Cindy. We have mint in our back yard next to the patio and have to tear some out every year. It grows like weeds.
The main aroma chemical in peppermint is indeed menthol. However, the difference in flavor between peppermint and spearmint is not only due to the difference in concentration of menthol. Spearmint might have less menthol (the alcohol) than meppermint, but is instead very rich in menthone, a monoterpene very close structurally to menthol, that gives a less "icy" strong minty flavor, but a more "rounded" and sweeter minty flavor.
Peppermint is rarely used as is in food, and it is rather the menthol that is extracted to prepare candies etc... in addition, the flavor is too intense and even stings the tongue and the mouth due to the strong alcohol content (hence the term "pepper").
Fresh spearmint is milder and is therefore used in Middle Eastern cuisine (taboulé) or South East Asian cuisine (Thai, Lao, Vietnamese etc...).