There are many types of mint including, spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, water mint, horsemint, pineapple mint, and orange mint. Apart from peppermint, spearmint is probably the most widely used species of mint. It is not as strong as peppermint in flavour and is therefore used in cooking and added to sauces, dressings, cakes and can be added as a garnish to dishes.
Spearmint (Mentha spicata) has slightly ruffled, pointed, oval leaves with prominently serrated edges, deep green colour, and cooling but not pungent flavour. Mint is found wild in central and southern Europe, but was probably first used in the kitchen in England, where it’s the country’s most important culinary herb, turning up in mint sauce for lamb, cold soups, and beverages. In the Middle East, spearmint is chopped and added in generous portions to salads such as tabbouleh. In Greece, dried spearmint is sprinkled over halloumi cheese and lends its coolness to tzatziki (cucumber and yogurt salad). All over western Asia, grilled lamb kebabs are seasoned with mint, and dried mint goes into the Georgian spice mixture khmeli-suneli. Spearmint oil lends its cool flavour to Bénédictine and crème de menthe liqueurs. Today, most spearmint is used in the chewing gum industry.
Peppermint (M. piperita) is a natural hybrid of water mint (M. aquatica) and spearmint, with smooth oval leaves, serrated edges, dark green colour, and a potent peppery yet cooling flavour. Peppermint is cultivated in Europe and western and central Asia for the production of menthol, important in the pharmaceutical industry. Peppermint oil is used for candies and sweet liqueurs, where its cooling and fresh pungency balances the sweetness of sugar. Peppermint is an ideal complement for chocolate.
Curly mint (M. spicata crispa) is a type of spearmint prized for its decorative leaves. Orange, lemon, lime, and lavender mint (cultivars of M. citrate), pineapple mint (M. suaveolens), and complicated crosses like apple mint, chocolate mint, and ginger mint have fragrances that bear little similarity to mint and are often used for herbal teas. Bergamot mint, a variety of water mint, is used in Chartreuse liqueur. Wild mint (M. arvensis) was used by Native American tribes for baking fish. The flowers of Japanese field mint (M. arvensis piperascens) delicately scent tea, and sweet-smelling Chinese mint (M. arvensis ssp. haplocalyx) also flavours tea. Large-leafed horse mint (M. longifolia) is used in Indian chutneys and Afghan cooking, while mentuccia (English pennyroyal; M. pulegium) is essential to carciofi alla Romana (Roman-style marinated artichokes).
In Asia, mint is most important in Thailand and Vietnam. Thai varieties are milder than European peppermint and are always used fresh, usually combined with other herbs. In Vietnam, it’s particularly popular in the Hanoi noodle soup pho bo.
- Other Names
- Bai sa ra nai or min indonesia (Thai); hakka (Japanese); hung gioi (Chinese); menta (Italian). Spearmint: Doublemint; dyosmos or menta (Greek); green mint or lamb mint (British); menthe anglaise (French); nana (Arabic, Hebrew); nane (Turkish); rau hung cay or rau hung lui (Vietnamese). Peppermint: Edelminze or pfefferminze (German); fefermints (Yiddish); hierba Buena or piperita (Spanish); menta piperita (Italian); menthe poivrée or sentebon (French); pepparmynta (Swedish); pereminde (Swahili)
- For delicate flavour and attractive appearance, buy or cut mint early in spring, when the new shoots come up. Once mint has flowered, the leaves will become tough.
- Purchase and Avoid
- For really aromatic mint, buy it at farmers’ markets or grow it fresh. Much packaged mint sold in supermarkets is apple mint grown in hothouses and has softer, ruffled leaves and a light, innocuous aroma. Dried mint can also be bought but the flavour is so much more diluted.
- Fresh mint can be bought from your local supermarket and should be stored in the refrigerator for the best freshness. If you buy a bunch of mint, it should be placed in a container of water, stems down, with a plastic bag loosely covering the top. Ideally change the water every two days and the mint should stay fresh for up to a week.
Steep mint leaves with green tea and sweeten with sugar to make North African–style mint tea.
Sprinkle crushed mint and olive oil onto fresh white cheese like ricotta or Greek halloumi.
Serve roast lamb British-style, with mint sauce or mint jelly.
Peppermint is an excellent flavouring for ice cream, biscuits and chocolate.
Add chopped mint to sauces for red meat particularly lamb.
Add several sprigs of mint to peas, green beans or new potatoes whilst boiling.
Add mint to a homemade or pre-prepared chocolate sauce for a choc and mint sauce.
Use as a garnish for cool drinks and fruit desserts.
Use dried peppermint leaves, added to boiling water to make a refreshing and digestive tea.
Add to cold soups or hot tomato soups.
Use mint to flavour cakes, meringues and biscuits.
Use to make a marinade for lamb.
The Middle Eastern salad dish, Tabbouleh contains mint, bulgar, parsley, red onions, tomato and lemon juice.
Add chopped mint to rice, chickpea, couscous or bean dishes.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Herb
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