What's the Difference between Mint and Peppermint?
Mint tea. Mint candy. Mint chocolate ice cream. Thin Mints®. Lots of recipes call for mint flavoring. But what does that really mean? Does mint flavoring automatically mean peppermint? What is spearmint? Can you interchange different kinds of mints in recipes? Let's discuss.
The term "mint" is an umbrella term for the Mentha plant family that includes spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, apple mint, pineapple mint and more. Mint is a perennial and wide-spreading herb. When planted in good soil, mint grows wild and can overtake gardens and lawns, meaning it’s best grown in pots. The plant has a wide variety of uses, from a breath freshener to a stomach soother. Each variety of mint has its own distinct flavor, but the two most well-known are spearmint and peppermint.
Spearmint has a flavor that's both sweet and slightly sharp with hints of citrus and spice, although relatively mild overall. Spearmint contains several chemical compounds that contribute to its flavor and aroma, including menthol, menthone, carvone, pinene, and limonene. Carvone is the most abundant, while limonene provides a hint of lemon. Its most widespread use is Wrigley's® Spearmint Gum. Spearmint is most often used in cooking in savory recipes where its mild flavor does not overpower any other flavor in the dish.
Spearmint leaves are bright green and have a smooth, slightly curved shape, resembling a spear. Spearmint leaves are usually larger than peppermint leaves, although growing conditions vary. The stem of a spearmint plant is green, square, and slightly hairy. It is native to Europe and Asia, and it grows wild, meaning it is not a hybrid.
Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and water mint. Its flavor is similar to spearmint, but it packs a more potent punch with spicy notes (hence the pepper in the name). Peppermint contains several chemical compounds that define its flavor and aroma, including menthol, menthone, and eucalyptol. With 40 percent menthol, peppermint has a soothing and cooling effect that can lower the temperature of your mouth. Due to its bright, bold taste, peppermint is most often used in sweet dishes, especially in baking recipes. The sugar in desserts balances the pungent flavor of peppermint and it pairs especially well with chocolate.
Peppermint leaves are smaller, more aromatic, and darker green than spearmint leaves. Peppermint leaves can have purple veins. The stems are purple and square as well, and they are often less hairy than spearmint leaves. Although as we said before, growing conditions can vary greatly.
When on the extract aisle of the grocery store, there's a difference between spearmint and peppermint well. Mint extract is a mixture of spearmint and peppermint, whereas peppermint extract is just that.
Whether you prefer the subtle flavor of spearmint or the in-your-face flavor of peppermint, we have a recipe to suit your taste. Below, we've shared some of our favorite mint recipes.
Chef Eddy's Grasshopper Torte layers a light and fluffy peppermint mousse with a chewy, deep chocolate brownie bottom for a dessert that cools with every bite.
Spearmint's subtle lemon notes shine in this Mint Lemonade Sorbet, a refreshing and easy dessert for spring and summer.
Spearmint is a sweet complement to mango and lime in this Mango Mojito recipe.
Peppermint is often relegated to the holiday season, but its energizing flavor should be enjoyed year-round. These Mint Chocolate Chip Cupcakes and White Chocolate Peppermint Glazed Pound Cake recipes are sure to please any time of year.
In any dessert recipe, mint can make the perfect garnish. See our Peach and Mint Crisp and Lemon and Watermelon Pie for examples of how the herb can be a beautiful pop of color and flavor.
See this tip in action in the following video.