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Difference between Peppermint and Mint


Few herbs are as widely used in our kitchens as mint. This herb has soothed upset tummies for thousands of years. Dried peppermint leaves were discovered in Egyptian pyramids. Carbon dating has placed their origin in the year 1,000 BCE. The Romans grew mint and peppermint in their gardens to use the leaves as medicine, especially as digestive aid. They planted this herb between stepping-stones to enjoy the fresh aroma when treading on it.

The name of mint is steeped deep in Greek mythology. Hades, the ruler of the underworld, fell in love with Minthe, a lovely, young nymph. When his wife Persephone discovered the betrayal, she turned Minthe into an herb, to be crushed underfoot. Hades could not reverse the curse. He could only infuse his beloved Minthe with a wonderful aroma.

The Romans copied the Greek love for mint and carried it throughout their Empire. In medieval times, mint was treasured as a medicine for just about everything, stomachaches, headaches, chest pains, nervousness, itching, and insect bites.

Tax-free tea in the New World

The colonists took mint to the New World, where it soon grew abundantly and became a favorite drink. One reason for its popularity was the fact that it was tax-free. Also in North Africa, sweet mint tea is the drink of choice for the Muslim population.

However, it is too generic to talk about mint in such generalizing terms. There is not one mint – there are hundreds. Mentha is the scientific name for the genus in the mint family called Lamiaceae. These perennial herbs, native to Eurasia, grow now everywhere on the planet. All mint plants of the genus have square stems and their leaves grow in pairs up the stems. The mint family is made up by a huge number of plants that look quite differently, like the purple sage, basil or catnip.

The best-known varieties of mint are peppermint (Mentha piperita) and spearmint (Menta spicata). Altogether, the genus includes 25 different kinds. However, these kinds interbreed so easily that even experts have trouble to decide which is which. Some botanists say there exist 600 varieties. Peppermint, one of the best-known mints, is actually a natural hybrid between spearmint and water mint.

When we talk about mint, we usually refer to spearmint. When you go to the market and buy mint as an herb, you usually get spearmint. It combines well with other herbs like basil and cilantro, making it ideal to flavor savory dishes like grilled and roasted meats. This is the herb that lends Greek keftedes (meatballs) its typical aroma.

It goes great with lamb meat and is essential for tabbouleh, the typical Middle Eastern salad. The English classic mint sauce is prepared with spearmint. This is the herb that goes into a mint julep, the typical drink of 19th century Southern gentleman. Spearmint varieties include sweet pineapple mint, apple mint with a hint of green apples and the ruffled leaves of curly mint.

  • Spearmint – savory dishes 
  • Peppermint – sweet dishes

All mints taste somewhat similar, yet there is one big difference. Peppermint contains menthol. This chemical slightly numbs nerve endings and makes the brain think it is cooling the mouth when you eat it. In the USA, the taste of peppermint is linked with candy, chewing gum and all kinds of sweets. Because its taste is quite strong, it can be overpowering when used in savory dishes. Also peppermint comes in many varieties like chocolate mint, ginger mint and orange mint with overtones of bergamot.

Because peppermint contains menthol, it has turned into the main mint used for medicinal purposes and in aromatic oil.

  • It stimulates the production of bile, supporting digestions
  • It flavors toothpaste because menthol freshens the breath.
  • Menthol vapors are good to relieve congestion: in noses, sinuses and the chest.
  • Peppermint tea is great for cold.

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