There are over 600 varieties of mint plants. If a recipe just calls for “mint”, what is likely meant is spearmint.The mint taste comes from menthol, an active oil in the leaves. Menthol activates the cold sensors in our tongue, making things with mint in them seem cooler than they are.
Mint’s taste is at its fullest when the plant is in full bloom.
The leaves can be used dry or fresh. In Western food, the leaves and their extract are mostly used in sweet dishes, such as candies, baked goods, jellies and ice creams. Probably the only real exception in which Mint would appear on a dinner plate is as mint sauce or sprinkled at the last minute into boiled carrots, peas or potatoes. In other cuisines, such as Vietnamese, Persian, Lebanese, Northern Indian and Turkish, mint is used far more extensively in savoury dishes.
Most mint plants are hardy perennials that propagate via their roots, which makes them easy to grow in your garden, but hard to keep in one spot. Some sources say that makes mint a good candidate for container gardening.
The mints best known to us are peppermint and spearmint. The mint scent is at its purest and strongest in peppermint and in Japanese mint.
If you are adding mint to a cooked savoury dish, add it at the very end of cooking. Be careful mixing mint with other herbs, as it doesn’t seem to play well with any others. Fresh mint leaves, chopped, are nice in a fruit salad.
You can substitute other mints for peppermint. However, the reverse is not necessarily true, because peppermint has a much more dominant flavour than other mints. Iranian, Turkish, and Lebanese recipes make use of mint, but the mint that they use would be a milder one and Peppermint might make whatever you made taste like it had candy cane in it.
In a savoury dish, such as Thai food, you can use basil as a substitute.
1 tablespoon fresh mint (any kind) = 1 teaspoon dried
1 small bunch, fresh = approx 10 g = ½ cup, chopped
You can either wrap fresh mint in damp paper towel and refrigerate in a bag for a few days, or to keep it for up to a week, stored with its stems in a glass of water in the refrigerator and covered in a plastic bag.
You can also use the ice-cube tray trick (see under Herbs) to freeze it.
Mark Jacob, co-author of “What the Great Ate”, says:
“Alexander the Great refused to let his men chew mint leaves, fearing they’d be sexually excited and unfit for battle.” White, Nancy J. Authors pick Elvis Presley as the greatest glutton. Toronto: Toronto Star. 25 July 2010.
Both mint and the concept of mint sauce with meat were brought to Britain by the Romans.
Literature & Lore
Proserpine was the wife of Pluto, ruler of the underworld. She had no particular reason to be thrilled about Pluto to begin with, as Pluto had abducted her (see Literature & Lore under Cereal). To add insult to injury, some time after that, Pluto decided he fancied a young nymph named “Minthe” (you can see where this is going). Understandably, Proserpine was royally p-o’d when she found out about Pluto’s bit of stuff on the side, and changed poor Minthe into a plant to be trodden underfoot. Pluto didn’t dare risk Proserpine’s wrath any further by saving Minthe, but managed at least to give Minthe a pleasant smell that would rise up whenever she was stomped on.
“Here’s flowers for you;
Hot lavender, Mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi’ the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.” — Perdita, The Winter’s Tale, IV, 4. Shakespeare.
- Alpine Mint
- Apple Mint
- Banana Mint
- Basil Mint
- Bergamot Mint
- Black Peppermint
- Blue Balsam Mint
- Bowles Mint
- Chocolate Mint
- Corn Mint
- Corsican Mint
- Curly Mint
- Egyptian Mint
- Ginger Mint
- Habak Mint
- Hairy Mint
- Horse Mint
- Huacatay Mint
- Kentucky Colonel Mint
- Korean Mint
- Moroccan Mint
- Pineapple Mint
- Red Stemmed Mint
- River Mint
- Roman Mint
- Water Mint
- White Peppermint
- Yerba Buena
|White, Nancy J. Authors pick Elvis Presley as the greatest glutton. Toronto: Toronto Star. 25 July 2010.