My husband and I were walking through our local garden center and I wanted to look at all the fresh herbs on display. They had an excellent selection of different types of herbs and even within an herb category, there were numerous varieties. One of those that I so enjoyed was mint. They probably had 6 or 7 different varieties of mint. That fact is what led to this Cooking Tip where I will delve into some of these mint varieties, what they are and how to use them.
According to gardening experts, there are over 600 known varieties of mint. If you buy your mint in a plastic container in your supermarket, you will probably not have a choice. The container will be labeled “mint” and that will be it. It will be most likely spearmint although the label does not usually specify this. If you want to try any of these other wonderful types of mint, you will have to search them out in a good garden center.
One of the most common varieties, it is also the earliest cultivated and used mint. Therefore, many older books just refer to it as “mint”. It has less menthol (the chemical that gives you the minty and cooling flavor) than its relatives and thus has a sweeter and mellower flavor. It is also more herbaceous making it the choice for when you are making a savory dish that calls for mint.
Another very common variety, peppermint is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. It contains significantly more menthol than spearmint. In fact, it is so high that it is often felt to be spicy, similar to pepper. Because of these qualities, it is better suited to sweet dishes or beverages. My husband grows a type of peppermint called “Candy Mint”, which has an even more intense flavor. I love using that to make Chocolate Mint truffles.
Apple Mint (aka applemint, wooly mint)
This mint looks unique in that its leaves are rounder and have a furry appearance. It may be that the name comes more from the leaf shape rather than its flavor, which is mild due to its low menthol content. Any apple comes in with the aroma more than the flavor. It is often used in making mint jelly but is also nice in fruit salads and beverages.
The leaves of this mint are darker than other varieties and the stems are purplish. Both the origins and flavor of this mint are controversial. As to the origins, some say it is a hybrid of orange mint while others say it is more closely related to watermint. Others call it a cultivar of peppermint.
In respect to flavor, there are those who will detect definite chocolate notes. Others say they can detect chocolate in the aroma but not the flavor. Some liken the aroma and flavor to an after-dinner mint such as an After Eight or Peppermint Patty. Still others feel that any chocolate notes are imaginary. When a chemical analysis was made, there was nothing that would account for the chocolate aspect. For those that feel there is a mild chocolate flavor, they like to us it in desserts and beverages.
Ginger mint (aka Scotch mint, Vietnamese mint)
This is a low-growing mint that is a hybrid between spearmint and corn mint that does not grow in the wild. The mint flavor is strong and a bit spicy with hints of ginger. Great uses are soups, vinaigrettes, seafood dishes and baked goods. It is also used in making candy and in flavoring chewing gum.
Mojito Mint (aka Cuban mint)
This mint is a variety of spearmint but has an herbier flavor. It is the one most traditionally used in making the drink known as a mojito.
Orange Mint (bergamot mint)
A relative of peppermint, its parent plants are spearmint and watermint. The leaves are tinged with red. The flavor is citrusy and it is more aromatic than many mints, reminding many of Earl Grey tea. It can be used in drinks, fruit salads as well as fish/poultry dishes.
With its pretty variegated leaves, some grow this as an ornamental plant. It is a type of apple mint. Its fruity scent flavor lends itself to use in beverages, jellies and fruit salads.
This is an intensely minty variety with very pronounced menthol notes. Because of this, it needs to be used sparingly so as to not overpower the dish. It is more commonly infused into hot water and used as a medicine.
To store fresh mint, trim off the stems a bit and place them in a jar/glass with about an inch of water. Cover with a plastic bag secured with a rubber band and store in the refrigerator. You can extend the life by changing the water every few days. Other options include hanging the sprigs to air dry or drying using a food dehydrator.
You can also freeze mint. One method is to place whole or chopped mint leaves into the wells of an ice cube tray and cover with water. Once frozen, you can move them to a freezer bag. To use later, just add one of the cubes to your dish or beverage. Another option is to lay the leaves flat on a baking sheet and put that into the freezer. After about an hour, carefully move them to a bag for longer storage. Although the flavor is maintained in the freezer, the texture will be limp. Due to this, it may not be suitable as a garnish.
According to my husband, mint is easy to grow. His exact words were “it’s hard not to grow it.” Since the only way to try some of these different varieties is to grow them yourself, I hope you give some of them a try!