Cool and refreshing, mint is a herb that grows profusely and it's everywhere you look. You find mint in teas, desserts, cocktails, sauces, body products, toothpaste and more. What makes this fragrant herb so versatile and beloved? Let's explore some fun facts about mint.
Mint's scientific name is Mentha requienii. Its name was derived from the Greek mythological figure Minthe, a nymph who was transformed into the fragrant plant.
For millennia, mint has been used as a symbolism of hospitality. In ancient Greece, it was rubbed on tables to welcome visitors. The herb was used to clear the air in temples and homes. In the Middle East, mint tea was and still is offered to guests upon their arrival.
Most mint is native to Europe and Asia, but some species are indigenous to the Americas.
Varieties of Mint
There are over 600 types of mint plants, which include pineapple mint, apple mint, orange mint, water mint and horse mint. However, when we talk about mint, we are referring to two specific types: peppermint and spearmint.
Peppermint is known as the sweet mint, it's the one you'll find in candy, gum, teas, jellies, syrups, ice cream and other confections. Spearmint is known as the savoury mint, it's the one we primarily use as a spice when cooking.
Mint's Many Uses
Mint sometimes appears in Moroccan tagines and Egyptian spice mixes. Mint is also used in cooking lamb, a preparation also favoured in England and the United States. It is extremely popular in Turkey, Iran and India, where it is used in meatballs and sauces.
Mint features in many Indian chutneys and the yogurt-based sauce raita. Indians favour pairing mint with other pungent spices such as chilies, coconut and green mango. In Malaysia, mint is used in combination with galangal and other fragrant spices for laksa, a spicy noodle dish. Of course, the herb is essential in making Greek tzatzkiki.
When it comes to cocktails, fresh mint shines in mojitos and mint juleps. The herb is what flavours Creme de menthe liqueur, which is used to mix stingers and grasshoppers.
How to Buy Mint
Nothing beats the aroma of fresh mint. Look for evenly coloured green leaves without any dark spots.
When dry, mint turns very dark, but this does not affect its aroma. When buying dry mint, look for mint that is still fragrant. Spearmint should smell pungent, while peppermint should be peppery. If dried mint has lost its aroma, it means the herb is old.
Photo courtesy of Rubber Dragon/Flickr
How to Store Fresh Mint
Mint loves water. Fresh mint should be stored in the refrigerator. Simply wrap the fresh mint in a damp paper towel and loosely wrap in plastic. Storing dried mint requires an airtight container and a spot away from light and humidity.
Health Benefits of Mint
Since ancient times, mint has been used to treat digestive and respiratory troubles. Now, researchers are finding other health benefits, especially in women. Peppermint tea has been shown to lower testosterone levels in females with polycystic ovarian syndrome. It has also been shown to prevent nipple pain and damage in breastfeeding mothers according to studies cited in Healing Spices, a book written by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD and Debora Yost.