Is there a difference between mint and peppermint besides one of them making me think of pepper with mint flavor?
I have a valid excuse for that: I just love pepper as a condiment, almost as much as I love finding ways of adding chili to everything I cook.
Is peppermint the same as mint? For now, I will let you know that, in my opinion, this is actually a yes & no question.
Well, let’s delve into the marvelous world of these intense plants and let’s discover if peppermint is the same as mint.
The Main Difference Between Mint and Peppermint
The main difference between mint and peppermint is that mint is the family and peppermint is one of the family members.
Mint → genus Mentha → Lamiaceae family, that’s the sequence for this amazing herb.
The mint plant belongs to the Lamiaceae family. Some of the most famous herbs belonging to the Lamiaceae family are sage, oregano, peppermint, marjoram, thyme, lemon balm, and basil. They’re all related.
Here are some basic facts on the two:
- mint encompasses all varieties of the Mentha plant (genus Mentha) – mint is the simple small word that actually represents a lot of varieties: spearmint and peppermint being some of the most well-known
- peppermint is just one variety of mint, one small part of the huge umbrella that mint offers
- this particular variety is also the most used one, both commercially and medicinally
- peppermint and spearmint are two of the most popular mint species – they are also closely related because peppermint is a hybrid between spearmint and water mint, it’s not a pure mint variety
- another main difference is made by their taste: mint (spearmint) is slightly more mild than peppermint (if you want a strong flavor use an oil or extract of this variety)
If we were to battle peppermint vs mint, mint is the winner because it’s the single word that refers to all varieties.
Peppermint is just a small niche but still absolutely famous in its own way and intensely used around the globe.
Now that we’ve discovered the main difference between mint and peppermint in terms of where they are situated in regards to the genus Mentha, let’s delve even deeper.
Peppermint vs Mint: the fundamental question
Maybe the easiest way to really delineate this peppermint vs mint debate is to answer one question.
Can peppermint be called by the simple more direct name mint?
No, there’s actually a distinction made between the two.
When you read somewhere that it contains mint or that you should use mint in a certain recipe, you should always assume that they’re talking about spearmint.
Peppermint is called by its name. And that, I think, is the fundamental difference between mint and peppermint.
The Many Mint Varieties
I just want to impress you a bit with some numbers and a few interesting facts.
I’m just learning these things along with you, it’s really interesting to research the difference between mint and peppermint. Although, I must also confess that my favorite use of mint is for making a mojito, that’s where my true love for mint really lies.
Speaking of mojito, there is actually a variety called mojito mint, which is also called Cuban mint (Mentha x villosa).
I’m pretty sure you didn’t know that. It’s not widely spread, up until 2005/2006, this variety was hard to find outside Cuba.
Spearmint can also be used but it has a stronger flavor.
According to Britannica, there are 25 species of the mint family. The Mentha plant has definitely been busy. And here all I can think about is being on a beach, watching the sunset, and enjoying the refreshing cool flavors of a mojito.
Among these 25 species, some of the most popular are peppermint and spearmint but there are so many more than that: ginger mint, lemon mint, apple mint, chocolate mint, pineapple mint, basil mint, catmint, water mint, pennyroyal, etc.
Characteristics of the mint plant
- widely spread out through temperate areas of the planet – Eurasia, North America, southern Africa, Australia
- square stems with opposite aromatic leaves – the leaf shape is pretty similar for all varieties
- small pale purple, pink or white flowers
- grows in clusters
- likes regular moisture – just make sure the water drains out from the pot
- essential oils are extracted from the leaves and stems
- can be easily grown indoors as well as outdoors – can be aggressive in gardens, which is why many people prefer to grow the different varieties in containers to prevent them from taking over
- can also be grown hydroponically, herbs in general are easy to grow in hydroponic systems and you can grow a mix at the same time consisting of basil, thyme, oregano, mint, parsley, dill, thyme, to name a few
- spearmint is the variety that has the characteristic mint fragrance, it also has pink or lilac flowers
- peppermint has a more powerful flavor because it contains a higher concentration of menthol
What is Peppermint?
Peppermint (Mentha x piperita) is a variety of the mint plant and, besides spearmint, one of the most popular worldwide. Which is why many people are interested in the difference between mint and peppermint.
Peppermint is actually a hybrid between spearmint and water mint and there are actually two varieties recognized: black and white peppermint. The white variety is less productive but it has a more delicate oil and obtains a higher price.
This particular variety is a wide spread herb that is used in flavorings, oils, teas, breath mint, toothpaste, chewing gum and many more, they even made a movie named Peppermint with Jennifer Garner.
It is available as leaves, oils, extracts or capsules.
The oil obtained from steaming the herb is the one used for flavoring confectionery, chewing gum, and medicines.
The oil contains menthol (also called mint camphor/peppermint camphor) and menthone. Camphor has wide uses: treats congestion and coughing, for pain relief, for healing burns, a soothing balm.
This mint variety is known for its high menthol concentration, it has a higher menthol concentration than its direct parent (spearmint).
Because it has a higher menthol concentration there’s one thing to be aware of whenever you want to use peppermint extract or oil: it has a more intense flavor. If you want a milder taste, go for spearmint.
Mint vs Peppermint in Recipes
If you’re not a fan of alcohol, you can enjoy a simple recipe: water, slices of lemon, a few mint leaves, and some ice. It will keep you cool during the summer months. Regarding the perfect mint for this recipe, I recommend the mojito mint if you can find the seeds somewhere. Or you can buy a fully grown mojito mint plant.
Mint leaves are frequently used in a variety of salads, the Internet is full of such recipes.
Mint (spearmint) leaves are predominantly used in recipes due to their more mild aroma.
My first thought when it comes to mint recipes is mint chocolate chip ice cream. But when you search for the recipe you will actually discover that you need to use pure peppermint extract to obtain that amazing intense flavor.
If you’re not a fan of the intense flavor then go for plain mint extract, which uses spearmint, this one has a milder flavor.
An interesting fact about pure peppermint extract that has nothing to do with making desserts is that it can be used to treat cold and flu symptoms, a remedy for toothaches, to relieve menstrual cramps, and to relieve bloating.
The oil also has its many benefits: applied topically for relieving headaches, itching, muscle aches and joint pain.
It’s also used in aromatherapy for stress relief.
It can also prevent or reduce vomiting.
Growing Mint at Home
The easiest way is to buy a fully-grown mint live plant and just take care of its maintenance so you have leaves year-round. There are different varieties that can be bought directly as live plants.
Mint can also be grown in a hydroponic system for at home use. The AeroGarden models come with pods (herb seed kits) that contain seeds for herbs like Genovese basil (classic Italian basil), curly parsley, dill, thyme, Thai basil and mint.
The most popular method is simply buying seeds and planting them in a container with potting soil. Peppermint seeds are easy to find but so are all kinds of other varieties.
To Sum it Up
The difference between mint and peppermint is quite evident, especially when it comes to flavor, peppermint having the stronger menthol flavor, while mint and spearmint are the two words being used interchangeably.