Peppermint: spicy (pepper) and fresh (mint)

What is Peppermint?

Is peppermint a spice? No, it is actually an herb. Peppermint is a popular herb known for its refreshing aroma and taste. It belongs to the mint family and is a hybrid of watermint and spearmint. It has been used for centuries for culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic purposes. Its leaves contain essential oils, primarily menthol, which give it its distinct flavor and scent.

History & background

The history of peppermint dates back thousands of years. It is believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region and was cultivated by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans. The Egyptians used it for its medicinal properties, while the Greeks and Romans used it in culinary preparations and fragrances.

It gained popularity in Europe during the Middle Ages when it was cultivated in monastery gardens for its medicinal uses. It was used to treat digestive ailments, headaches, and respiratory conditions. The herb’s popularity continued to grow, and by the 18th century, peppermint had spread to other parts of the world, including North America.

In the United States, it was first cultivated in the early 19th century, primarily in the Midwest. The development of steam distillation techniques in the late 19th century allowed for the extraction of the essential oil on a larger scale. The oil became a valuable commodity and was used in various industries, including confectionery, pharmaceuticals, and perfumery.

Today, peppermint is cultivated in many countries around the world. It is widely used for its culinary, medicinal, and cosmetic purposes. Its refreshing flavor and aroma make it a popular ingredient in teas, candies, chocolates, and other food products. Peppermint essential oil is used in aromatherapy, personal care products, and as a flavoring agent in toothpaste, mouthwash, and other oral hygiene products.

What form does it come in?

Nowadays peppermint comes in many forms including:

  • Fresh
  • Dried
  • Oil
  • Extract
  • Tea
  • Infused

Fresh peppermint leaves can be used directly in cooking, such as adding them to salads, desserts, or beverages. They can also be infused in hot water to make peppermint tea.

Dried peppermint leaves are a convenient option for making tea. They can be steeped in hot water to create an aromatic and flavorful herbal infusion.

Peppermint essential oil is a highly concentrated form of peppermint. It is extracted from the leaves through a process of steam distillation. The oil is used in aromatherapy, as a flavoring agent, and for topical applications when properly diluted.

Peppermint extract is a liquid extract made by infusing peppermint leaves in alcohol. It is commonly used as a flavoring in baking and confectionery.

Pre-packaged peppermint tea bags are a convenient option for making a quick cup of peppermint tea. The dried leaves are contained within the tea bags, making them easy to steep in hot water.

It is available in capsule or tablet form as a dietary supplement. These are typically used for digestive support or to address specific health concerns. It’s important to follow the recommended dosage instructions and consult with a healthcare professional before taking any dietary supplements.

When selecting peppermint products, it’s important to ensure they are of high quality and sourced from reputable sources. For essential oils, choose oils that are labeled as pure and suitable for internal or external use, depending on your intended application.

We have included a link for a peppermint extract, so that you will always have some ready to use in your cooking.

Pure Peppermint Extract

Pure Peppermint Extract from Goodman’s.

This generous 16 ounce bottle means you have plenty to use when you need it.

This product is also organic, Non-GMO, gluten-free, no sugar or additives.

Is Peppermint good for you?

Peppermint is believed to provide certain health benefits. Here is a list of some of them:

  1. Digestive Health: Known for its ability to support digestion. It may help alleviate symptoms of indigestion, bloating, gas, and stomach discomfort. The oil, in particular, has been studied for its potential to relax the muscles of the gastrointestinal tract.
  2. Headache Relief: The application or inhalation of peppermint oil has also been reported to provide relief from tension headaches and migraines. Also the cooling effect of menthol in peppermint may help relax muscles and alleviate headache pain.
  3. Respiratory Support: Peppermint’s aroma and menthol content can help clear nasal congestion and provide relief from respiratory conditions like colds, coughs, and sinus congestion. Inhaling steam infused with peppermint oil or using products with peppermint can help soothe the respiratory system.
  4. Oral Health: Peppermint’s antimicrobial properties may contribute to oral health. It is often used as a flavoring agent in oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash. It may help freshen breath and provide a clean sensation in the mouth.
  5. Stress and Mood Support: The aroma of peppermint has invigorating and uplifting properties. It may help reduce stress, improve focus, and enhance mood when used in aromatherapy.
  6. Muscle Relaxation: Topical application of peppermint oil may have a cooling and soothing effect on sore muscles. It is also sometimes used in massage oils or balms to help relieve muscle tension and discomfort.

It’s important to use peppermint in moderation and be aware of any personal sensitivities or allergies. Peppermint oil is potent and should be properly diluted before topical use. Additionally, some individuals may experience heartburn or reflux symptoms if consumed in excessive amounts.

If you have specific health concerns or conditions, it’s advisable to consult with a healthcare professional before using peppermint for medicinal purposes. They can provide personalized guidance based on your individual circumstances.

Flavor profile of Peppermint

It has a distinct and refreshing flavor profile. Its primary flavor component comes from the essential oil menthol, which provides a cooling and minty taste sensation.

It has a strong minty flavor that is both cooling and invigorating. It delivers a refreshing sensation on the palate.

The menthol content in peppermint gives it a cool and refreshing taste, similar to a breath mint or chewing gum. It can provide a soothing effect and a sense of freshness.

There is a natural sweetness that complements its minty flavor. And it adds a pleasant hint of sweetness to dishes and beverages.

It has herbal undertones that add depth to its flavor. And it also has a slightly grassy or earthy note, especially when used in larger quantities.

It has a strong and aromatic scent that enhances its overall flavor experience. The aroma is fresh, uplifting, and often associated with cleanliness.

Peppermint’s flavor profile makes it a versatile herb that can be used to add a refreshing and minty taste to a wide range of dishes and beverages. Its cooling and invigorating properties make it particularly popular in desserts, beverages, and as a flavor enhancer in savory dishes.

Cooking with Peppermint

Peppermint is a versatile herb that can be used in cooking to add a refreshing and minty flavor to various dishes.

Try adding fresh or dried peppermint leaves to water for a refreshing and flavorful infused drink. You can also use them to make peppermint tea by steeping the leaves in hot water.

Sprinkle some fresh leaves over salads to add a pop of flavor and freshness. It pairs well with fruits like strawberries, watermelon, and citrus.

It is commonly used in desserts, especially during the holiday season. Try adding to cookies, cakes, brownies, ice cream, and chocolate-based desserts for a delightful minty taste.

It can be used to flavor a variety of beverages. It is often added to hot chocolate, coffee, smoothies, and cocktails to provide a refreshing twist.

Blend fresh peppermint leaves with other herbs, such as parsley or basil, along with olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt to create a vibrant herb sauce or dressing for grilled meats, roasted vegetables, or salads.

It can be infused into syrups and jellies to add a minty flavor. These can be drizzled over pancakes, waffles, ice cream, or used as a glaze for meats.

Combine minced fresh peppermint leaves with other herbs, spices, and liquids like lemon juice or vinegar to create a flavorful marinade for meats, seafood, or tofu.

Add a few fresh leaves to chilled soups, such as gazpacho, for a refreshing kick. It can also be used in warm soups or stews to add a hint of minty freshness.

Don’t forget that the peppermint flavor can be quite strong. Therefore, you should use small amounts as too much can overpower the dish. If you can always try to use fresh peppermint leaves as this will give you the best flavor. However if you don’t have fresh peppermint then try using a suitable substitute.

Common uses

Peppermint has a wide range of common uses. Here are some interesting ways to use it.

Use the leaves to flavor food and beverages, including teas, desserts, candies, and cocktails. It adds a refreshing and minty taste to various dishes.

It is also known for its digestive properties. Peppermint tea or oil can help alleviate symptoms of indigestion, bloating, and stomach discomfort. It may also help relieve symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

When applied topically or inhaled, peppermint oil can provide relief from tension headaches and migraines. Furthermore the cooling sensation of menthol can help relax muscles and ease headache pain.

Peppermint’s natural flavor and scent make it a common ingredient in breath mints, chewing gums, and oral care products. Therefore it can help freshen breath and provide a clean, minty feeling in the mouth.

Have you tried inhaling peppermint oil, or steam infused with peppermint, to help clear congestion? It can also help ease respiratory symptoms, such as coughs, colds, and sinus congestion. I remember my mother making us sit with a tea-towel over our heads and a bowl of warm peppermint infused water to help clear our heads Now there’s a memory for you.

The essential oil is widely used in aromatherapy for its invigorating and energizing properties. It can help boost focus, mental clarity, and provide a cooling sensation when diffused or inhaled.

I only realized recently that the oil is a natural deterrent for insects, including mosquitoes, ants, and spiders. It can be used as a non-toxic alternative to chemical-based insect repellents.

The oil extract is used in various skincare and hair care products for its soothing and cooling properties. It can also help relieve itching, irritation, and provide a refreshing sensation.

It also has antimicrobial properties which makes it a popular ingredient in homemade cleaning solutions. Use to freshen up surfaces, eliminate odors, and repel pests in the home.

The aroma can help promote relaxation, reduce stress, and uplift mood. It is also often used in aromatherapy blends and bath products for its calming effects.

It’s important to note that while peppermint is generally safe, some individuals may have allergies or sensitivities to it.

Other alternatives

Finally, if you are looking for an alternative to peppermint then you could consider using basil, tarragon, rosemary, or marjoram. Each can bring a slightly different flavor to your dish.

Have a look at our substitutes section for ideas on what other herb you can use in place of peppermint.