When I went to plant my first herb garden, I knew I wanted to include mint – because mojitos, obviously. When I went to the nursery to pick out my plants, though, I was faced with a choice between spearmint and peppermint plants.
They were both cute, but I had no idea which I wanted. Before that moment, I’d only been forced to choose between the two when picking out gum in the checkout line, and I always opted for spearmint.
What’s the difference, though? And which is best for cooking, baking, and drink-making?
We’re about to get into the answer to the first question, and as for the second, well, it depends.
Peppermint and spearmint are both in the Mentha genus, but peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint (Mentha spicata) and water mint (Mentha aquatica).
Both have serrated leaves, produce pale pink or purple flowers, spread underground using stems called stolons, and contain menthol – the compound responsible for that fresh, cooling sensation.
It’s the levels of menthol that really set them apart.
Spearmint at just .5%. Peppermint is 80 times that with an average of 40%.
Peppermint smells more “minty,” and could even be described as spicy; it’s going to be the star of whatever dish or drink you put it in. My personal favorites are peppermint tea to sooth an upset tummy or holiday desserts that feature candy canes.
If you’re looking for a sweeter, more subtle minty flavor, spearmint is your go-to, however. Its sweetness blends better with other flavors, offsetting them instead of overpowering them.
If you’re having trouble remember which is which, just think about the gum wrappers. The peppermint gum usually comes in the icy blue, while the spearmint is typically wrapped in cool, earthy greens.
You can substitute one for the other if you absolutely have to, but you may want to include less of the peppermint if you’d originally meant to grab spearmint.
And FYI, they both make delicious mojitos. You can’t go wrong with rum, sugar, and mint.
Enjoy your herb garden, and your summer!