All Kinds of Mints
Most days, mint is just a flavor that finds me only after it has been confined to little pebble-shaped sugar pellets or entombed inside globs of unnaturally blue, inedible paste. It can be hard to remember that mint is actually a living, green plant and not just the chemical dream of some mouthwash product developer.
Mints—as in the wide variety of live mint plants thriving throughout the world—are hardy, versatile herbs. Their flavors are far from uniform, and the sensation of eating a piece of fresh mint is a far cry from the sensation of Standard Issue Toothpaste.
Rediscovering Fresh Mint
One of the pleasures I've found in growing herbs on my windowsill this year has come from rediscovering fresh mint. It's fascinating to experience the subtle differences in the appearance, scent, and flavor of differing kinds of mints.
After much observation and several taste tests, these are the impressions I've formed of the kinds of mints I'm growing, from spearmint to orange mint to peppermint.
- Orange Mint
- Pineapple Mint
- Chocolate Mint
Spearmint looks the most like the classic mint if such a mint exists. The leaves are a bright, vibrant green with spiky edges. The texture of the leaves is crinkled and wrinkled like the skin of an alligator. The taste is not at all sweet. It tastes like greenery that's been laced with tingling, numbing superpowers. It's refreshing. It's what I would want topping an ice-cold lemonade in the summertime.
2. Orange Mint
Orange mint has a softer smell than spearmint, and it has a slightly floral hint to it. Since I know the plant is called orange mint, perhaps this is the power of suggestion kicking in, but the smell is similar to the smell of citrus blossoms. It's like the scent of sweet mint jelly or the way I'd imagine mint used as a garnish on a cake might smell after bathing in fruity frosting for a day. Yet the taste is slightly sour.
Orange mint leaves are a slightly deeper green than spearmint; the edges are less ragged; the ridges on the surface are much more symmetrically spaced. The leaves curve slightly, like little shells or umbrellas.
3. Pineapple Mint
Pineapple mint may be the most appealing mint to look at, but it's my least favorite in terms of taste. The flavor is very mild: slightly bitter, slightly buttery, faintly burnt-rubbery. It's a pretty garnish, that's all, with its striking patches of yellow-white breaking up the frilly, fuzzy, irregularly shaped green leaves.
Peppermint is intense. As I chew a fresh peppermint leaf, the plant's distinguishing cooling, and numbing abilities sensation take over entire sections of my tongue in turn. The effect lingers for minutes, making every breath of air taste faintly sweet.
Peppermint leaves are deep green, and they're longer and much more pointed than spearmint leaves. They're also much flatter than the curling orange mint leaves, but they share the same kind of symmetry.
5. Chocolate Mint
Chocolate mint lives up to its name. This is a true dessert mint. Simply plucking a chocolate mint leaf and holding it in front of me, I can already smell something sweet. Like all mints, chocolate mint has a taste that's overpowered by its tingle, but chocolate mint numbs ever so gently. The leaves look very similar to the leaves of peppermint, but the stems have a distinct brownish-purplish tinge.
More Mint Varieties
- Licorice mint
- Apple mint
- Ginger mint
How to Grow Mint
Mint is one of the easiest edible plants to grow indoors. Mint plants have a reputation as hard for destroying, wherever they are grown. I've found that a mint plant shoved to the darkest corner spot on the windowsill will survive, and even a young mint plant that goes without water for nearly a week will spring back to life quickly.
The only real requirement is a big pot to grow it in; this stuff shoots up and spreads quickly. But if you like mint, that's a great thing.
- Mint is used as much more than a garnish. It is often paired with lamb, but it is just as often paired with lemon or chocolate. It is regularly used in teas, candies, ice creams, jellies, chutneys and sauces.
- Mint leaves are edible. So are mint flowers.