Humans have a long and storied history with mint flavors. We use mint as flavoring in teas, cocktails, candies, meat dishes and more. Mint ChapStick products are prominently featured throughout our line of offerings.
Mint flavoring has a particularly rich history in Balkan and Middle Eastern cooking, but it doesn’t stop at just food items. While the fresh or dried leaves of mint plants are used primarily as an ingredient, the plant’s essential oil can be extracted for use in both flavoring and adding scent products. Our love of the bright flavor of mint and its lingering cooling sensation is profound. But how much do you actually know about mint flavor?
Where Does Mint Flavor Come From?
Mint is actually a blanket term for a number of different aromatic herbs within the genus Mentha. “Mint” could be referring to water mint, Corsican field mint, Japanese field mint, candy mint, apple mint, orange mint, chocolate mint, or any number of the almost countless hybrids and cultivars of the different mint species. They grow in a number of different environments around the globe, as well as indoors. It is believed that mint is native to the eastern Mediterranean, but there are so many different varieties it’s hard to know with full certainty. We certainly know it was abundant in that area. The word mint itself comes from Greek mythology and is associated with the nymph Minth, pointing to mint’s ancient origins and significance.
Among the genus Mentha, there are two main species of mint plants that stick out: spearmint and peppermint. Spearmint and peppermint flavors stand out in different ways that can make a big impact in how they are used. Spearmint is very widely cultivated because of its hardiness and its wide array of culinary uses. Peppermint flavor tends to be a bit more striking, and it is primary cultivated to be processed into peppermint oil. Peppermint oil is then used as a flavoring or further processed into menthol.
Beyond Flavoring: Mint’s Medicinal Uses
Given humanity’s long history with mint, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that a number of cultures have incorporated mint into traditional medicines. Ancient medicinal uses for mint include increasing strength, treating chest pain, clearing up rashes, and more. But could these traditional uses have stemmed from actual medicinal benefits we can study today? Peppermint has, so far, been the most widely studied of the mint varieties. Lab and animal studies show that peppermint may have a number of different medicinal uses, primarily aiding in digestion (i). The menthol in spearmint meanwhile has been found to likely increase the production of bile, another function of the digestive system (ii).
Peppermint Flavor vs. Spearmint Flavor
Spearmint’s flavoring is generally considered milder than peppermint’s flavor. Peppermint’s flavor is much more striking. This is due to its higher concentration of menthol. While both spearmint and peppermint contain menthol, the amount found in peppermint is significantly higher. While both peppermint and spearmint flavors add bright, bold notes to a dish, it’s important to take the two herbs’ subtleties into account. Dishes on the savory side tend to benefit more clearly from spearmint flavor. Dishes on the sweeter side, most notably confections, tend to favor peppermint flavor. That’s because peppermint pairs especially nicely with chocolate and citrus.
If you want to experience the difference yourself, start with mint ChapStick® products. Spearmint is perhaps most prominently featured in our Classic Spearmint lip balm. After you’ve applied a coat of Classic Spearmint, try our 3 in 1 Cooling Peppermint lip balm from our Total Hydration line! Which do you prefer, the subtle and refined flavor of spearmint or the bold and passionate flavor of peppermint? No matter which you choose, you’ll be able to find a ChapStick® product to call your own.