The mint family is something most of us are familiar with. We know mint from our oral health care products: spearmint and peppermint have become the default flavor of toothpastes and mouthwashes. We might also know mint as an herbal tea. Some of us know it in jellies. It is the ubiquitous garnish, of the dessert world, adding that touch of green.
However, we unknowingly use the mint family (Labiatae, aka Lamiaceae) far more than that, and with a turn back to self-sufficiency, we could actually be using it more than we already do. The cousins, uncles, and siblings of what we recognize as mint (the Mentha genus) carry a wide array of notable flavors for cooking, medicinal values for home remedies and ecological benefits for the garden.
There is so much more to mint than toothpaste and dessert plates.
Classic Mint Flavors
For those who have experimented with growing mint a little, we know that what we recognize as mint, plants from the Mentha genus, have great variety in and of themselves. While most of these are culinarily characterized by a bright, refreshing flavor, there are subtle tastes beyond that. For those of us who have experimented with mint as an ingredient, we know that mint has much more versatility than tea and ice cream. Amongst the most popular of Mentha flavors are:
- Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
- Peppermint (Mentha x piperita)
- Apple mint (Mentha suaveolens)
- Chocolate mint (Mentha x piperita ‘Chocolate’)
- Lemon mint (Mentha x piperita citrata)
For a little investigation with the classic mint flavors, try using these 10 Peppermint Recipes and these 15 Chocolate and Mint Recipes to try out the different flavor variations in homemade sweet treats. To move beyond dessert and into savory snacks and tasty cocktails, check out these 15 Ways to Use Mint in Your Recipes This Summer.
Source: 1Day Review/Flickr
Common Culinary Herbs
When we look at the mint family as a whole, not just those members of the Mentha genus, the flavors get much more wide ranging. The thought of using the mint family in savory dishes is actually commonplace. In fact, most Western culinary herbs do come from the Labiatae family, and many of these are in our spice cabinets now, only we might not have recognized them as a type of mint. What’s more is that each of these types of mints has many subspecies of flavor to play with, e.g. pineapple sage, lemon thyme, and Thai basil.
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
- Sage (Salvia officinalis)
- Marjoram (Origanum majorana)
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Rosemary (Rosimarinus officinalis)
Not that the majority of cooks need help figuring out how to use these members of the mint family, there are some awesome recipes to try out for celebrating this new knowledge of mint: Baked Herb-Crusted Cashew-Almond Cheese, Za’atar Grilled Eggplant, Chickpea Pizza with Herb Pesto, and Mixed Herb Lentil and Wild Rice Soup. Then, check out this incredibly useful guide to pairing herbs with the right vegetables.
Hidden Gems of the Mint Family
The expanse of the mint family goes much wider than what we’ve mentioned thus far. There are plenty more members that we are familiar with and possibly enjoy regularly. There are other members that we ought to give a try. And, due to the fact that we have limited to space and time, there are other members we won’t even get to today. That said, these are some other mints to try or try again.
- Savory (Summer: Satureja hortensis, Winter: Satureja montana) Summer savory is an annual plant and is the more commonly used of the two. Winter savory is perennial and has a slightly more bitter flavor. Savory is used similarly to sage, and it is a common component in the herbes de Provence blend. Savory can be substituted for thyme and sage, though usually the more easily found thyme and sage are substituted for it.
- Chia (Salvia hispanica) Chia seeds actually come from a mint family plant, and of course, for plant-based — or any for that matter — eaters, these are a great source of protein and healthy fats. There are all kinds of ways to use chia seeds in everyday recipes, such as breakfast cereal, pancakes, burgers, and smoothies.
- Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis) Hyssop is a beautiful plant for landscaping and great at attracting bees and butterflies. It is also edible and medicinal. It has a mint-licorice flavor that works in infused liqueurs (see: absinthe), as well as marinades. The flowers can be put into salads. This one is strong tasting, so it should be used sparingly.
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia) Lavender is something we are much more familiar with aromatically than culinarily. Its scent is known to have a calming effect that warrants its inclusion in lots of bath, massage and aromatherapy products. Lavender also works in the kitchen. It brings a floral flavor and is often used in conjunction with other herbs.
- Bee Balm (Monarda didyma)/Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) Bee balm, be it cultivated or wild, is a beautiful addition to flower, butterfly and bee gardens. It also can add some funk and flavor to food. The flowers can be tossed into salads, the leaves and flowers can be used to season cooked foods and, most notably, the leaves and flowers are often components of tea blends.
Source: Michele Dorsey Walfred/Flickr
Make Life Minty
Though it wasn’t the focus of this article, most of the mints listed above have a slew of medicinal qualities that keep us healthy and kicking. They do things like boost our immune system, soothe our joints and stimulate our brains. In other words, it makes sense to include mints in our life. We can put them in the garden, we can put them on our shelves and, without a doubt, we should put them in our recipes.
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