- Mint is an umbrella term that refers to all the different types of mint plants. Peppermint is one type of mint plant.
- Mint is a herb used widely in cuisine, as a flavoring in products such as chewing gum or dietary supplements, and for its medicinal properties.
- Peppermint has the strongest flavor of all mint varieties and the highest menthol content. It is most commonly used in its oil form for strong flavoring or for its health benefits, rather than being used in cuisine.
What Is Mint?
“Mint” is an umbrella term referring to plants of the Mentha family. Native to Eurasia, North America, southern Africa, and Australia, it is a perennial herb with very fragrant, toothed leaves and tiny purple, pink, or white flowers. (Source)
Mint is one of the most popular herbs and flavors in the world. In fact, in 2018 the United States produced enough peppermint oil to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool – 5.38 million pounds! (Source)
However, its popularity is not surprising when you consider just how many uses the mint plant has. From food flavoring to product scent to medicine, mint is an all-rounder.
What Is Peppermint?
There are 25 species of mint – peppermint, spearmint, orange mint, and chocolate mint, to name a few.
Peppermint is one of the most widely used species of mint. It is a hybrid between two other types of mint – watermint and spearmint.
Peppermint has the strongest flavor of all the mint species.
It also has a higher concentration of menthol than other types of mint at 40%. Do you know that cooling sensation in your mouth after you consume something with a peppermint flavor? That’s the menthol at work.
What Is Mint Used For?
In cooking, mint is used in the same way as any other herb. To add flavor to dishes.
Spearmint and curly mint are the varieties most often used in cooking and beverages.
Mint can also be used as a flavoring in sweets and chocolate, and even some supplements.
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Mint flavoring is also often used in oral products. Think of your toothpaste or chewing gum.
Believe it or not, mint has been recommended for oral health from as far back as the 1620s. (Source)
Not only does mint create a tingly, fresh sensation in the mouth due to the menthol it contains, but peppermint also has significant antimicrobial and antiviral activities that may promote oral health. (Source)
However, these antimicrobial and antiviral effects are only seen with peppermint oil, not peppermint flavoring.
Peppermint oil has been used for centuries as a treatment for gastrointestinal ailments. One of the oldest surviving medical texts in the world, from Ancient Egypt in 1550 BC, cites mint as a digestive aid, and it is still used in this way today. (Source)
Peppermint oil appears to affect the digestive system by relaxing the muscles of the digestive system, decreasing its sensitivity, and providing anti-microbial effects as well as anti-inflammatory activity.
Various studies support its use in irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia, childhood functional abdominal pain, and postoperative nausea, with few adverse effects having been reported in trials. (Source)
Taking peppermint oil with meals has been shown to result in food passing through the stomach more quickly, which may relieve indigestion that occurs when food sits in the stomach for too long. (Source)
Capsules containing a combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil improved stomach pain and other digestive symptoms in people with indigestion, having a similar effect to common medications used to treat indigestion. (Source)
Research also shows that peppermint oil capsules can significantly improve symptoms in patients with IBS. (Source)
Peppermint oil may also have some benefits as an analgesic and peppermint scent may improve alertness.
Notably, nearly all research uses peppermint over other types of mint. This is likely due to the high level of active compounds, such as menthol, present in peppermint. Studies were also much more likely to use peppermint oil capsules rather than raw mint leaves, as this is a more potent form.
Peppermint Vs Mint
Because peppermint is a member of the mint family, it has many similarities to other types of mint. They all contain menthol and are commonly used in cooking or for their medicinal properties.
Among different varieties of the mint family, peppermint has the strongest flavor and the highest menthol content.
For this reason, it is not typically used for cooking but is more likely to be processed as peppermint oil and used for flavorings, fragrances, or for its health benefits.
Other species of mint such as spearmint or curly mint, have a lighter flavor and so are commonly the types used as herbs for food and beverages.
Mint and peppermint are not directly comparable because peppermint is a type of mint. Just as spearmint is another type.
“Mint” is an umbrella term for all the different types of mint plants.
All mint contains menthol, along with other compounds, and is commonly used as a flavoring in cooking or in products, as well as for its health benefits.
Peppermint can contribute to oral health and has also been seen to be particularly beneficial for digestive health, especially in patients with IBS.
Because of its strong flavor and potent menthol content, peppermint is usually used in its oil form as a flavoring or for its medicinal properties.
Whereas other types of mint such as spearmint are lighter in flavor and more commonly used in cuisine.
If you’re looking to add flavor to your dinner or drinks, opt for a light mint such as spearmint. But if you’re after potent flavoring or medicinal benefits – peppermint is your guy!
Lucy Brennan is a registered associate nutritionist (ANutr) and freelance writer specializing in health, nutrition and wellness content. She holds a BSc. (First Class Hons) in Public Health Nutrition and has over 4 years’ experience working in health communication, which is where her passion lies.
She has worked in roles with The Irish Food Board and FleishmanHillard PR, on their healthcare team, working with national and international health companies. Using this experience, Lucy now writes content in a freelance capacity. Lucy is dedicated to providing evidence-based content that is both engaging and accessible and inspires readers to make informed choices regarding their health.