Are mint and peppermint the same thing? Can we substitute one for the other. How can we differentiate between mint and peppermint?

up vote 67 down vote accepted

Peppermint is a hybrid breed of two plants belonging to the mint genus, spearmint and watermint. In my experience, when 'mint' is referred to by itself without any other descriptors, it usually refers to the spearmint flavour people are used to (from things like green restaurant mint candies, toothpaste, etc). Peppermint will be denoted as peppermint. However, as mentioned in the comments, this may vary based on region.

There is a significant difference in taste between peppermint and spearmint; I find peppermint to have a much more intense flavour. Scientifically, peppermint gets its flavour from its high menthol content, whereas as spearmint owes its flavour to the compound L-carvone. Substitution will not replicate the same flavour as the original.

Source for science related parts: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mentha

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    This is my first answer, so if anyone has any improvements feel free to edit it. – yung thug Nov 14 at 17:48
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    And a great fist answer it is too - welcome! – Boris the Spider Nov 15 at 8:06
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    "it usually refers to the spearmint flavour people are used to" - this must be a regional thing. For me, peppermint is the most common mint flavor. For years, I even didn't know that spearmint is related to mint (it has a linguistically unrelated name in my mother tongue). So just saying "mint" will certainly refer to the flavor people are most used to, but which one it is will vary with culture. – rumtscho Nov 15 at 10:43
  • Well what does watermint taste like then? I've never heard of it. Basil is a mint plant too, right? What is the mint they use in mojitos? – Chloe Nov 15 at 21:33
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    @Chloe Basil is in the same family (Lamiaceae) mint is in, but is not in the Mentha branch, so is not mint. Other herbs in lamiaceae include rosemary, sage, marjoram etc. Mojito mint (mentha x villosa), apparently is the mint used in mojitos (called yerba buena in Cuba). – mcalex Nov 16 at 5:57

Mint is the genus of the herb, peppermint and spearmint are two subsets. Spearmint is milder and more classically European, peppermint is rather more aggressive, and much more popular in the US (where it's usually labelled as just 'mint'). Those are the two main subsets.

You can substitute one for the other, but you will lose the characteristic flavor of the dish if you're aiming for something specific. For instance, mint tea made with peppermint doesn't taste Moroccan at all :-). If only 'mint' is specified, you can use whichever one you prefer (it's very easy to grow, so you can have your own right in your kitchen).

The only way I know to recognize them is by smell, so you have to find both different sorts and learn to distinguish them by experience.

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    Any experienced gardener who has dealt with mint will tell you that 'very easy to grow' is an understatement. If you're not container gardening it, mint (of almost any variety) can be nearly impossible to get rid of. – Austin Hemmelgarn Nov 15 at 18:10
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    Yes, there is that :-). – George M Nov 15 at 21:21

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