What’s the Difference Between Peppermint and Spearmint?

Debating whether to use spearmint or peppermint? We have you covered.

We know mint as the refreshing and delicious flavor of many of the things we eat every day, from breath mints to mint chocolate chip ice cream. But none of these products, from toothpaste to candy, specify which kind of mint they’re made of. Despite the fact that most recipes and even grocery stores refer to mint as if it’s a single herb, there are over 15 types of mint, including spearmint, peppermint, orange mint, and apple mint. Peppermint and spearmint are the most popular, and are commonly used in cooking. Find out how to grow the 10 best herbs for a home garden.

Peppermint vs. Spearmint

Although confusing which type of mint (peppermint vs. spearmint) you should use in your recipe won’t necessarily ruin your creation, there are differences between the two in terms of flavor and uses.

Peppermint

peppermint hot chocolateBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock

Peppermint is an incredibly pungent—almost spicy—herb. (Its name is starting to seem a bit more fitting, huh?) And though peppermint is perhaps the better known of the two, it’s actually a natural hybrid of spearmint and water mint. This explains why it is so much more potent than its counterpart. Because peppermint is a mix of two types of mint, it contains a higher content of menthol (40 percent as opposed to spearmint’s 0.5 percent). Menthol is the chemical ingredient that creates that recognizable and much-loved cooling effect on the mouth.

You might have noticed that peppermint typically only makes a prominent appearance in your grocery aisles during the holidays, but its refreshing flavor is perfect to enjoy year-round—and not necessarily just in the kitchen. Peppermint serves a whole slew of medicinal purposes. It’s known to soothe sore throats and achy muscles, settle upset stomachs, stop runny noses, and relieve stress. Its strong flavor is best suited for sweet dishes, especially those with chocolate, which is why your fondest memories of this mint are probably when it’s crushed on top of an ooey-gooey lava cake or swirled into a hand-warming mug of hot cocoa. Got some peppermint on hand? Here’s how to store your herbs to keep them fresh.

Spearmint

mint mojito spearmint bluevoloshin311/Shutterstock

Compared to peppermint, spearmint has a delicate flavor and fragrance that is often described as sweet. It gets its flavor from the chemical ingredient carvone, which is much subtler than the aforementioned menthol and doesn’t evoke the same cooling sensation. Spearmint’s uses are primarily restricted to the culinary and commercial realms (think shaving creams and toothpaste). But it does have some notable healing effects, such as the ability to alleviate nausea and hiccups. Ever wondered why toothpaste is mint flavored?

The herb’s most well-known use is in Wrigley’s Extra Spearmint Gum (you know the one!), so it might come as a surprise that in cooking, spearmint is often found in savory recipes—the opposite of peppermint. Whether it’s blended into a tzatziki sauce drizzled over a rack of lamb, carefully folded into a pork- and veggie-packed spring roll or muddled into a refreshing mojito, spearmint is sure to let the dish’s other flavors shine alongside it, which is why it’s a favorite ingredient of many chefs around the world. Learn how to tell the difference between 9 other commonly confused food pairs.

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Annamarie Higley
Annamarie is a Midwestern transplant originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, where she first learned to appreciate the richness and diversity of food. She spends her days editing the Special Interest Publications and trying to keep her resultant stomach growls to a minimum.