What’s the Difference Between Spearmint and Peppermint?
Debating to use spearmint vs peppermint? We have you covered.
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. Even some of our all-time favorite recipes like roast rack of lamb with herb sauce, mint julep and grasshopper pie include mint. So since they don’t specify which kind— spearmint vs. peppermint—how do we choose the right one?
Spearmint vs. Peppermint
Although confusing which type of mint to use in your recipe won’t necessarily ruin your creation, there are differences between the two in terms of flavor and uses. Before getting into what each herb is, let’s go over their key differences:
- Menthol level: Menthol is the chemical ingredient that creates that recognizable and much-loved cooling effect on the mouth. Peppermint contains 40% menthol as opposed to spearmint’s 0.5%.
- Flavor: Because there is so much less menthol in spearmint, it’s sweeter than peppermint (which has more of a spice or kick to it).
- Appearance: Though it’s not the best way to tell the herbs apart, their appearance does sometimes vary. Spearmint leaves are slightly fuzzy on the underside and the stems are usually light green. The stems of peppermint will often have a purplish hue.
What is spearmint?
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.
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 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.
What is peppermint?
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.
You might have noticed that peppermint typically only makes a prominent appearance in your grocery aisles during the holidays (bring on the peppermint bark and peppermint patties!). While we love making all the leftover candy cane recipes, its also a refreshing flavor to enjoy year-round—and not even necessarily in the kitchen. Peppermint serves a whole slew of medicinal purposes, too. It’s known to soothe sore throats and achy muscles, 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 the mint are probably when it’s crushed on top of an ooey-gooey lava cake or swirled into a heartwarming mug of hot cocoa.
Can you swap spearmint for peppermint?
If you realize you purchased the wrong herb, or if you can’t find the one you need at the store, are peppermint and spearmint interchangeable? The answer is yes, with a caveat.
Because peppermint is so much stronger than spearmint, you won’t want to use a 1:1 ratio. Instead, if a recipe calls for a certain amount of spearmint, use little amounts of peppermint at a time until you get the desired taste. If a recipe calls for peppermint and you only have spearmint, know that your finished dish will be more mild than anticipated.