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Mint (peppermint; Mentha piperita)

Plant family

Lamiaceae (mint family)

Botanical synonyms



Peppermint is a (usual sterile) hybrid from water mint (M. aquatica) and spearmint (M. spicata). It is found sometimes wild in Central and Southern Europe, but was probably first put to human use in England, whence its cultivation spread to the European continent and Africa; today, Northern Africa is a main cultivation area.

Other mint species are indigenous to Europe and Asia, and some are used since millennia. Cultivars in tropical Asia always dereive from field mint and are, therefore, botanically not closely related to European peppermint, although they come close to peppermint in their culinary value. Mints from Western and Central Asia, however, are comparable not to peppermint but to horsemint and applemint .

Used plant part


Sensoric quality

Characteristically pure and refreshing odour, pungent and burning taste.

The typical `mint scent' is most pure in peppermint, Japanese mint (Mentha arvensis var. piperascens) and some varieties of green mint (Mentha spicata, but not spearmint), whereas in most other mints additional flavour components are discernible; for example, crispate mint (Mentha crispa), though minty, somewhat reminds to caraway . The doublemint flavour of spearmint is difficult to describe; it's minty but not pungent.

Main constituents

The essential oil of peppermint (up to 2.5% in the dried leaves) is mostly made up from menthol (ca. 50%), menthone (10 to 30%), menthyl esters (up to 10%) and further monoterpene derivatives (pulegone, piperitone, menthofurane). Traces of jasmone (0.1%) improve the oil's quality remarkably.

Menthol and menthyl acetate are responsible for the pungent and refreshing odour; they are mostly found in older leaves and are preferentially formed during long daily sunlight periods. On the other hand, the ketones menthone and pulegon (and menthofurane) have a less delightful fragrance; they appear to higher fraction in young leaves and their formation is preferred during short days.

The world's most important source of menthol is, however, not peppermint but field mint. Field mint is the only mint species that became naturalized in tropical Asia; there are many different cultivars, some of which are grown for direct consumption, others for the distillation of essential oil. The Japanese variety of field mint (Mentha arvensis var. piperascens Malinv. ex Holmes), now grown in many Asian countries, may contain up to 5% of essential oil in its tips; more common, however, are 1 to 2%. Chief component of the oil is menthol (50 to 70%, in rare cases up to 90%). After parts of the menthol have been removed from the oil, the oil is marketed as (dementholized, rectified) Japanese peppermint oil; it typically contains 30 to 45% menthol, 17 to 35% menthone, 5 to 13% menthyl acetate, 2 to 5% limonene and 2.5 to 4% neomenthol. Other terpenes occur but in traces (piperitone, pulegone, ß-caryophyllene, ß-caryophyllene-epoxide, a-pinene, ß-pinene, germacrene D, 1,8-cineol, linalool, menthofurane, camphene). A trace component characteristic for this species and missing in other mints is ß-hexenyl phenylacetate.

Mint leaves. From left to right peppermint, Eau de Cologne mint (M. citrata ), Japanese mint (M. arvensis var. piperascens , also known as var. japonica ), horsemint or silver mint (M. longifolia ), Moroccan green mint (M. spicata ), pineapple mint (M. suaveolens ) and Carinthian mint (M. carinthiaca = M. arvensis  x M. suaveolens )


Peppermint and its relatives are mostly known as a medicine and popular herbs for infusions; for example, an infusion of green mint is the `national beverage' in Morocco and Tunisia.

British breeds of green mint are known as spearmint. They are very popular for flavouring cold soups, beverages and meats; together with thyme, spearmint is the most important culinary herb in Britain. Spearmint is the mint to use for the famous and often dreaded (by non-Englishmen) peppermint sauce served to boiled lamb. Today, most spearmint is actually used in the chewing gum industry (doublemint).

Peppermint originated in England, probably due to accidental hybridization. The oldest cultivar known, black Mitcham, is named after after a town near London; its leaves are dark due to anthocyanine pigments. Other varieties of peppermint are free from anthocyanines and are known als white peppermint.

In Britain, as in the rest of Europe, true peppermint is used almost exclusively for confectionaries and sweet liquors, where its cooling and fresh pungency balances the sweetness of the sugar. For all such purposes, the usage of pure essential oil is preferred in order to avoid the adstringent to bitter notes of the peppermint leaves. The freshness of peppermint goes extremely well with chocolate flavour. Peppermint ice cream is especially delightful on a hot summer day, makeing use of the cooling properties of menthol.

Peppermint is much cultivated in many countries of Europe, Western and Central Asia for the production of menthol, which is needed in pharmaceutical preparations. In most of these countries, peppermint entered local cuisine, replacing in part the native mints.

Fresh mint is essential to flavour a celebrated speciality of Carinthia, Austria's most Southern region bordering Italy, whence the art of noodle-making was imported. Kärntner Kasnudeln (meaning loosely Carinthian cheese-stuffed dumplings or Carinthian cheese-pasta ) are basically large ravioli -type noodles stuffed with a mixture of cottage cheese, boiled potatoes and fresh herbs. The herb mixture contains chervil and a special Carinthian mint variety with caraway scent which somewhat remembers spearmint . Boiled or steamed Kasnudeln are served with a few drops of molten butter as a snack between meals, or for dinner.

Fresh mint leaves are often used in Turkish cooking together with yoghurt; similar concoctions are in use in Lebanon and Israel .All over Wester Asia, grilled lamb (kabab ) is flavoured with mint, and dried mint is part of the Georgian spice mixture khmeli-suneli ).

Iranian cuisine knows several highly sophisticated recipes employing mint; some of these were later transferred to Northern India, e.g., moghul -style biriyan . Unlike the Western Asian foods containing mint, the Persian recipes can, at least for my taste, also be prepared with true peppermint.

Mint is also extremely popular in Vietnam, where it is nearly always enjoyed fresh. Aromatic leaves are served as a garnish to nearly every Vietnamese dish, particularily in the South.

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