As a kid, the flavor of mint only meant one thing to me – gum.
As an adult, it was quite a shock eating a bowl of tabbouleh and struggling to place the refreshing flavor that complemented the feta cheese, cucumber, tomato, lemon juice and olive oil so well. Who knew that mint existed for things other than Trident and Mentos?
There are actually many types of mint plants, including peppermint, spearmint, pineapple mint, orange mint, chocolate mint and more. The plants are highly aromatic, and the type of mint plant can often be identified by smell. Mint plants, which are perennials, tend to grow best in moist environments and in certain climates can be considered an invasive species. They are also considered a useful natural repellant for many pests like ants, mosquitoes and flies.
Peppermint is often used as a digestive aid, generally as a tea or in the form of an essential oil. It’s important to know that peppermint can help with an upset stomach, but it can also worsen symptoms of heartburn and reflux. Peppermint candies are ineffective when used for this purpose.
Like most herbs, mint is extremely low in calories but does contain a meaningful amount of several vitamins and minerals, particularly vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, iron and manganese.
Mint leaves are best used fresh, but can be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to a few days.
There are many ways to integrate mint into your diet. The simplest is to use it to help infuse your drinking water with flavor. It could be used alone, but is more often paired with something like cucumber or slices of citrus fruit to add flavor to your water. Mint leaves could even be frozen into ice cubes, allowing them to more subtly flavor water as the ice melts. Hot teas can also feature fresh mint leaves, as can certain alcoholic mixed drinks.
Mint is great in beverages, but can also be a wonderful complement to your main dish. Tabbouleh, a grain salad of Middle Eastern origin, is probably the most common entrée to feature mint. It can pair well with certain meats like chicken or lamb, as well as fish. Mint can also be incorporated into noodle dishes, soups and fruit salads.
Of course, you could stick to mint gum. Just know that you’re missing out on a whole world of mint flavors in your meals, snacks and beverages.