There are more than 30 species of mint, peppermint and spearmint being the most widely used in western cooking. Peppermint is the more pungent of the two, with bright green leaves, purple-tinged stems and a peppery flavour. Spearmint leaves are grey-green or true green and have a milder flavour and aroma. Mint is popular in Vietnamese and Middle Eastern cooking, used in a sauce with lamb, is the key ingredient in a Mint Julep and when used as a garnish makes almost every dish more attractive.
Source: MINT - Patricia G. Solley, 1997 (To go there: )
In fact, mint is supposed to be named after an ancient nymph by the name of Minthe who was beloved of Pluto. It was introduced into England by the Romans--and was used in baths...and also strewn to sweeten the smell of churches. One old belief had it that if a wounded man ate mint, he would never recover.
Source: extracted from the pages of Gernot Katzer - http://www-ang.kfunigraz.ac.at/~katzer/index.html
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. Contemporary Asian cultivars probably have an origin independent of European peppermint.
All species of genus Mentha are aromatic, although not in all of the the aroma is that pure than in peppermint. As a rule of thumb, any mint can be substituted by peppermint, but not always vice versa.
Peppermint is mostly known as a medicine and a popular herb for infusions (peppermint tea is the `national beverage' in some North African states); but it is also used as a spice in some parts of Asia. Dried mint leaves play an important part in Turkish and Persian cooking; from Persia, its usage spread to Northern India, where peppermint sometimes appears in moghul-style biriyanis (see saffron).
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, at least in the South; the most popular herbs (besides some that are not available in the West) for this purpose are coriander, water pepper, long coriander, basil and mint. See water pepper for details.
In European cooking, mint is only occasionally used as a spice, most so in England, where it is (together with thyme) the most popular herb; for example, mint sauce is a popular condiment for boiled meat. Another great English invention is the refreshing combination of mint fragrance with sweet chocolate.
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, of which a special mint variety confined to Carinthia and chervil are the most important. Boiled Kasnudeln are served with a few drops of molten butter as a snack between meals, or for dinner.
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