Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Mint has been used for many centuries. The name comes from the Greek legend of the nymph Minthe, who attracted the attention of Hades. Hades’ wife, the jealous Persephone, attacked Minthe and was in the process of trampling her to death when Hades turned her into the herb (and was ever sacred to him). A symbol of hospitality and wisdom, “the very smell of it reanimates the spirit”, Pliny tells us. Ancient Hebrews scattered mint on their synagogue floors so that each footstep would raise its fragrance. Ancient Greeks and Romans rubbed tables with mint before their guests arrive. The Romans brought mint and mint sauce to Britain. The pilgrims brought mint to the United States aboard the Mayflower. The Japanese have distilled peppermint oil for several centuries and the oil is further treated to produce menthol. The smell of mint is known to keep mice away and pennyroyal is also regarded as an effective insecticidal against fleas and aphids.

Spice Description
The leaves of several species (there are over 40 varieties) of the plant Mentha, the commonest in culinary use being spearmint (mentha spicata or crispa). Pennyroyal (mentha pulegium) is also used in the kitchen and peppermint (mentha piperita) is cultivated for its oil. There are many varieties of mint in cultivation, each with a distinctive bouquet and flavour, but here we will describe only the three mentioned above. Spearmint and peppermint leaves are deep green, long , pointed and crinkled. Pennyroyal has small oval leaves, greyish in colour.
Bouquet: Spearmint and peppermint: aromatic and fresh
Pennyroyal: aromatic, pungent and acrid
Flavour: Spearmint is generally a sweet flavour imparting a cool sensation to the mouth. Peppermint has a stronger menthol taste. Pennyroyal is strong with a medicinal flavour.

Preparation and Storage
Dried mint should be kept in a tightly sealed glass jar away from light.

Culinary Uses
For most culinary purposes spearmint is the preferred variety. Mint combines well with many vegetables such as new potatoes, tomatoes, carrots and peas. A few chopped leaves give refreshment to green salads and salad dressings. Pennyroyal is used to season haggis and black puddings. Peppermint is more commonly used in desserts, adding fresh flavour to fruits, ices and sherberts. Spearmint is popular in the Balkans and Middle East, where it is used both fresh and dried with grilled meats, stuffed vegetables and rice and is an essential ingredient of dolmas, stuffed vine leaves. Dried mint is sprinkled over hummus and other pulse and grain dishes. Yogurt dressings, dips and soups often include mint. In India fresh mint chutney is served with birianis. American mint julep is a southern classic and a glass of English Pimms #1 must always be served with a sprig of mint. Mint tea is enjoyed copiously by Moslem Arabs. Peppermint is used to flavour toothpaste, chewing gum and liqueurs such as creme de menthe.

Health Benefits of Mint
For centuries, mint has been enjoyed for its wonderful aroma, its great taste, and its healing power. Long known for its ability to settle a nervous stomach, mint has a great many other health benefits as well. Whether as a soothing mint tea or part of a recipe, mint has long been part of both the cuisine and the medicinal cultures of societies as diverse as the Middle East, India and Europe.

Mint is well known for its ability to sooth the digestive tract and reduce the severity and length of stomach aches. In addition, mint teas and other herbal preparations have shown great promise at easing the discomfort associated with irritable bowel syndrome, and even at slowing the growth of many of the most harmful bacteria and fungi. The well-documented antifungal properties of mint are thought to play a role in the treatment of asthma and many allergy conditions as well.

It is even thought that mint may have benefits as an anticancer food. Mint is known to contain a phytonutrient called perillyl alcohol, which has been shown in studies on animals to prevent the formation of colon, skin and lung cancer. Further study is needed to see if this important benefit extends to the human world.

Mint is used in a variety of ways, but the most common is through the brewing of mint tea. There are many excellent mint teas on the market, and fresh mint tea can be made by pouring hot, but not boiling, water over fresh leaves of mint. When preparing mint tea, it is important that the preparation be covered while it is steeping to prevent the valuable volatile oils from evaporating.

For those who prefer their mint in pill form, there are a number of preparations on the market that make it easy to enjoy the many health benefits of mint. Supplements containing mint are widely available at health food stores, at supermarkets and of course on the internet.

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