A guide to mint with information on the nutritional value of mint and ideas for use.

Mint is widely used in commercially manufactured products, cooking and medicine for its aromatic and flavoursome qualities. Peppermint, one of the most popular species of the mint plant, can be found in toothpaste, chewing gum, mouthwash, soaps, sweets, balms or creams and cough medicine.

There are many other types of mint including, applemint, water mint, horsemint, pineapple mint, orange mint, pennyroyal and spearmint. Pennyroyal is toxic if taken internally, causing severe liver damage, but it can be rubbed onto the skin to repel insects and prevent them from biting.

Apart from peppermint, spearmint is probably the most widely used species of mint. It is not as strong as peppermint in flavour and is therefore used in cooking and added to sauces, dressings, cakes and can be added as a garnish to dishes.

The history of mint

Mint is known to have originated in Asia and the Mediterranean region. In many cultures, mint symbolised hospitality and was offered as a sign of welcome and friendship to guests as they arrived.

In the Middle East mint tea is still served to guests on their arrival, whilst in ancient Greece, the leaves of mint were rubbed onto the dining table, which was a sign of their warm greeting.

Mint was also often used as an air freshener and was placed in the rooms of houses, synagogues and temples to clear and freshen the air and rid the smell of unpleasant odours from the room. The Greeks and the Romans used mint as a perfume and a bath scent, as well as using it in medicine and in cooking.

Mint was so revered by the ancient Greeks that they named the plant after the mythical character Minthe. According to Greek myth, Minthe or Menthe as she is also known, was a river nymph. Hades, the God of the Underworld, fell in love with Minthe and wanted to make her his lover. However, Persephone, Hades's wife found out and in a fit of rage turned Minthe into a plant, so that everyone would walk all over her and trample her. Unable to undo the spell, Hades gave Minthe a wonderful aroma so that he could smell her and be near her when people trod on her.

The nutritional value of mint

Mint contains a number of vitamins and minerals, which are vital to maintain a healthy body. Mint is rich in Vitamins A and C and also contains smaller amounts of Vitamin B2. Vitamin C is an important antioxidant and may help to decrease the risk of certain cancers such as colon and rectal cancer. Although mint may be consumed in small quantities, the vital nutrients obtained are still beneficial to one's health.

Mint also contains a wide range of essential minerals such as manganese, copper, iron, potassium and calcium.

The medicinal properties of mint

Mint has always been used medicinally to aid digestion and relieve indigestion. If you suffer from frequent indigestion, drinking a cup of peppermint tea after your meal may help.

The chemical compound menthol, which is obtained from peppermint oil, is well known for its healing properties on the chest and respiratory system.

Mint is also said and in many cases proven to:
  • Relieve symptoms of indigestion, heartburn and irritable bowel syndrome by relaxing the muscles in and around the intestine.
  • Act as a powerful antioxidant, protecting the body against the formation of cancerous cells.
  • Inhibit the growth of many different types of bacteria and fungus.
  • Ease and unblock the breathing and respiratory passages and airways.
  • Relieves the symptoms of colds and flu.
  • Mint can help with nasal allergies.
  • It can relieve congestion, head colds and headaches.
  • Act as a mild sedative and has calming properties.
  • Relieve minor aches and pains such as muscle cramps and sprains.
  • Combat bad breath.
  • Provides a cooling sensation to the skin and can help to treat minor burns, itching and skin irritations.
  • Mint is a very good cleanser for the blood.
  • Mint tea can help clear up skin disorders such as acne.

Buying and storing fresh mint

The two most popular types of mint that you may use for cooking are peppermint and spearmint, with spearmint being the milder of the two. Mint is extremely popular in Middle Eastern cooking, especially Iranian and Lebanese cuisine, where it is used in an extensive range of sweet and savoury dishes.

Fresh mint can be bought from your local supermarket and should be stored in the refrigerator for the best freshness. If you buy a bunch of mint, it should be placed in a container of water, stems down, with a plastic bag loosely covering the top. Ideally change the water every two days and the mint should stay fresh for up to a week.

Dried mint can also be bought but the flavour is so much more diluted.

Ideas for using mint in cooking

In the UK, mint is traditionally made into a sauce to be eaten with roast lamb. Peppermint is an excellent flavouring for ice cream, biscuits and chocolate. Below are some other ideas on how to use mint, whether it is peppermint or spearmint, in your cooking.
  • Add chopped mint to sauces for red meat particularly lamb.
  • Add several sprigs of mint to peas, green beans or new potatoes whilst boiling.
  • Add mint to a homemade or pre-prepared chocolate sauce for a choc and mint sauce.
  • Use as a garnish for cool drinks and fruit desserts.
  • Use dried peppermint leaves, added to boiling water to make a refreshing and digestive tea.
  • Make a yoghurt dressing with chopped mint leaves, natural yoghurt, garlic and salt and pepper for salads especially cucumber salad.
  • Add to cold soups or hot tomato soups.
  • Use to make curries.
  • Use mint to flavour cakes, meringues and biscuits.
  • Use to make a marinade for lamb.
  • The Middle Eastern salad dish, Tabbouleh contains mint, bulgar, parsley, red onions, tomato and lemon juice.
  • Add chopped mint to rice, chickpea, couscous or bean dishes.

Mint Recipes

Recipes that have the fresh herb mint as one of their main ingredients including mint and cannellini bean dip and falafel with a mint yoghurt dip.

Mint and Cannellini Bean Dip

This spicy dip is an excellent alternative to hummus. It can be served with bread, crackers or vegetable crudités. Check the packet of the beans to see whether they need to be soaked overnight before use.

  • 6 oz (170 g) of dried cannellini beans
  • 1 bunch of spring onions, chopped
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • a handful of mint leaves
  • 2 tbsp of olive oil
  • 2 tbsp of tahini
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of ground coriander
  • lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  1. Place the dried cannellini beans into a large bowl and fill with water to cover. Leave to soak overnight.
  2. Rinse the beans under a cold running water tap to remove impurities. Place into a large saucepan filled with water and bring to the boil.
  3. Boil the beans for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pan with the lid and cook gently until the beans are soft and cooked.
  4. Drain the beans and place into a food processor.
  5. Add the chopped spring onions, garlic, mint, tahini and the olive oil and process until the mixture is smooth.
  6. Transfer to a mixing bowl and stir in the spices and the lemon juice. Check the seasoning and add salt and pepper accordingly.
  7. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  8. Serve with vegetable crudités.

Falafel with a Mint Yoghurt Dip

Falafel are delicious spicy fried balls made from chickpeas, which are served in warm pitta bread with salad and a sauce. This recipe is for a mint sauce but you can also try chilli sauce too.

  • 8 oz (225 g) of dried chickpeas
  • 2 tbsp of freshly chopped coriander
  • 1 tbsp of tahini paste
  • 1 tbsp of freshly chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp of lemon juice
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • 1 tsp of turmeric
  • 1 tsp of ground cumin
  • 1 tsp of sea salt
  • ¼ tsp of cayenne pepper
  • seasoned flour
  • oil for frying
  • For the yoghurt dip
  • ¼ pint (150 ml) of Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tbsp of freshly chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 crushed clove of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  1. Place the chickpeas into a mixing bowl, fill with water to cover and then leave to soak overnight.
  2. The following day, rinse the chickpeas thoroughly under a running tap and place into a food processor.
  3. Add the tahini, crushed garlic, salt, turmeric, cumin, cayenne, chopped coriander and mint leaves and the lemon juice and process until you obtain a smooth paste.
  4. Transfer to a mixing bowl, cover with cling film and leave to stand for at least half an hour so that all the flavours infuse together.
  5. In the meantime prepare the yoghurt dip by mixing all of the dip ingredients together in a small bowl. Season with the salt and pepper, cover with cling film and refrigerate until needed.
  6. When you are ready to prepare the falafel, take a bit of the mixture and with your hands shape into a small ball.
  7. Coat with a little of the seasoned flour and continue to shape and coat until all the mixture has been used up.
  8. Heat 1 cm of vegetable oil in a frying pan and then fry each falafel ball until they have browned all over.
  9. Drain on kitchen paper and serve hot inside a warm pitta bread with the yoghurt dip and some shredded salad.

Mint Lamb Chops

This is basically a recipe for lamb chops with mint sauce. The mint sauce can also be made and served with a roast lamb Sunday dinner.

  • 4 lamb chops
  • 2 fl oz (55 ml) of white wine vinegar
  • 1 oz (30 g) of butter
  • 2 tbsp of caster sugar
  • 1 tbsp of chopped fresh mint leaves
  • salt and pepper
  1. Place the white wine vinegar and caster sugar into a small saucepan together.
  2. Dissolve the sugar into the vinegar over a low heat by stirring continuously. Bring to the boil and continue to boil for 2 - 3 minutes.
  3. Transfer to a bowl and allow to cool. Stir in the chopped mint.
  4. Melt the butter over a fairly high heat in a large frying pan.
  5. Once the butter is really hot, add the lamb chops and fry for 4 - 5 minutes on each side until brown.
  6. Add the mint sauce to the frying pan with the lamb chops and mix together with the meat juices.
  7. Serve the lamb chops with steamed vegetables and potatoes and pour the mint sauce all over.

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