When a Recipe Calls for Mint, Which Kind Should You Use?

There are many varieties of mint in the world, but only one that we call for in recipes.

Published May 30, 2023.

Over the years I’ve experimented with growing several types of mint in my home garden: spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, water mint . . . you get the picture. And they’re all good and interesting in their own way. 

But there are only two mint varieties that are sold in most American grocery stores: spearmint and peppermint. 

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How to Visually Tell Spearmint and Peppermint Apart

Spearmint has bright green or gray-green leaves with a veined, crinkly texture, while peppermint has smooth, darker green leaves and stems with a purple tinge. Peppermint contains more menthol and thus has a more potent fragrance when crushed between your fingers. 


Spearmint (left) and peppermint (right)

Taste Differences Between Spearmint and Peppermint

To compare their flavors, we lined up a bevy of test cooks and editors and had them sample both types of mint raw, in our recipe for Fresh Mint Sauce (an accompaniment to our Crumb-Crusted Rack of Lamb), and finally in Cucumber-Mint Lemonade

Tasted plain, our tasters found the peppermint to be stronger, sharper, and spicier than the spearmint. “Supercooling,” “tingly,” and “prickly” were a few of the adjectives they used in describing peppermint. Spearmint, on the other hand, was described as “sweeter” and “milder.”


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The two mints were basically a wash in the sauce—our tasting panel liked them both. It was hard to tell the two samples apart because the sauce contains a good bit of olive oil, plus strong ingredients such as lemon juice and garlic. 

The spearmint shone brightly, and was much preferred by our tasters, in the lemonade, where its flavor was “vibrant” and “rounded.” The peppermint, alas, was described as “toothpaste-y” and astringent. 


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Should You Use Spearmint or Peppermint in Cooking?

Use spearmint for all of our recipes that call for mint as a fresh herb. 

If you see the word “peppermint” in a test-kitchen recipe, it refers to either peppermint extract or candies for baking—and not the fresh herb. 



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