While dried mint and mint tea are both “minty,” their flavors are not the same.
With most delicate herbs, including basil and parsley, we’d never opt for the dried kind over fresh, as drying removes many of their volatile flavor components. But dried mint is a different story. Though its grassy, vegetal flavors dissipate during drying, its characteristic minty flavors, which come from a class of compounds known as terpenes, are far more stable and potent. We think dried mint is well worth having on hand in your kitchen, especially if you like eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cooking. One of the distinctively “Greek” flavors in our Pastitsio comes from dried mint; we infuse it into the minty melted butter that we drizzle over our Red Lentil Soup with North African Spices; and we add it to sauces, spice rubs, salads, and kebabs.
But if you don’t have dried mint on hand, don’t make the mistake of thinking mint tea leaves could take its place. While the dried mint sold commercially is spearmint, the leaves used for tea are most often peppermint. The two species feature different flavor compounds, and we found that they’re not interchangeable. Spearmint gets its complex flavor from the terpene L-carvone along with various pyridines that are more commonly found in roasted foods, while peppermint is rich in the terpene menthol, which gives it a candy-cane mint flavor. (But if you happen to have fresh spearmint, you can easily dry it yourself: Place the mint in a single layer between two paper towels and microwave for 1 to 3 minutes, until the leaves are brittle and fall easily from the stems.)