What Is the Difference Between Spearmint and Peppermint?

Fuse/Getty Images

The most prominent difference between spearmint and peppermint is their taste. Spearmint has a sweet and somewhat mild flavor while peppermint has a much stronger, more prominent flavor that can overwhelm other flavors in recipes.

Amount of Menthol in Spearmint and Peppermint Menthol is the organic compound that gives all different types of mints their distinctive cooling, refreshing taste and smell. It activates sensory receptors that interpret the chemical input as the sensation of coldness, although no actual temperature change takes place. One of the main differences between spearmint and peppermint is the amount of menthol that each type of mint plant contains. Spearmint contains about one percent menthol, which creates a delicate and subtly sweet flavor. However, peppermint contains up to 40 percent menthol, which gives it a much stronger, more intense flavor. The flavor is so strong that for many people it even borders on spiciness. This is where the name peppermint comes from.

Spearmint and Peppermint Leaf and Plant Growth Another thing that separates spearmint and peppermint is the way the plants grow and the way the leaves look. Spearmint leaves tend to grow larger than peppermint leaves, and they typically have a lighter color. Spearmint typically grows fairly close to the ground and has closely bunched leaves. Peppermint plants often grow taller and have more space in between the leaves. Both types of plants release a pleasant, minty scent when they are touched. However, peppermint has a much stronger scent, and it can sometimes be smelled from a few feet away. Peppermint and spearmint leaves both retain some of their scent when they are dried but the scent of peppermint leaves tends to linger for a longer amount of time, and they can even be used in conjunction with other herbs and flowers to make potpourri.

Medicinal Uses for Spearmint and Peppermint Peppermint is commonly used in ointments and powders for relieving sore muscles because of its high menthol content. It is also a common ingredient in throat soothing teas. Some people also believe that smelling the strong aroma of peppermint can help them relax and unwind. Spearmint also has some medicinal uses. Some people use it to help reduce mild cases of nausea or even to cure hiccups. It also works as a natural mosquito repellent and many people put spearmint leaves or spearmint oils on their skin to help keep mosquitoes at bay.

Spearmint and Peppermint in Cooking Spearmint and peppermint are both popular ingredients in a variety of dishes. Spearmint is frequently used in drinks, such as mojitos, as well as a variety of Mediterranean dishes and sauces. It is often used in conjunction with rosemary and salt to season and tenderize meat. It can also be combined with yogurt and other dairy products to make both savory and sweet sauces. The strong, even overpowering flavor of peppermint is not commonly used on meats and other savory foods, but it is a very popular ingredient for candies and pastries. It goes well with both dark and milk chocolate and peppermint bark is one of the most popular holiday treats. Both types of mint can be used to create mint-flavored gum or breath mints.