It’s high time for a resurgence of the refreshing tongue-tingling taste of mint! All too often, fresh mint seems to be an afterthought in a dish—cornered into the role of decorative garnish.

Take a closer look and you can start to appreciate why many different cuisines use this unique herb in a plethora of dishes that extend well beyond icy muddled drinks and minty chocolate desserts.

Just like other garden herbs, the mint family of plants includes many varieties, each with its own unique flavour profile. From sweet and refreshing, such as apple mint, orange mint, or chocolate mint, to varieties that are more sharp and spicy tasting, such as Moroccan mint or peppermint, mint is an ideal herb to use in all styles of recipes.

When eaten on a regular basis, mint may also help promote a healthy digestive system by easing an upset stomach, aiding digestion, and helping to treat headaches, skin irritations, and menstrual cramps.

Whether buying mint or gathering it from your garden, make sure to look for bright green, perky leaves with no signs of brown spots or wilting. Once in the kitchen, mint is best stored by placing the stems in a tall glass or container filled with a couple of inches of water. Loosely covered and kept in the refrigerator, mint should last for about one week. To maintain mint’s freshness, change the water every other day.

With all that mint has going for it, there is no better time to start experimenting in the kitchen. Stirring garden mint into your favourite summer dishes, no matter which variety you choose, is sure to add a pleasing and unexpected twist that your family and friends will just eat up!

Recipes

Preserving the bounty

Drying your own garden mint ensures you have a supply at hand throughout the colder months. Here’s how:

  • The best time to pick mint stalks for drying is just before the plant flowers. This is the time that the leaves contain the most oil, which is what gives the herb its aroma and flavour.
  • Wash and spin sprigs of mint in a salad spinner to remove as much moisture as possible. Lay mint on a clean towel in a single layer and let dry, out of direct sunlight, for a couple of hours. Make sure mint is very dry, as any residual moisture may encourage mold growth.
  • Gather a small bundle of herbs and tie the stem ends together with kitchen string. Place leafy end of bundle into a brown paper lunch bag, secure bag around stalks with another piece of kitchen string, and poke a couple of small holes in the bag. Repeat with remaining mint. Drying herbs in the dark will ensure they better retain their colour and oil content during drying.
  • Hang bags, stem end up, in a dark, cool, and well-ventilated area. Let herbs dry completely, checking occasionally to ensure no mold growth, for about two weeks. Leaves should be very brittle and curled.
  • Gently remove leaves from stem and store in an airtight container in a cool spot. Discard stems. Use as needed either whole or crushed.

A mint for every occasion

A quick search will reveal many more types of mint than those used in the recipes here. Try experimenting with banana mint, lavender mint, pineapple mint, habek mint, or curly spearmint in the following ways.

  • Infuse green tea with mint, lemon, and a squeeze of honey. Drink warm, iced, or frozen into popsicles.
  • Instead of lettuce, add an extra dimension by using some mint leaves in your next sandwich. Mint is particularly delicious added to tuna or chicken sandwiches.
  • Add some mint leaves along with fresh basil to a Caprese salad for a fresh take on a classic.
  • Add a handful of mint to your next batch of pesto.
  • Chop and stir into pasta, grain, or potato salads.
  • Infuse olive oil with mint and drizzle onto salads or over soups.
  • Wrap fresh mint with finely sliced summer vegetables in rice paper to make fresh summer rolls and serve with spicy peanut sauce.
  • Toss seasonal fruit with mint for a quick and refreshing dessert or snack.
  • Add freshly chopped mint to baked goods such as brownies, cookies, or muffins.
  • Make homemade mint extract. Muddle a good amount of mint in a sterile jam jar, cover with vodka, and screw on a lid. Let sit in a cool, dark place for about one month, then decant extract and discard mint leaves.

Cooking with dried mint

Like most herbs, dried mint tends to have a more concentrated and potent flavour than its fresh counterpart. In cooking, the general rule is to use 1 tsp (5 mL) dried mint for every 1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh mint. 

About the Author

Lawren Moneta is a chef, food stylist, and recipe developer who loves to get her hands dirty in the garden.