How to have minty fresh breath and not be a potty mouth

Growing up, I loved mint, still do, but back then I had very fixed ideas of what mint was and where it belonged: in my gum, in my toothpaste, and most assuredly in my ice cream and my mom’s Creme de Menthe cake.  Then I went to college and all my preconceived notions were dashed, and thank goodness!

minty fresh

First, Sven from Norway, and I became fast friends in college.  He was very interested in finding a girlfriend, and frankly given his accent, and attending college in America’s heartland, he could have been homely (which Sven definitely was not) and still done well for himself, but he grumbled about his dating troubles.  I promised to take him under my wing and introduce him to my friends.  After running through a list of what I thought were girls with strong potential, he wrinkled his nose in disgust, to which I responded, “What’s wrong with them?  They’re smart, well groomed, with assuredly minty fresh breath as most seemed to have gum at hand.”  To which he responded that that was the problem.  Apparently, mint was the scent of choice for his mom’s toilet bowl cleaner and he could not disassociate the scent from the task his mom performed.  For me, the moral of that story was to stick to Juicy Fruit gum if you are interested in dating.  This was the first time it occurred to me that mint was used as something other than a tasty ingredient for dessert.

Next, I hooked up with my college friend from Iran, who introduced me to the wonderful world of Persian and Middle Eastern cooking.  For the first time I tried dried mint (you could do that?) and used in savory foods and drinks; suddenly the options for this herb just took off!  Of course, I became curious as to how mint is used and perceived in other cultures and was determined to explore further, I found mint in curries, soups, salads, you name it.  As a result, adding mint to just about anything I make has become second nature.

Types of Mint

Mint, just mint

Having known of spearmint, peppermint, doublemint (so named as it has oils of both spearmint and peppermint) I was still surprised to learn that there is over 600 varieties (a few sources claim nearly 3,500).  As a result I am disappointed that a single variety is found in most grocers, generically labled “mint.”

According to Harold McGee in his book, On Food and Cooking, this family of herbs is the most generous around, for several reasons, they like the dry rocky Mediterranean scrublands that other plants wither at the prospect and they are promiscuous (breeders that is).

Other herbs in the Mint Family include:

  • Basil
  • Bergamot
  • Horehound
  • Lavendar
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marjoram
  • Oregano
  • Perilla
  • Roasemary
  • Sage
  • Savory
  • Thyme

History and Folklore

adding just the right touch

Peppermint was probably first used in England, and its popularity spread to the European continent and to Africa, where it is very popular particularity in Northern Africa.  Other mint varieties indigenous to Europe and Asia have been used for thousands of years.

Gernot Katzer states, “Other mint species are indigenous to Europe and Asia, and some are used since millennia. Cultivars in tropical Asia always derive from field mint and are, therefore, botanically not closely related to European peppermint, although they come close to peppermint in their culinary value. Mints from Western and Central Asia, however, are comparable not to peppermint but to horsemint and applemint.”

Romans spread basil to all corners of Europe. Mint was treasured as an important aromatic herb in medieval times.

When the colonists came to America they brought along their mints for teas for not only because it tasted good, but because it wasn’t taxed.

The species name Mentha is from Roman mythology.  Minthe was a lovely nymph who caught Pluto’s wandering eye. All well and good until Pluto’s wife Persephone discovered his love for Minthe, and she became understandably enraged. She transformed Minthe into a lowly plant, fit only to be walked on. Pluto couldn’t reverse Persephone’s curse, but he softened the spell by making the scent Minthe gave off all the sweeter when she was tread upon. The name Minthe has changed to Mentha and become the name of the herb, mint.

Mint has long been associated with hospitality, Greek mythology details how two strangers were walking through a village, and the villagers ignored these travelers until an elderly couple offered them a meal. Before the four sat down for their meal, the couple rubbed the table with mint leaves to clean and freshen it. The strangers turned out to be the gods Zeus and Hermes in disguise. As a reward for the hospitality shown them, the gods turned the humble home into a temple, and mint the symbol of hospitality.

The Pharisees paid their tithes in mint (Mentha longifolia ‘Habak’), anise, and cumin according to Biblical record. In Babylon, mint was added to a turnip stew, according to one of the oldest recipes known (if you want proof, it was written in stone). The ancient Hebrews scattered mint on the synagogue floor, so that each footstep produced a fresh aroma.

Samples of culinary uses of mint

United States:

San Francisco

As I mentioned, mint is found mainly in sweets, ice cream being a main example, but lets not forget mint sauce for lamb at Easter and of course, Kentucky’s wonderful contribution of the mint julep, or Tracey’s (Tangled Noodle) version of Blue Grass Ice Tea.

The incredibly talented, always creative Greg of SippitySup offers Butter Bean Crostini

Natasha of 5 Star Foodie whose talent knows no bounds offers rhubarb “sushi” with mint mousse and foam

Europe and The Mediterranean

From Peter at Kalofagas (Greek Cooking) I offer some of the following tasty examples: Rice with Ampelofylla, Stafide and Koukounaria and Tourlou with Beans

Joumnana of Taste for Beirut showcases a classic tabbouleh and an uber refreshing sounding mint-lemonade and Batat bel Kammooneh (Potato salad, Southern Lebanese style) just to get you started.

Sarah of Foodbridge offers Meatballs in Tomato Sauce and Lentils and Kishke – Bulgur and Yogurt Salad

Zerrin of GiveRecipe offers up some incredible winners with Mercimek Corbasi (Red Lentil Soup) and Imambayildi – randomly called “The Priest (Iman) Has Fainted” because this dish is so good, I was near to swooning myself.

Paris

Pierre of Le Blog de Pierre Cuisine – a wonderland of creativity offers Chocolate Jelly, Orange Blossom Water Espuma and Mint Ice cubes

Morocco is famous of its mint tea which is de rigeur after a meal, of course other countries have similar teas as mint is thought to be a soother of an upset tummy.

Middle East

In the Middle East, mint is often added to yogurt for the Kubbah or Kibbee (grilled meatball in sauces), or to the yougurt drink dugh.

Azita of TurmericSaffron offers up some incredible Persian options such as yogurt and artichoke (mast-o-artisho), Sekanjabin (a sweet and sour Persian drink) and Persian rhubarb stew (Khoresh Rivas)

Dimah of OrangeBlossomWater show off some incredibly tasty options starting with the classic Baba Ghannouj, and continuing with Kousa Bez-Zeit, Kousa Mtabbaq, Lahm Bi-A’jin, and Shakrieyh

India, Southeast Asia and Pacific Rim

In Indian cuisine mint is an important seasoning showing up in chutneys, curries and a host of other dishes.  Let’s not forget raitas those satisfying combinations of yogurt, cucumbers, tomatoes, and onions with mint, parsley, mustard seed, and cumin.

Indian Cooking offers Gongura – Mint Moong Dal, Recipe Delights offers Potato-Mint Chaat and FastIndianRecipes gives us Green Hari Chutney

Hong Kong

According to Susie Ward in The Gourmet Atlas, mint is considered the chief herb of Mongul cuisine.

Thai food like Vietnamese uses mint combined with other (generally always fresh).

Thai meat salad – lahb (which if you have never eaten before is truly spectacular, and if you have never made it, it is so easy, your mouth sings with flavor)  This recipe is from Leela of SheSimmers.

Hong and Kim of Ravenous Couple offer a Vietnamese classic of Ca Nuong Mo Hanh (Roasted Catfish with Scallion Oil) and Banh Xeo Vietnamese Sizzling Crepes

Andrea of Viet World Kitchen offers up some tasty options including a Hmong Cucumber Mint Cooler and a primer on mint and other herbs you can expect to find in Vietnamese cooking.

Mexico and Latin America

In Mexico, mint is the secret ingredient in Albondigas (meatball soup) or Chicken Soup with Mint: Caldo de Pollo con Hierbabuena.

I had to stop myself on adding all the recipes I found from around the globe that incorporated mint.  It would have been far beyond what my feeble mind could have taken in.

Erica at My Columbian Recipes has this wonderfully refreshing idea for Zucchini Carpaccio


With good reason mint is called yerba buena (good herb) its versatility is limited only by our imaginations.

Further Reading

Spice Pages: Mint

Botanical.com – A Modern Herbal |Mints

Tons of Mint – Seeking Creative Suggestions

Update me when site is updated

29 comments for “How to have minty fresh breath and not be a potty mouth

  1. November 8, 2010 at 9:37 PM

    Holy information overload. I never knew there was so much to know about mint, lol.

    First of all, the story about your friend associating the smell of mint gum with his mother’s toilet bowl cleaner is hilarious. That poor boy!

    And basil is part of the mint family? I obviously knew nothing about the mint family at all, geesh.

  2. November 9, 2010 at 7:11 AM

    I love the mythology tales and how mint has been elevated. I have two mint plants (the kind that overtake the world) and I will confess to barely using them. What was I thinking?

  3. November 9, 2010 at 8:24 AM

    Mint is one of my favorite flavors to add to dishes, both sweet and savory! Thank you so much for including my rhubarb sushi with mint mousse in your excellent selection of recipes! Oh, I love the mythology origin of mint, I can’t wait to share this with the 5 star foodie junior when she comes home from school!

  4. November 9, 2010 at 8:36 AM

    I love mint (yerba buena) we always have it on hand as my mom loves her mint tea, The grocery stores here do not carry many varities, which is sad and all is labeled mint. I love the history behind this fab herb, and what great recipes…I am forwarding this to my mom as she grows alot of mint…perfect reading as she sip her tea..

    sweetlife

  5. November 9, 2010 at 10:33 AM

    It’s so nice to just pick mint right off the stem and chew on it. Great for flavor and freshening. ha!

  6. November 9, 2010 at 12:10 PM

    I am not really a fan of peppermint in sweets, desserts. Peppermint chocolate, peppermint ice-cream – I am really not a fan of them. But peppermint in savory dishes is totally different. ;p

  7. November 9, 2010 at 12:38 PM

    LOL@ the relation between mint and dating…I seriously didn’t know about it. Your blog is always so much fun to read.
    Thumbs up for you!
    Angie

  8. November 9, 2010 at 2:07 PM

    Mint is one of my favorite ingredients- fresh or dried. I can use it on anything, it has such a nice scent that it makes any dish appealing. I love its tea, too. Just boil water and put a sprig of mint in it. It makes a perfect winter drink. And I can understand your friend Sven, scents may have various effects hidden in our subconscious. and thank you for including my red lentil soup and imambayildi in your list.
    Hope you are doing well at school.

  9. November 9, 2010 at 2:28 PM

    It’s so interesting to think of all the ways this herb is used around the world. I’m still trying to overcome the curse that prevents me from growing it however. For whatever reason, and I know it should spread like a weed, it never grows well in my garden. I wonder if Persophone has something to do with that!

  10. November 9, 2010 at 6:08 PM

    I am so glad I found your site! It’s got so much information on it that I couldn’t decide which link to click on first. I LOVE mint. I have a huge plant that has invaded my flower garden and love to to chew on the leaves, put it in iced tea, lemon aide and… mojitos! thanks for all the great research! I’m going to list you in my blogroll ::

  11. November 9, 2010 at 8:51 PM

    I didn’t know all the history and varieties behind mint! Wonderful recipes and one of my fav flavor in ice creams.
    I don’t like desserts that have mint but if you read carefully you see artificial essence..nothing natural. Love mint – tea :)

    All the best,

    Gera

  12. November 9, 2010 at 9:18 PM

    I often forget that there are numerous varieties of mint. Shiso leaves are my favorite variety of mint. It’s not hard to add this herb to salads as is often done in Vietnamese cooking. They are also easy to grow, but will take over your garden. I once found that the mint that I uprooted from my front yard garden somehow spread to the side walk and emerged to cracks! Talk about resilience.

  13. November 11, 2010 at 4:49 AM

    Wwahahaha!! I love that! That is hilarious, that those nice girls smelling minty fresh just reminded him of his mom’s toilet cleaner. Hahaha!

    I love Korean shiso leaves. They’re a bit different from Japanese ones, and I don’t know the English name for it. We call it gaen yip. My mom wraps it around meat and then pan-fries them. :-)

    By the way, it was SO great seeing you in person, after reading your blog for sooo long! I only wish I could have spent more time with you…and this is a disaster. I don’t have a pic of you!!! WAAAAHHH!!

  14. November 11, 2010 at 5:13 AM

    Thanks for all of these tasty recipes too! I also love mint in all of its variations.

    I just tagged you with 10 qulinary questions. Come over @ my blog & check it out!!

  15. November 11, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    I love mint in sweet things and fresh salads. One of my favorite things in the summer is melon/mint soup. I’ve been trying to drink a lot more water in my “condition” but am so turned off by plain water. Crushed mint in sparkling water has become my savior.
    If you are ever at Delfina for dinner and they have mint ice cream on the menu, get it. It’s so good. So minty and I believe it’s all natural from steeping…
    I must explore using mint in a wider variety of cooking after reading your post!

  16. Lazaro
    November 11, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    Very engaging and interesting read. Mint is one of the most underused herbs in the kitchen. Thanks for including so many wonderful links to some great foodies.

    You are very supportive and generous. Keep doing your thing.

  17. November 11, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    I love mint. I love the cool feeling it has when eating it in a dish. I do like the history of it. I always find it fascinating to learn of the history behind certain foods.

  18. OysterCulture
    November 11, 2010 at 9:49 PM

    Jessi – So I went a bit overboard? =)

    Claudia – You sound like me, but its never too late!

    5 Star – Cool, can’t wait to hear what 5 Star Foodie Junior thinks

    Sweetlife – Absolutely – hope she likes it

    Angie – That one just cracked me up, of all the dating problems a fella could have, that one was the most unexpected.

    Duo – I agree, I used to pick the leaves off the plant just to chew on, loved them so much.

    Tigerfish – hmm, I’ve found in a very unprofessional survey, that if you started your life as a savory/mint person, its hard to become a sweet/mint person, is that the case with you?

    Zerrin – I have to say that Sven took me off guard when he told me his delimma, How could anyone not like mint. School is going wonderfully well, loving every minute of it. Hope you feel the same.

    Lisa – I feel your pain, I can’t get it to grow in my apartment, along with basil – and I go home and my mom has bushes of both of them. Why can’t I have her green thumb?

    Sarah – So glad you stopped by and I had a blast checking out your site as well, unfortunately I am having trouble leaving a comment.

    Gera – Until I decided to track down a few recipes – it really grew, I had no idea off all the options out there. Mint ice cream is tops with me too!

    Christine – Lisa and I need advise on what we’re doing wrong and why we cannot grow mint!

    Sophie – On my way soon, glad you liked the post!

    Gastro – ah, mint/melon soup, now that does sound so refreshing, I shall have to update my list to include that one.

    Lazaro – I think that’s what prompted me to post, I get in a rut with this wonderful herb, and I wanted to check out my options. I need to see if you have any helpful advise for me to add. I should have thought of that earlier.

  19. November 11, 2010 at 11:16 PM

    Hahaha. I loved your story about mint in different cultures! I was completely the opposite. I used to hate mint growing up. Even to this day, I’m quite selective with mint in food or drinks. By the way, what did you think about the mint water we got from Foodbuzz?

  20. November 12, 2010 at 8:10 AM

    Recently at an Open Mic performance, needing something to ease my throat so I could speak- A friend volunteered to get me a mint or something, and came back with these rather STRONG mint tablets. I could hardly take a few seconds…also you remind me of my childhood home where my mom grew three varieties of mint outside of the sliding glass door and screen…I love how it smells, but not fond of the taste…you always write the funniest and informative post!

  21. OysterCulture
    November 13, 2010 at 6:37 PM

    Kitchen M – funny how what we start out with in life affects our outlook. Tried the mint water – very strong mint taste. Not bad, but not sure its natural.

    Chef E – Ah the Altoids. Hope you survived. You remind me of my sister who loves the smell of coffee but hates the taste – I’m convinced she’s adopted. =)

  22. November 13, 2010 at 9:53 PM

    I adore mint, especially in Mojitos! 😉
    OK, I also like it in Asian food, too.

  23. November 14, 2010 at 8:28 PM

    What a great and entertaining post…I know, it is so amazing the different herbs we use or are familiar with that fall into the mint family…
    Great read :)

  24. November 16, 2010 at 6:14 PM

    Crazy the amount of information you dig up on things. Crazy is also the amount of time I spend reading your posts as they are always so fascinating

  25. November 16, 2010 at 7:26 PM

    Thanks very much for such an educational and thorough post. I always have found the chocolate mint variety entertaining and perplexing, though I do love the combination of mint with real chocolate….

    Dan

  26. November 17, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    What a funny story! At first I thought you were going to say that he thought chewing gum was un-ladylike. That seemed to be a popular view where we were in Brazil. I didn’t expect the negative association of mint smell. I think the world of mint really opened up to me when I had it in different types of sauces paired with lamb in Brazil. It was a step out of my “only sweet” comfort zone.

  27. OysterCulture
    November 21, 2010 at 5:39 PM

    Carolyn – duh – how could I forget mojitos?

    Magic – I was too, the list was a lot longer than I expected, and some took me by surprise.

    Wizzy – All started with a question and I got carried away (again) =)

    IslandEAT – My pleasure, thank you for stopping by.

    Lori – I cannot tell you how shocked I was, when he told me that mint reminding him of toilet bowl cleaner, you could have knocked me over with a feather.

  28. December 3, 2010 at 1:04 AM

    Too funny and poor Sven but he’s absolutely right! Living in France I’ve learned the North Africa way of using this most lovely of herbs in just the right way and amount and I’ve grown to love adding it to so many dishes. Thanks for the links to some great recipes.

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