Spearmint and paper mint are both herbs from the mint family. They are often used in cooking and offer a refreshing flavor that most people like. But although they may share some similarities, they have distinct differences, and it can be difficult for most people to tell them apart. In this article, I’ll help you differentiate spearmint vs. peppermint, including the various benefits associated with each one of them.
We’ll also look at different factors, including flavor, availability, and uses, to help you better choose the type suitable for your needs.
What is Peppermint?
There are over 15 types of mint including, peppermint, spearmint, chocolate mint, applemint, orange mint,
Peppermint is a hybrid plant of the mint family, known for its cooling sensation when consumed or applied topically. Typically, it is a combination of spearmint and water mint and contains a high concentration of menthol, around 40%, which is responsible for its minty and slightly spicy taste.
This compound also gives peppermint its numbing and cooling properties.
Peppermint is often promoted for its ability to relieve irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), headaches, the common cold, bronchitis, asthma, and sinus infections.
Peppermint essential oil has also been applied to the skin to relieve different conditions, including joint pain, muscle aches, headache, and itching.
In cooking, peppermint often pairs well with sweet dishes like desserts, particularly when combined with chocolate. This explains why it is frequently used as a flavoring for items like ice cream.
It’s also used to add fragrance to soaps, cosmetics, toothpaste, and other products.
What is Spearmint?
Spearmint (Mentha spicata), also known as garden mint, lamb mint, common mint, or mackerel, is a type of mint with a pleasant smelling aroma and a delicately sweet taste commonly used in cooking.
It’s also a common ingredient in healthy-food products, mouthwash, toothpaste, and cosmetics.
Spearmint is native to Europe and Asia, but today, it’s also grown in North America and some parts of Africa.
It’s rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients that can support good health and alleviate different symptoms. It’s often used to relieve indigestion, gas, nausea, and vomiting.
Generally, the leaves of this herb are similar in appearance to regular mint leaves, with a spear-like shape and bright green color.
Additionally, spearmint has a low concentration of menthol (0.5%). Its light and sweet flavor come from a chemical called carvone. Despite its sweet flavor, spearmint is often used in savory dishes like pasta dishes, pesto sauce or as a garnish for roasted vegetables and soft drinks like iced tea and cocktails like mojitos.
Spearmint vs Peppermint
Spearmint and peppermint have several distinctive differences, including scientific classification, appearance, and taste differences.
Both spearmint and peppermint are members of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and the genus Mentha. However, spearmint is scientifically known as Mentha spicata, while peppermint is known as Mentha x piperita.
Leaves: As the word suggests, spearmint has spear-shaped leaves that look sharp, hairy, glossy, larger, and serrated on the edges. Peppermint, on the other hand, has thinner dark green leaves that might have dark red or purple veins, especially on the back.
Stem: Both peppermint and spearmint have hairy stems, but peppermint has fewer hairs than spearmint. Additionally, peppermint has purple stems, while spearmint has green stems that occasionally contain a light purple hue but are less prominent than peppermint.
Flowers: Spearmint and peppermint flowers look almost similar in structure, growing a few millimeters long in small bunches forming cone shapes. However, peppermint flowers are often pink or darker, while those of spearmint can be pink or white.
The growing environment: Both herbs have different environmental needs, with spearmint preferring damp soil and partial shade. Conversely, peppermint requires consistently wet soil and full sunlight.
Generally, spearmint has a sweeter, milder taste compared to peppermint. It also has a refreshing, mild, and slightly fruity taste, while peppermint has a more pungent, intense minty flavor with a cooling sensation.
You can easily tell this difference by eating a leaf or half of it. The peppermint will feel stronger, almost like that of sweet minty candy.
This variation in taste is because spearmint has less menthol than peppermint.
Peppermint contains three key chemicals that give it a strong peppery, minty flavor with a cooling sensation. These include menthone, menthol (50%), and eucalyptol.
On the other hand, spearmint contains limonene, pinene, and carvone (70%). Carvone is very mild, lending it a mildly sweet flavor with some citrus undertone.
That being said, the compound levels above only apply to essential oils. Fresh spearmint contains only about 13% of carvone and 0% of menthol, while fresh peppermint contains 12% of menthol and 0% of carvone.
Peppermint is used in medicine and baking, while spearmint is used more in teas, sweets, and other food items.
The Health Benefits of Spearmint and Peppermint
1. Improves irritable bowel syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a common disorder affecting the digestive tract, causing symptoms such as stomach pain, gas, bloating, and bowel habits.
Generally, the treatment for IBS comprises dietary changes and medications. However, research has shown that peppermint oil can be an effective herbal remedy for IBS.
This is because peppermint oil contains menthol, a compound believed to relieve IBS symptoms by relaxing the digestive tract muscles. A review of nine studies with over 700 IBS patients found that taking peppermint oil capsules was more effective in improving IBS symptoms than taking placebo capsules.
One study, in particular, found that 75% of patients who took peppermint oil for four weeks experienced an improvement in their symptoms, compared to 38% of patients in the placebo group. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that most research on the effectiveness of peppermint oil for IBS used oil capsules rather than raw mint leaves.
2. Good for digestive upsets
Mint can also be effective in relieving digestive problems such as upset stomach and indigestion. Typically, indigestion occurs when food stays in the stomach for too long before moving into the rest of the digestive tract.
Studies have shown that food moves through the stomach more quickly when people take peppermint oil with meals, which can alleviate symptoms of this type of indigestion.
Notably, a clinical study in people with indigestion found that a combination of peppermint oil and caraway oil in capsules had effects similar to medication used to treat indigestion, thus helping to improve stomach pain and other digestive symptoms.
Also, the carvone in spearmint is known to strongly inhibit muscle contractions in the digestive tract, leading to reduced abdominal pain and symptom relief.
3. Improves brain function
Aside from ingesting mint, inhaling the aroma of essential oils from either spearmint or peppermint can improve brain function. A study involving 144 young adults showed that inhaling peppermint’s scent for approximately 5 minutes significantly improved their brain functions.
Additionally, a recent study involving older adults with memory impairment who were given daily supplements containing 900 milligrams of spearmint extract showed that nearly 15% of them portrayed improvements in their working memories.
4. High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants are plant compounds that help neutralize free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that, when left to accumulate, can cause oxidative stress. Oxidative stress has been linked to numerous chronic conditions, including cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
Spearmint contains various antioxidant compounds, including flavones and flavanones like limonene. So using spearmint essential oil or taking it as tea can help boost our antioxidant intake.
5. May improve allergies
Allergies occur when your immune system responds to something that’s normally harmless in an abnormal way. Common allergens include pollen, dust, and animal fur.
The symptoms may vary from mild to severe, including runny nose, sneezing, coughing, wheezing, itchy skin, swollen eyes, etc. In some cases, it may worsen conditions like asthma
Mint plants like peppermint and spearmint contain various compounds that may help alleviate allergies. One of these is rosmarinic acid, an excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that can relieve allergies and improve asthma symptoms.
In one study, this compound was as effective as dexamethasone (a corticosteroid that prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation) or even more in relieving congestion in the airways and lungs in asthmatic lab models.
6. Promotes oral health
Peppermint is a common freshening ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwashes, and more than giving you a fresh breath; it can kill bacteria that may cause oral issues like oral plaque (a sticky film of bacteria that forms on teeth).
Peppermint can also help fight bad breath. One female study involving 34 high school students found that peppermint improved bad breath after one week of use in 23 of these students compared to 11 that were on a placebo.
In another study, patients with a sore throat and bad breath experienced relief from bad breath after receiving a rinse with peppermint, lemon oil, and tea tree oil.
7. Relieves menstrual cramps
The menthol in mint is a powerful muscle relaxant and an anti-inflammatory, so it can help relieve menstrual cramps.
In one study, women that took mint experienced reduced duration and intensity of menstrual pain. It also improved nausea and vomiting often associated with menstruation in some women.
8. May improve polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a condition that occurs when the ovaries produce too much of the male hormones causing a hormonal imbalance. This may cause one to skip their periods and have a difficult time getting pregnant. Spearmint may, however, help regulate these hormones and restore balance.
In one study, 42 women with PCOS that were put on spearmint tea twice daily had low levels of the male hormone testosterone but high levels of female hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH).
9. Easy to incorporate into your diet
Generally, spearmint is easy to incorporate into your diet. All you need to do is purchase spearmint in tea bags or loose-leaf tea or grow it in your kitchen garden for brewing.
Below are the steps to making a delicious spearmint tea
- Boil two cups of approximately 500 millimeters of water
- Take it off from the heat and add two tea bags or some torn spearmint leaves
- Cover and steep for up to 5 minutes
- Strain and enjoy
Furthermore, this herbal tea can be enjoyed when hot or cold. It is also caffeine- and calorie-free, making it a natural sweat treat to enjoy any time of the day.
On the other hand, peppermint is also easy to incorporate into your diet. Generally, you can use it in desserts, smoothies, salads, chocolate drinks, or tea to give it a minty and slightly spicy taste.
Spearmint vs Peppermint: Which is better for your health
If you’ve read to this point, you’re probably wondering which one to choose between the two. Well, both types have a history of use in traditional medicines for various reasons.
Spearmint has often been used to treat digestive issues like gas, indigestion, and nausea, while peppermint has been shown to relax the respiratory tract and improve conditions like asthma and bronchitis.
So whether you should take spearmint or peppermint will depend on what you’re looking to treat. If you want to relieve some abdominal discomfort, spearmint will be a better choice. However, peppermint may be good for you if you have issues with your respiratory system.
Nonetheless, both herbs can boost your health and well-being while adding flavor to different dishes.
Both Spearmint and Peppermint are well-liked mint varieties utilized in both cooking and medicinal applications. They can help boost digestive health, fight bad breath, improve brain function, boost hormonal imbalance, improve allergies and provide antioxidant benefits.
While the type of mint you choose may not matter at face value, it actually does when it comes to its taste, uses, and chemical composition.
Spearmint imparts a mild sweetness and frequently flavors savory dishes. In contrast, Peppermint has a stronger, cooling taste and commonly appears in both medicinal products and sweet treats like desserts.
The main ingredient in peppermint is menthol, thus the minty cooling effect, while the main ingredient in spearmint is carvone, thus the mildly sweet flavor.
You can use either one of them as an ingredient in various recipes, however, if using it for health issues; it’s good to focus on what does what.
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