Although some people think of mint as a single flavour, mint has many varieties, each with its own characteristics. Mint grows well in full sunlight or partial shade, but requires moist soil to thrive. All types of mint spread rapidly and can take over a garden if not carefully contained. The University of Illinois Extension recommends growing mint in containers to keep it from spreading farther than you would like.
The most common type of culinary mint is spearmint. Spearmint can be found in the mint sauces associated with Middle Eastern cuisine. Its leaves also can be used in cocktails such as mojitos and mint juleps. Spearmint leaves, known for their spear-shaped tip, are light green and have jagged edges. Generally speaking, the leaves are harvested before the plant flowers.
Because peppermint is a hybrid plant, it cannot be grown from seeds and must be propagated from cuttings. Peppermint oil, stronger in flavour than spearmint, is used to flavour candy, syrup, ice cream, liqueur and personal care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash. Dried peppermint leaves are used in herbal teas. Peppermint plants have dark green leaves, red stems and lavender flowers.
As the name suggests, chocolate mint has a scent and flavour reminiscent of chocolate mint candy. Chocolate mint is typically used to flavour desserts and sweet dishes. Chocolate mint leaves are darker in colour than peppermint and spearmint leaves.
Apple mint can be identified by its fuzzy, light green leaves and green apple scent. Apple mint can be used as a dessert flavouring and as a salad ingredient, especially when the salad contains apples. Chefs often use sprigs of apple mint as dessert garnishes.