Its name is right at home before julep, chocolate chip, tea, jelly and more, but people usually only see mint in its entirety when its leaves garnish a meal or dessert.
Mint leaves are dried spearmint leaves of the species mentha spicata. The dark green leaves have a fresh aroma that complements many dishes, said Megan Ward, the owner of Main Street Bistro in Hollister.
"We mostly use it as a garnish. It's nice-looking, and it has a nice smell to it. It goes really well when you mix it with chocolate," she said.
Used in teas, jellies, syrups, ice creams and lamb dishes, mint is a common ingredient in several Afghanistani, Egyptian, Indian and Mideastern cuisine, but its origins are in Europe and Asia.
Mint was used by the ancient Assyrians in rituals to their fire god, according to the McCormick Enspicelopedia. The ancient Hebrews scattered mint leaves on the synagogue floor so that each footstep would produce a fragrant whiff. Aside from its flavor, mint leaves also were crushed into powder and used to whiten teeth.
Still in toothpaste today, mint has evolved into a flavor used all over the world for dental hygiene and in a variety of foods – including beverages. Just this week Starbucks and several other local coffee houses started serving up their peppermint lattes and mochas for the holiday season.
Sue Shalit, owner of Sue's Roasting Co. in downtown Gilroy, said along with mint flavoring in coffee, mint tea is also popular because of the effect it has on the senses.
"I think it's just very refreshing, and some say it can soothe your stomach," she said.
Teas and coffees aren't the only beverages that include mint. Several alcoholic beverages – including mohitos, a rum-based drink, and mint juleps, a bourbon-based drink – are sprinkled with mint leaves.
This syrup amount will make about 40 juleps.
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
Bourbon (2 ounces per serving)
Step 1: Combine the sugar and water and boil for 5 minutes. Place it in a covered bowl with seven bruised mint leaves and refrigerate over night.
Step 2: To make the julep fill a cup with crushed ice and add a Tbs. of the mint syrup and 2 ounces of bourbon. Garnish with a fresh mint leaves.
Curried Avocado Triangles with Mint Sauce
1 tsp. curry powder
Pinch of salt
24 wonton wraps (dough squares)
Vegetable oil as needed for deep frying
Fresh Mint Sauce
2 1/2 cups (lightly packed) fresh mint leaves
1 large shallot, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup lime juice
3 Tbs. lemon juice
3 Tbs. water
1 Tbs. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Step 1: Mash avocado. Stir in curry powder and salt.
Step 2: Put 1 generous tsp. of avocado mixture in one corner of wrap.
Step 3: Brush edge with water. Fold over in a triangle, press to seal. Repeat with remaining wraps.
Step 4: Deep fry 4 triangles at a time until golden, about 3 minutes. Keep warm until all are cooked.
To prepare mint sauce: Puree all ingredients in a food processor or blender.