Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

peppermint Mentha × piperita, the member of the mint family which has become a major horticultural crop, is thought to be a hybrid of M. aquatica (water mint) and M. spicata (spearmint). It is much more pungent than spearmint, and is the principal source of peppermint oil, which is extensively used in confectionery, and also in products such as chewing gum and toothpaste and by the tobacco industry. Menthol is the constituent to which it owes its distinctive odour.

Peppermint is grown in England, France, Germany, Italy, and other European countries. But N. American production is much greater. The main area of cultivation has moved several times in the last 100 years. Early in the 19th century it was in W. Massachusetts whence it moved to New York state, and then (after the introduction of the hardier Black Mitcham variety) to the Midwest. From there it has moved on to the states of Oregon and Washington. Control of quality of peppermint oil (and spearmint oil) has been carried further in the USA than anywhere else, partly no doubt because of the importance of these flavours in chewing gum. See Landing (1969) on the US industry.