Peppermint is one of the world’s most popular herbs and it has numerous applications. You can use it in everything from baked goods to beverages and it is a great tea herb. If you need its intense flavor but can’t find the fresh herb, there are some options. Consider some of the best peppermint substitutes below.
Your best bet: Peppermint extract
The best way to get the flavor of peppermint is to use a product designed to provide you with the herb’s essence. Peppermint extract is readily available in most stores that sell extracts for baking and candy-making. You can also make it yourself. Peppermint extract will provide you with the same herbaceous flavor and cooling effect that you would get from the herb. Peppermint extract has benefits such as a long shelf life, which you will not get from fresh peppermint. It is also easier to measure and use in recipes for baked goods.
Note that as is, a store-bought peppermint extract can be a bit too concentrated to use in some applications. For example, simply adding drops or teaspoons of peppermint extract may not work in some beverages or fruit salads. In those cases, you can make a simple syrup and dilute the extract with that. One downside of peppermint extract is that it lacks the appearance of peppermint, which is one of the appealing aspects of the herb. You will not get the flecks of green from chopped mint leaves in your fruit salad.
A decent second choice: Watermint
Peppermint is a hybrid of spearmint and watermint. All three get the characteristic cooling effect that we associate with mint from their menthol content. The intensity of that cooling effect varies according to the menthol concentration, which is different in each herb. Spearmint contains only 1 percent menthol, which is why it is the least minty of the three. Watermint has a much higher menthol concentration that can range up to 48 percent. Peppermint being a cross between the two varieties is tops out at about 40 percent menthol but often contains less.
Watermint’s intensity makes it a good substitute for peppermint, but you will need to take care to dilute it or use less of it. Using the herb to make an easy-to-dilute simple syrup is good for certain applications. If you absolutely need the fresh herb, you may be able to get away with using less of it. Because the menthol content can vary dramatically from plant to plant, you may have to make your adjustments by taste.
In a pinch: Spearmint
Despite being a mint and closely related to peppermint, spearmint is different in that its flavor does not come primarily from menthol. Instead, the spearmint flavor comes from another compound called carvone. Carvone gives it the sweeter and more herbaceous flavor that we associate with mint in food.
Spearmint’s mildness means that you can use it in a salad, make a pesto with it or muddle it for your mojitos with no worries about it making the dish or beverage too minty or medicinal. Spearmint works best as a peppermint alternative when added to beverages and cold soups like gazpacho.
Basil belongs to the mint family and has a similar enough flavor profile that it can work in place of peppermint in some savory dishes. Basil — especially the Thai variety — has the pungent, peppery quality associated with peppermint.
Huacatay is also known as black mint. Huacatay is a Peruvian herb that has a lot in common with mint and is used mostly in Peruvian cooking. Like peppermint, it is pungent and has a cooling effect.