The quintessential herb of spring, mint adds a fresh, crisp flavor to just about anything. There are more than 200 mint varieties, all of which fall into one of two categories: spearmint or peppermint. What you see labeled as simply "mint" in the grocery store is usually spearmint, but shop at a farmers' market and you'll find a mind-boggling variety.
Spearmint is the most versatile of mints, with a natural affinity with fruits and spring vegetables (think peas, asparagus, and artichokes), herbs like basil and cilantro, and spices like ginger,cumin, and cardamom. Its relatively mild flavor makes it ideal for a variety of savory dishes,including grilled and roasted meats. Spearmint varieties include pineapple mint, with a fragrance of fresh pineapple and a slightly sweeter flavor than regular spearmint; apple mint, with a hint of green apple (try it in iced tea); curly mint, with ruffled leaves; and smooth-leaf mint, with soft, velvety leaves.
Peppermint is similar in flavor to spearmint, but it contains menthol, which gives it a stronger flavor and a cooling sensation on the palate. Peppermint is assertive enough to stand up to strong flavors, so it’s ideal for chocolate desserts and boldly flavored dishes. Peppermint varieties include orange mint, with overtones of orange and bergamot; chocolate mint, with an unmistakeable hint of chocolate; ginger mint; and grapefruit mint.
Mint starts to blacken after it's cut, so wait until the last minute before chopping or tearing it and adding it to a dish. When appropriate, tear the leaves gently instead of cutting them, to help prevent blackening.
Store mint bunches with the cut stems in a glass of water and cover the leaves with a plastic bag. Refrigerate, changing the water every couple of days. It should stay fresh for at least 1 week.