There’s no shortage of pumpkin during the fall, and the same can be said about peppermint during the holidays. Between candy canes, peppermint mochas and hot cocoa, peppermint bark, peppermint patties and peppermint stick ice cream, there’s a lot of minty goodness to go around.
Peppermint is traditional for good reason.
“Peppermint as an herb is probably our main classic as a digestive product and a nausea relief,” clinical herbalist and health journalist Maria Noël Groves said. “Even eating the candy will provide some benefit.”
Peppermint helps with gas, bloating and pain (though Groves did note that peppermint can aggravate acid reflux).
“One of the other neat things of peppermint is [its effects] when we inhale it,” Groves said. “The scent and aroma of peppermint is great at perking us up, making us more energized. … The downside of course is that peppermint can be overloaded with sugar, and sugar has its disadvantages.”
Peppermint is a hybrid mint, and doesn’t grow true to seed, Groves said. It’s a cross between spearmint and watermint. The same goes for chocolate mint, a variety of peppermint.
“It’s almost identical,” Groves said about chocolate mint. “There’s almost a hint of chocolate so it’s almost like you’re eating an Andes candy or maybe a peppermint patty.”
So when exactly did peppermint become such a popular flavoring during the holidays? It’s always been used in medicines, and Pep-O-Mint was the first LifeSavers flavor. Legend says a choirmaster handed out candy cane suckers, which resembled a shepherd’s crook, to young children to quiet them during a Christmas concert, according to Christmas Legends to Remember by Helen Haidle.
Although sucking on a peppermint candy after a meal might relieve some digestive symptoms, Groves said hot peppermint tea works best. She recommends using peppermint tea as a base for hot cocoa or adding peppermint schnapps to cocoa for grown-ups.
“Peppermint and other mints are really revered around the world as teas,” she said. “There are only a couple plants that have made their way to everyday use for teas.”
The Cozy Tea Cart in Brookline has herbal organic peppermint, choco mint, organic Moroccan mint and a green tea with peppermint and spearmint available.
There’s a Moroccan peppermint green tea at A&E Coffee Roastery in Amherst, and the roastery also makes peppermint flavored lattes and mochas.
At J. Dubs Coffee in Manchester, peppermint can be added to pretty much anything. Owner Jim Whitney said that he makes a peppermint bark coffee or latte, with dark chocolate and peppermint, “which is pretty popular when the temperature drops,” he said. Whitney also carries peppermint tea, and J. Dubs baristas have been experimenting with white chocolate peppermint mochas and lattes. They use a peppermint syrup for the flavoring.
“Hot cocoa with peppermint is pretty popular,” Whitney said. “When it gets closer to Christmas, I throw a candy cane in my chocolate smoothies and I blend it up. You get little tiny chunks in there.”
Whitney also adds peppermint to whipped cream when it gets closer to Christmas.
“Definitely a lot of things are flavored, and they tend to be flavored artificially. However, peppermint flavoring is easy to make,” Groves said about the peppermint trends. “Most of the flavoring is in the menthol compound in peppermint. It’s not that uncommon that peppermint products are flavored naturally.”
For sweet treats, there are always peppermint candies and candy canes at local chocolate and candy shops (like Van Otis in Manchester and Granite State Candy Shoppe in Manchester and Concord). The bakery at Black Forest Cafe in Amherst currently has mint chocolate thumbprint cookies and chocolate mint baby cakes. In the bakery and dining room it’s serving Jack Frost (a white chocolate peppermint hot cocoa).
“Peppermint is just such a fun holiday herb,” Groves said. “It’s both common and there’s something a little extra special about it during the holiday season.”
Appeared in the Dec. 12, 2013 issue of the Hippo