We’ve got chocolate mint on the brain because, hello, it’s Girl Scout Cookie season! And as it turns out, we aren’t alone. According to the National Confectioners Association, February 19 is National Chocolate Mint Day, and we are so ready to jump on that bandwagon.
Since the days of peppermint patties in our trick-or-treat bags and Junior Mints at the movies, we’ve been all about this delightful flavor combo. But the tradition traces much farther back — all the way to the Mayans and Aztecs, who brought cacao to the world. They believed that cacao was a gift from the gods (fact check: true) with medicinal powers (fact check: extremely true).
European explorers were intrigued by this exotic delicacy and brought it back to the continent sometime in the 16th century. But the Westerners found straight cacao to be bitter and unpleasant, so they experimented with adding ingredients like mint, cinnamon, and sugar to make it a bit more palatable. From there, the chocolate mint combination slowly caught on with confectioners around the world, and by the 1950s the genre-defining Thin Mints arrived onto the scene. Genius work, everyone. We’re all so grateful.
If you love chocolate mint like we do, you probably have all your favorites already, from cookies and ice cream to grasshopper cocktails. But have you ever heard of the chocolate mint plant? You’ll be thrilled to learn that there is a delicious cultivar of peppermint that combines those two beautiful flavors, mint and chocolate, into one edible leaf!
…or is it all a hoax?
Well. Okay. The thing about the chocolate mint plant…is that it could be all in our heads.
Chocolate mint fans say that this herb has an undeniable chocolate-y tinge that is irresistible in desserts, teas, and even coffee. But the skeptics argue that the whole “chocolate” part of the chocolate mint plant is just a savvy marketing strategy, and there’s really no difference between this cultivar and regular old peppermint.
We know that the mind is a powerful component in our perception of taste (for a particularly hilarious example of this, watch Jimmy Kimmel ask unsuspecting folks to differentiate between regular Starbucks coffee and…regular Starbucks coffee). But what can we say? We want to believe in you, chocolate mint!
There is one thing that everyone can agree on: peppermint and spearmint are definitely different plants, and each is better suited to different recipe applications. When a savory dish (or a mojito!) calls for mint, it probably means spearmint, while peppermint really shines in sweet creations. Peppermint has a far higher concentration of menthol than spearmint, which gives us that “after-dinner mint” cooling sensation we tend to associate with sweet treats — especially chocolate. If the chocolate flavor in the chocolate mint plant is imagined, it might be due to our mental associations with menthol.
The only way to know for sure if the chocolate mint plant lives up to the hype is to try it for yourself! Look for a bunch at the farmers’ market, the grocery store, or the herb section at your local nursery, and let us know what you think. Is it the real deal? Marketers playing mind games? Or totally irrelevant when we live in a world with Thin Mints? Weigh in with your experiences below!
And from us to you ...