Laurel Coad has lost track of how many mint varieties she stocks at CERES Permaculture and Bushfoods Nursery in Brunswick East.
“We have at least six varieties,” says the nursery manager, heading over to the mint patch. “We sell peppermint, spearmint, chocolate, apple-mint, basil-mint … I lose track,” she laughs. The list of varieties is just about endless thanks to the plant’s propensity to crossbreed.
Given the right conditions, culinary mint will grow like a weed, producing everything from ground-cover-style English mint, to the tall bushes found in the wilds of North America, which inspired this investigation in partnership with Connoisseur Gourmet Ice Cream. There, in the US’s Pacific North West, mint has been drawn from the mountainous regions of Montana, Idaho, Oregon and South Dakota for more than 100 years, owing to the spectacular region’s cool climate, the right amount of daylight, and a global market attracted to a flavour so tough to recreate with chemicals.
But no matter what style is available, mint never goes out of favour. “It has that simple, beautiful, clean flavour,” says Coad, pausing to put the experience into words. “It’s really refreshing and it cleanses the palate, it’s so aromatic, clean and fresh.”
For Coad it’s the unadulterated purity in the flavour of mint that makes it so versatile and a garden staple. “You can use it in so many savoury and sweet dishes. It works in salads or sauces, and you can put it in ice-cubes for punch,” she says. The herb brightens everything from rich curry to light tabouli.
“It’s wonderful in a fruit salad, sprinkled through to bring the flavours out,” she says. “And common mint can be brewed into tea as well, all you have to do is put it in a pot and add water – you don’t need to do anything to it.”
In Australia some of the best mint is produced in rural Tasmania, where warm days, cool nights and rich, moist soil mimics that mountainous region so prized in Montana and neighbouring states, which produces abundant and pungent crops. But if it’s positioned well, the plant will flourish just about anywhere in Australia – doing particularly well in the Victorian climate.
“It loves a damp, moist and shady position,” says Coad, noting that it can be invasive if left to its own devices. She recommends growing it in a pot, but if you can’t pluck it direct from the bush, its wide availability means high-quality bunches can be found at most local greengrocers.
“Look for a good, stiff leaf,” says Coad. “Look for bunches that are upright and not drooping.” Storing it in a glass of water in the fridge will also help to maintain that pungent blast of freshness.
“Mint retains flavour really well – even for drying. But fresh it should be really pungent.” So don’t be afraid to give it a pinch and breath that clean aroma in.
“You can even chew it after a meal for fresh breath and to ease indigestion.”
In the tahini yogurt accompanying the lamb ribs with cabbage and caraway at Proud Mary.
172 Oxford Street, Collingwood
(03) 9417 5930
In the Great Leap Forward cocktail at Double Happiness that is infused with lychee vodka, mint, lime and ginger.
21 Liverpool Street, Melbourne
(03) 9650 4488
Find fresh mint at:
CERES Permaculture and Bushfood Nursery
Corner of Roberts and Stewart Streets, Brunswick East
(03) 9389 0166
217 High Street, Kew
(03) 9853 7762
547 Malvern Road, Toorak
(03) 9827 3714
620 Victoria Street, Richmond
(03) 9429 6064
Queen Victoria Market
513 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne
(03) 9320 5822
Find dried mint at:
342 Lygon Street, Carlton
(03) 9348 4815
543 Malvern Road, Toorak
(03) 9827 5736
Shop 26, The Block Arcade, 282 Collins Street, Melbourne
(03) 9639 6933
Shop 7–9 The Dairy Produce Hall, Queen Victoria Market, Melbourne
(03) 9329 1686
Discover more about Connoisseur Montana Mountain Mint with Cookies at connoisseuricecream.com.au.