When we think of cooking with mint, we might think of delicious baked goods, puddings, ice creams, pastries, and other sweets. We don’t often think of pairing it with savory foods like lamb, but the pairing has existed for centuries. It started around the same time the pairing of chocolate and mint arose. Now, we often see lamb with servings of mint jelly, jam, or sauce on the side. But why do people use mint when cooking lamb, and what makes it taste so good?
Where This Flavor Pairing Came From
There’s a bit of debate regarding when and where this iconic flavor duo originated. A popular theory dates back to medieval times in England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in the 1500s. The main English export at the time was wool. To discourage her people from eating lamb and diminishing their export, she decreed that people couldn’t eat lamb without pairing it with a bitter herb.
Her idea was that if people had to eat it with something bitter, they wouldn’t want to eat it at all. However, to get around this law, people decided to eat lamb with mint, which was technically a bitter herb but just tasty enough for them to palate. People in other regions, such as the Middle East, also developed lamb-and-mint recipes independently.
Why It Stuck Around
If the people of 1500s England ate lamb and mint due to a law, why is it still such a popular pairing? Did their tastebuds just evolve? That would suggest that lamb and mint taste bad together, but it’s actually quite the opposite. The English just so happened to stumble upon a delicious pairing. But what makes it taste so good?
We often pair lamb with strong ingredients, such as garlic, rosemary, and even anchovies. This is because lamb tastes best with aromatic flavors. Why? Lamb doesn’t have an incredibly strong flavor by itself, aside from its gamey taste. However, not everyone is a huge fan of this gamey flavor. So people use ingredients like mint to mask it.
The Science Behind Mint and Lamb
Fascinatingly, mint isn’t just a mask. There’s a scientific reason behind why our tongues and brains think the flavors go well together. Our tastebuds pick up the flavor of lamb from compounds called branched-chain fatty acids (BCFAs). At the same time, we can link the taste of mint to its branched-chain ketones. Because these flavors are so chemically similar, our brains find them appealing together.
Now that you know why people use mint when cooking lamb, are you ready to try this delicious duo? If you are, head to Vincent’s Meat Market. We have what you need to go on a flavorful adventure. Our lamb chops for sale are USDA certified, and we ship them fresh to your door for the ultimate culinary convenience.