What Is Crème De Menthe And What Is It Used For?

With a bright green color and sweet, ultra-minty taste, crème de menthe is a one-of-a-kind liqueur that adds its signature hue and flavor to a variety of cocktails and beverages. While it has somewhat of a reputation for being cloying or off-putting, it can be a delicious component in many recipes when used sparingly and intelligently. It can also feel retro, yet modern and timely, all at once.

According to The Bar Cabinet, crème de menthe means "mint cream" in French, and the liqueur is typically combined with other ingredients rather than consumed alone as a digestif. It's made by steeping fresh or dried mint leaves in neutral-tasting alcohol, which is then filtered, sweetened with sugar, and aged briefly before it's bottled, Liquor explains. Its popularity as a cocktail ingredient was somewhat of an accident, as French pharmacist Emile Giffard invented it in 1885 while researching mint's health and digestive properties. From there, it became an ingredient in classic cocktails both sweet and clean.

What is crème de menthe?

According to The Spruce Eats, crème de menthe, unlike other crème liqueurs, is not actually creamy or even made with cream. Instead, the term "crème" indicates the high amount of sugar used in the recipe, which thickens the texture. The main ingredients in the liqueur are simply mint — usually, as an extract, dried peppermint, or fresh Corsican mint — with sugar and grain alcohol (via The Bar Cabinet). Crème de menthe is naturally clear and is sometimes bottled that way, but there are also green versions, which are colored naturally with the macerated mint leaves or added colorings, writes Liquor.

The Bar Cabinet notes that if you're looking for a refreshing, clean mint flavor (such as that in a mojito), you should steer clear from crème de menthe. However, the liqueur, which has an alcohol content of about 25% ABV, is a great choice for a sweeter drink. "A well-made crème de menthe brings a wonderfully distinct cool, herbal flavor to the table that you can use in a lot of fun ways," bartender Deke Dunne told Liquor. He added that plenty of interesting, high-quality brands of crème de menthe are available on the market, and bartenders and consumers should give them a try before dismissing the ingredient as "toxic."

How is crème de menthe used?

If you're uncertain about crème de menthe, you can start with an affordable bottle (The Spruce Eats says many can be found for around $10) from just about any liquor store and, if you like it, work your way up to a more expensive, smaller batch variety. It's rare to drink or "shoot" the liqueur on its own, says The Bar Cabinet, but it can star in myriad cocktails and last open and outside of the refrigerator for up to five years. Typically, crème de menthe is used in dessert drinks, such as the grasshopper, an early 1900s martini with cream, white crème de cacao, and a chocolate rim. The peppermint patty is made similarly, but with the addition of peppermint schnapps for a wintry twist.

Other crème de menthe drinks are not creamy and instead lean on the liqueur's green color and herbal flavors, such as the Emerald Isle cocktail with gin and bitters. And these days, many mixologists agree that crème de menthe can be much more than an out-of-style ingredient for vintage cocktails, reports Food & Wine. In recent years, there has been a "revival" of respect for the liqueur, with forward-thinking bartenders adding it to specialty cocktails that mix old with new. If you're curious to try a minty drink at home, you can easily make from-scratch crème de menthe with a recipe by Serious Eats.

Other facts about crème de menthe

In addition to drinking crème de menthe, some people even use it in desserts, such as brownies, cheesecakes, chocolate truffles, and more (via Yummly). It can also be added in small quantities to coffee, tea, or even soda, suggests National Today, and makes a popular booze choice on St. Patrick's Day due to its artificially verdant hue. For a minty, kicked-up dessert beverage, why not add it to hot chocolate or milkshakes?

Believe it or not, there's a National Crème de Menthe Day every year on September 15, which honors its recipe developer, Emile Giffard, and his contribution to the liquor world back in 1885. Another fun fact: The Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff titled a variation of one of his piano pieces "the crème de menthe variation." Clearly, crème de menthe is a special liqueur that may finally be getting a resurgence of the enthusiasm it once had in the 19th and 20th centuries.