How Lamb And Mint Became A Classic Pairing

Peanut butter and jelly, tomato soup and grilled cheese, and root beer and ice cream are but a few among the vast array of foodie-favorite duos. How do food pairs come together and what makes them endure as classic combinations? With lamb and mint, the story goes all the way back to the Elizabethan era, when Queen Elizabeth I actually decreed that this now-beloved pairing become a law. Well...sort of.

Specifically, the decree stipulated that lamb could only be consumed when accompanied by bitter herbs, which was intended to help dissuade people from eating sheep to keep the wool trade more profitable. However, the rule backfired with surprisingly tasty results. Enter: mint sauce, complimenting lamb since the 1500s, cited in cookbooks from the 1800s, and remaining an enduring delight on your dinner table to this day.

Although lamb and mint were originally intended to be "bitter" enemies, the combination of the gamey, savory meat and the slightly sweet, cooling herb couldn't be more magnificent. Menthol, the chemical found in mint, accounts for the cooling effect in the mouth that one feels when tasting it. Scientifically speaking, the chemical composition of mint is also similar in structure to that of lamb. Flavor-wise, the combination of rich and earthy flavors between lamb and mint makes for a satisfying meal. Suffice it to say, they're two great tastes that taste great together.

The enduring match of mint and lamb

With a rich and flavorful history dating back to the late 1800s, mint sauce paired with lamb has stood the test of time to remain a classic. The eating of lamb with mint may no longer be legally mandated, but it's still a great combination. One popular vintage-style preparation of the two is lamb accompanied by a side of mint jelly, a riff on the mint sauce of centuries prior. Nowadays, there are so many unique ways of playing around with these two flavors.

Whether in fine dining settings, or as a home-cooked meal, lamb with mint has taken on a new life. For example, dressing a rack of hazelnut-crusted lamb chops with a mint pesto takes the herbal accompaniment to the next level of flavor. Creating a mint yogurt sauce to go with mint and mango lamb pita pockets is another wonderful way to play with savory ground lamb and a cooling herb-infused sauce. You could also try topping a dish of barbecued lamb with a 3-ingredient green chutney for another fun twist on the taste. Any way you slice, dress, or top it, lamb and mint are destined to be besties on your plate and your palette.