Why is Mint the Flavor of Oral Hygiene?
By gigabiting on November 13, 2012
Mint Splash • Cool Peppermint • Vanilla Mint • Wintergreen Ice • Extreme Herbal Mint • Clear Mint • Minty Fresh • Citrus Clean Mint • Green Tea Mint • Pure Peppermint Fresh • Super Action Mint • Lasting Mint
Crest toothpaste flavor lineup
The Spanish are partial to anise-flavored toothpaste, Koreans flavor theirs with charcoal and bamboo salt, Indian toothpaste tastes like root beer from the addition of sarsaparilla root, and Russians prefer something called 'Forest Balsam' flavored with bark and pine needles. You can find mint-flavored toothpaste all around the globe, but its absolute domination is unique to the American market.
There are plenty of other flavors that freshen breath. You just need something with an astringent that shrinks bacteria combined with a pleasant scent. Oral hygiene was a homemade affair until the twentieth century, and people rinsed with vinegar or lemon juice, chewed aromatic seeds like fennel and cloves, and chewed on herbs and spices like parsley and spearmint.
Mint is a sweet smelling astringent that brings a little something extra.
Astringents tend to have a bite to them that can feel like a burn to your mouth, but mint makes the mouth feel cold. It’s just an illusion; the temperature inside your mouth doesn't really change, but the natural menthol in mint activates temperature sensing cells that send out false signals. They fool your brain, and you sense a coolness that isn't really there. It's that sensation, more than the taste, that makes your mouth feel clean and fresh.
Availability tipped the scale in mint's favor.
Runner-up cinnamon, the second most popular toothpaste flavoring, is a costly import from Asia. Mint, though not a native plant, was a well-established crop by the 1900's, mostly in the Pacific Northwest and the regions around the Great Lakes. It was little-used as a culinary herb but had a multitude of medicinal uses, and mint oil was a valuable export. Cheap and readily available, mint insinuated itself into fledgling manufacturing, flavoring Colgate, the world's first mass-produced jarred toothpaste in the 1870's (collapsible paste tubes didn't appear for another 20 years).
Today you can find novelty toothpaste flavored with everything from bacon to birthday cake, but mint still rules. See which brand tastes best in the Chow Supertaster's Mint Toothpaste Flavor Showdown.
Gigabiting: where food meets culture and technology.
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