Mint has never been just a flavor — it has straddled the line between something medicinal and something that smells good. Mint is a fragrant herb, yes, but so are rosemary, sage, lavender, and thyme. So how did mint become the flavor of choice for just about every toothpaste on the market? Why are breath mints called breath mints?
That's because of a unique chemical element: menthol and the cooling sensation that menthol creates. We associate that cold feeling with freshness (which may have as much to do with marketing as anything), and so mint has the ability to make our mouths feel clean, whether or not they really are. Menthol also works as a pest repellent (it's much more overwhelming for a creature a fraction of our size), and it's an analgesic (which is why it's good for cough drops). But more than anything it's what makes the flavor of mint so appealing as a breath freshener. Here's how mint became the king of oral hygiene and a major American industry.
Illustrations: Robin Muccari