The History of Breath Mints

If someone offers you a breath mint, accept it.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Bad breath is a nightmare. No presenter wants the audience in the front row to suffer, which is why breath mints are like little guardian angels of the candy world. Combining ancient science and modern fresheners, these potent breath solutions are rooted in a history of social kindness. So, where did they come from?

Those Clever Egyptians

Dental health was not always a priority in ancient times. In Egypt, you could be beautifully mummified after death and preserved for thousands of years. However, your teeth would probably remain just as rotten and deteriorated as they were in life. To hide the terrible odors from their not-so-pearly teeth, they invented the first breath mint: a combination of myrrh, cinnamon, frankincense, and honey that was boiled and then shaped into pellets.

Other groups of ancient people would suck on whole cloves to cleanse their breath, long before the power of mint was incorporated. In the Middle Ages, anise seed was also slowly chewed in order to cover up the smell of liquor. Other things our great-great-great grandparents chewed? Cardamom seeds, calamus root, parsley, and fennel.

The Polite Victorians

Oil from plants in the potent mint family later became commonly adopted as a way to freshen breath. Way back in 1790, Altoids created a mint lozenge during the reign of King George III. Later, commercially-made hard mints using peppermint oils were sold in Victorian England, during a time when rudeness was practically a fatal offense. These mints were made from boiled sugar, cut using a rotary tablet press, and then sold throughout the Europe and the US. Oral-health-minded treats that also appeared during this time include chewing gum in the 1860’s, which was created by inventor Thomas Adams in 1869. The people demanded fresh breath, and they would have it.

The Breath Mint We Know Today

In the 1950’s, the perfect combination of mint and candy was combined: American Chicle introduced Certs to the world. Toothpaste and mouthwash were not portable enough, and hard candy was still not considered an effective way to cleanse the mouth. Using a secret ingredient of copper gluconate and cottonseed oil called “Restyn,” these mints were able to combine long lasting freshness and portability. The popularity of this combination exploded and continues to grow today, especially with the creation of sugar free mints in the 1980’s. Today, the five most popular brands of breath mints are: Altoids, Life Savers, Certs, Breathsavers, and Tic Tacs.

The breath mint industry has experienced fluctuations in popularity alongside the candy industry throughout its modern adoption. However, bad breath remains undeterred from ruining our presentations and first dates. Until the day that bad breath quits, the mint will always be there.

Question: What is your preferred breath mint?

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