Facts About Breath Mints

Before the advent of the modern breath mint, sucking whole cloves was the most popular remedy for bad breath. Anise and cardamom seeds also precede mint as a breath freshener, having been chewed by people for centuries. However, none of these ingredients can compete with the breath mints on the market today. Modern breath mints combine ancient breath-sweetening ingredients with 20th-century fresheners to create powerful solutions to bad breath.


The mint family (Lamiaceae or Labiatae) includes the Mentha genus in which spearmint (Mentha spicata) and peppermint (Mentha piperita) are two of the most popular species. Mint is a hardy perennial plant that can manage well without much care. Mint grows rapidly, reaching 18 inches tall and spreading an average of 24 inches wide. Although oils are extracted from the leaves for consumer use, the leaves also can be eaten to help freshen breath or help with digestion and flatulence. Washington and Oregon are the two largest producers of spearmint and peppermint in America. Indiana is the third-largest producer.

History of Breath Mints

Records of mint being used for breath freshening go back almost 4,000 years, but the plant also had other uses. Mint was collected as a tithe (tax) and was even spread on the floors of churches and synagogues to represent cleanliness. Breath mints arose out of the popularity of candy and gum when consumers began requesting a breath freshener. Although mints like Altoids have been around since the late 18th century, they do not contain a breath-freshening ingredient. The first true breath mints, Certs, were not introduced until the 1950s. Breath mints differed from mint-flavored candies and gum because of an ingredient added specifically for freshening breath. Although xylitol is a common freshening ingredient, manufacturers guard their breath-freshening additives as a trade secret.

Ingredients in Breath Mints

Though small, breath mints contain many ingredients. The primary ingredient in most breath mints is sugar. The exception is sugar-free breath mints, which contain sugar substitutes like sorbitol and zilotrol. A binder is used in all breath mints to make sure the ingredients stay together. Some binders include corn syrup, gelatin and natural gum arabic. Depending on the mint, some may contain ingredients to help them dissolve or disintegrate. Some mints contain lubricants to make sure they can get through the manufacturing process. Final ingredients include natural and artificial flavors, the breath-freshening compound and wax to make the mints glossy.

Types of Breath Mints

Breath mints typically come in three varieties. The first is a hard breath mint with a hard outer coating, like a Tic Tac. Rolled mints, like Certs and Life Savers, may or may not have a center and are typically hard mints. The last type is a breath mint with a soft interior, like Mentos.

Popular Breath Mint Manufacturers

The five most popular brands of breath mints are Altoids, Life Savers, Certs, Breathsavers and Tic Tacs. In 2004, Wrigley purchased Altoids and Life Savers from Kraft for just under $500 million; the brands bring in almost $4 billion in revenue each year. Despite the fact that Certs, produced by Cadbury Adams, don’t contain any mint oil, they remain a popular choice. Breathsavers is owned by another American company, Hershey, while Tic Tacs are produced by an Italian company called Ferrero.

Before the advent of the modern breath mint