Why do mints make water taste really cold?

My friend is sick of me spouting Cecil’s wisdom all the time, and I want to show the SOB not to doubt the Teeming Millions. So how come after I eat the mint that comes with the check, when I drink the lukewarm water, it feels so cold its almost painful?

JMcC from SFCA

Mints, menthol (in smokes), pursing your lips and sucking all can produce the sensation of coolness in the mouth (not to say that sucking is cool). But that is all it is. First, you don’t “taste” cold, as your topic implies. It’s not a flavor. And second, to be a real pain in the ass I could point out that there’s no such thing as cold – only heat and lack of heat (Same thing applies to dark). Ah, but this is all window dressing for I don’t know the true reason why this occurs. But, if you don’t like the sensation eat the mint after you down the agua. If you’re a glutton for punishment, though, down a Coke after brushing your teeth. Ugh.

{{{First, you don’t “taste” cold, as your topic implies. It’s not a flavor. And second, to be a real pain in the ass I could point out that there’s no such thing as cold – only heat and lack of heat (Same thing applies to dark). }}}—ChiefScott

I like this guy!

(The Original EnigmaOne)
Common ¢ for all ages.

OK then, CheifSemantics: Why does mint produce the sensation of lack of heat?

Here’s my WAG, considering my limited knowledge of organic chemistry.

Peppermint is an essential oil. It is very volitile. Perhaps its evaporation, which would occur readily at room temperature due to its volatility, produces this cooling effect.

Would Wrigley have built a gum empire if it didn’t? Would Lorillard still be making Newports?

That’s mint’s job!

But since you demand a more satisfying answer let’s give it a shot, shall we?

First, what makes a mint a mint. Most would say it is the presence of aromatic oil. This oil is present in plants of the genus “Mentha.” Spearmint, peppermint – you get the idea. This oil is also used in production of cigarettes, perfumes, muscle rubs, etc. (Menthol is usually derived from pepermint oil and is CH3C6H9(C3H7)OH. I hope you’re satisfied, 'cause I always told my Chem teacher I’d never need this crap in the real world!)

It’s also a minor anesthetic.

So’s alcohol. So’s Novacaine. So’s a blow to the head.

Mint is mint. It “cools” your breath.

Why does it do what you purport? It does it because that’s what it does!!!

Now if you asked nicely “how” it does it…

Mr. ChiefSemantic seems to have backed it up with facts. Now. Is there any mint or aromatic oil of mint or wintergreen or peppermint in these things, or is it all artificial crap these days?

I’ll take the “Blows to the Head” for $1000, Alex.

There is fake shit out there. Hopefully your dealer is reputable.

The Brits have it knocked though. The name escape’s me at the moment, but the curiously strong mint in a tin (and curiously small for that matter) has the highest percentage of natural oils in 'em. Just stick five or six in your mouth at a time. Crunch. Now drink some lukewarm water!

Backed what up? I now have the chemical formula of menthol and its common industrial uses. And I’ve been told it’s an anesthetic. But a blow to the head doesn’t make anyone feel cool.

So I’ll entertain the Chief one last time by rephrasing a question that wasn’t even mine to begin with yet again:

How does menthol provide the sensation of coolness?

By evaporation. Menthol is a liquid at room temperature, but evaporates very readily. Mix it with water, and you have a mixture that cools your mouth like rubbing alcohol.

I could keep bullshitting, but I don’t really know. I apologize for raising your hackles.

My best guess would be that a combination of it’s numbing effect, lingering effect (oil coats the inside of your mouth) and it’s taste combine to give you the sensation of skiing down an Alpine slope, crisp wind in your face, leaping o’er moguls… Sorry. I digressed into a York Peppermint Patty commercial.

They combine to give you the effect.

I know it doesn’t physically change the temperature of your mouth. So it wouldn’t fool your brain into thinking water is colder than it really is (Take a hot shower, jump in a 70 degree pool — Brrrr.).

I don’t believe it’s evaporation either. Oil has a way of hanging around a long time.

Maybe “cold” pheromones are released?

Aw, no problem Chief. My hackles have been raised since noon. I’ll be out back smoking a menthol if ya need me…

Sorry, Lumps. Menthol is a white powder. Think cocaine from coca leaves. In edible mints, it’s the essential oils of the peperemint et al. leaves which flavors/numbs.

I can give you a brief herbal explanation.

Menthol (the primary constituent in mentha) is an antipyretic (or refrigerant). This is the term applied to herbs that dispel heat due to things like sunstroke, facial flushing, etc.

The way the body dispels heat is to increase blood flow to the surface, by dilating the blood vessels; when this is done the body can release heat to the outside atmosphere.

This is why many people drink peppermint tea (among others) to lessen the chance of heat exhaustion.

Hope this helped.

This may help also:
As pepper, ginger, and mustard stiumulate the heat-receptors in the skin (part of the nervous system), so menthol stimulates the cold-receptors (or lack-of-heat receptors, if you prefer, Chief of Semantics).
I like horseradish, “hot mix,” Tabasco, Gulden’s Mustard, and Junior Mints (one of few non-kosher candies, according to Cecil). I bet the “hot” spices would taste “hot” even if you taste them when they’re cold!

Those intense mints are altoids- described accurately as “curiously strong peppermints”

You guys have it all backwards. Think about it for a minute. Does chomping a peppermint feel the same as eating ice? For that matter eat 5 or 6 Altoids as was suggested earlier. You do not have a feeling of coldness. (I have done this so trust me.) It is really more related to the “hot” sensation of peppers, hence the name peppermint. Think about it, if you were to take a hot shower and jump into a warm tub, the tub would seem cooler than it would have had you gone directly into the tub. If you eat hot peppers, you will drink water or something to cool it down, this seems cooler than normal. Foods that are spicy hot are a different hot than temperature hot.

The mint does react with the receptors in you mouth, but not in a greatly different way than do peppers, etc. The effect is due to the oils in the mint. It causes the pores in your mouth to open, then when the liquid or air come into contact with these open pores it gives the sensation of coldness. Kind of like when you get damage to a tooth and cold air or liquid comes into contact with the nerve, just on a much smaller, less painful scale.


Pores? In your mouth?

C’mon!! I can accept the receptor theory – in part. But ya gotta give it up for these oils’ numbing properties too.
I hesitate to bring it up, but wouldn’t the oils have to give something off? You can feel their effects in your nasal passages when you eat mints. Something’s gotta get up there, Jeff!

Wonks, thanks for the assist on Altoids.

C’mon… Altoids are famous for “cooling” things, and a mouth is just one of them.

Nick, when I have used Altoids for what you are implying, it did not really have what I would call a cooling effect. It was closer to putting ben-gay on that area.

Though it did give a sensation.

Chief, pores, receptors whats the difference, that is why I italicized it. The point is the effect seems to be more along the lines of heat not cooling.

It opens up the nasal passageways, that is my point. It opens up the “whatever you want to call them” and feels sort of cool.