History of Mint Growing in Idaho: Commercial mint growing started in Idaho in the early 1960's. In those days, geese and sheep provided effective weed and pest control in mint fields... until the animals acquired a taste for mint! Within ten years, growers recognized the need to insure the continuing high quality of their crop and established the Idaho Mint Commission. The Mint Commission, governed by growers, sets standards and funds plant and bio-technology research to benefit the mint industry. Today, one hundred mint growers continue the tradition of a clean industry producing pure, additive-free mint oil.

The Process: Peppermint is mechanically cut in July or August and cures in the windrows for several days to allow moisture to evaporate from the leaves. Then the mint is chopped and blown directly into a distilling tub mounted on a truck or trailer. At the distillery, live steam under pressure is applied to the mint in the sealed tub to extract the oil. The steam and vaporized oil pass into a coil where the mixture is cooled and condensed. The water and oil then flow into a separator where the natural difference in density separates the oil (which floats on top) from the heavier water. The pure mint oil is tapped off the top into a storage drum. The waste water is recycled to feed the boiler to make steam to process the next batch. The mint oil is sold to a "handler" who blends oils from different locations to the specifications of the end user.

The Land: Rich, fertile, volcanic soils along the Snake River plain and plenty of water combine with a climate of long warm summer days to make Idaho a prime location for mint growing. Idaho's dry climate during the months of August and September allows the cut peppermint to "cure" to perfection. The flavor and fragrance of mint oil is determined by these natural conditions, and Idaho's mint oil ranks with the best.

The Plant: Peppermint is planted from certified rootstock and once planted will re-grow each year. Most growers rotate mint with other crops on a three to four year cycle. Research is producing disease resistant roots which keep the use of chemical pesticides to a minimum.

The Product: Toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewing gum manufacturers use about 90% of all the mint oil produced. The refreshing and soothing quality of mint oil makes it an ideal flavoring for these popular products. The remaining 10% is used for confections (ice cream, candy, cookies) and pharmaceutical flavoring.


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