Symrise supplies thousands of mint products as cooling substances and flavors, primarily for toothpaste and other oral care products, but also for desserts and beverages. In addition to nature-identical L-menthol and L-carvone as well as a whole host of mint derivatives such as cooling substances, all of which come from backward-inte­grated production and have made Symrise a global leader in oral care, the company also uses natural mint oils. Sustainably cultivated and processed by partners in the USA, these natural mint oils provide a diverse range of taste profiles. A visit to central Washington state provides insight into the mint industry.


Extending for several hundred meters, the fields are home to a dense network of small plants measuring just 40 to 50 centimeters in height. Though it does not look like much at first glance, as you approach you see hundreds of bees buzzing in the green leaves and light-lilac blossoms – a paradise for insects. And it smells good too. Simply stroking the plants releases the fresh, intensive scent of chewing gum. Spearmint is cultivated on the field near Royal City in Washington state and is used to flavor popular brands of chewing gum and many other products.

Essential oils are extracted from the different varie­ties of mint cultivated here and on hundreds of other fields in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Nevada and California in the northwestern US. Symrise incorporates these oils into a whole host of products, including desserts, cosmetics and, more importantly, oral care products. “Natural mint can generate extensive diversity in taste,” says Arnold Machinek, turning over one of the leaves to reveal the small liquid bubbles that contain the oil. “This raw material is truly fascinating,” the Symrise flavorist explains. “And here we can take a look at all of the varieties that are important to us, from spearmint and peppermint to wild mint.”

The experienced employee completed his chemical lab technician training in the late 1970s and has been with Symrise ever since. He is standing on the third field he will be visiting today, having embarked on a tour of the northwestern US to meet with various suppliers. He visits farmers who cultivate mint as well as the companies that process it to produce valuable mint oils for Symrise. The experience out on the field is important to him, as it allows him to better understand the product he works with on a daily basis. “When it comes to essential oils, it’s often an issue of off-flavors, which refers to the odors we want to keep out of the product,” says Arnold. They compromise the harmonious taste. Flavors like these often develop out on the field, where despite the very best care other plants can grow alongside the mint, with their own essential oils finding their way into the distillation process. Here in Royal City, Arnold is satisfied. The raw material looks very good.

“Natural mint can generate extensive diversity in taste.”

Arnold Machinek
Symrise Flavorist

Jeff Cochran (center) shows Markus Diekmann (left) from Symrise the distillation process in the “mint tub.”

He is accompanied by Markus Diekmann, who is responsible for mint and a dozen other natural substances as a global buyer for Symrise. “It’s true of any raw material: You shouldn’t be dependent on a single source,” says Markus. The two Symrise employees are visiting three of the company’s suppliers: RCB International in Oregon, Labbeemint in Washington and Norwest Ingredients – the founders of which, brothers Terry and Jeff Cochran, are now standing on the field in Washington with Markus Diekmann. “A visit like this is an important part of my work,” says the buyer. “I need to see the companies and get to know the people – and I need to be able to understand how the technical processes work, from the field to the lab and production.” Without that, Markus wouldn’t have the insight he needs to expand the portfolio and negotiate prices.

It’s a hot day, with the sun high in the sky. Jeff Cochran explains to the two Symrise experts how mint culti­vation works. The older of the two Cochran brothers also manages Jet Farms, whose field the group is now looking at. He says that it takes a great deal of experience and knowledge to ensure proper, high-quality harvests. When the time comes to plant a new field, the farmers take rhizomes between 20 and 30 centimeters long from another new field and cut them into small pieces. “The mint puts down new roots, which provide plants for four to five years,” says Jeff. To ensure cultivation over the long term, the farmers employ crop rotation – for example, with potatoes or carrots. The fields need to be free of mint for eight to ten years, which also prevents diseases. “We swap cultivation areas with our neighbors to make that happen,” says Jeff. For more than 40 years, he’s been focusing on cultivating mint but also produces potatoes, beans and hay.

One harvest is possible in the first year after planting, and two harvests in the years thereafter. It’s not just about high yields. “Cutting the plant twice lowers the concentration of menthofuran,” says Jeff. The raw material then functions well in oral care applications. But if you cut the plant just once, the concentration of menthofuran increases. The mint oil extracted is better for desserts because it has a sweeter, earthier and oilier flavor.

As a buyer for Symrise, Markus Diekmann is – among other things – responsible for mint oils.

“Mint is something special. It doesn’t need as much space as corn or wheat, but it does require a lot of knowledge.”

Terry Cochran
Head of Norwest Ingredients

During the mint harvest, a machine cuts the plants and places them in long rows.

The plants have grown to a sufficient size, and it has been dry as a bone for days, which means the harvest can begin today. First a machine is driven down the field, cutting the plants and forming the clippings into long rows. After that, the mint is left out on the field for two to three days, depending on the outside temperature. “It has to dry out first, otherwise we’d need much more heat for distillation,” explains Terry Cochran, manager of Norwest Ingredients, which he founded with his brother in 1998.

Mint is in their blood thanks to their father, who also cultivated the plant. “Mint is something special. It doesn’t need as much space as corn or wheat, but it does require a lot of knowledge, which also applies to processing,” says Terry. In the coming days, another machine will cut the plant parts on the field into small pieces and load them into “mint tubs,” which at first glance look like conventional truck trailers, but are actually designed specifically to distill the mint right next to the fields. Terry Cochran leads the group to a gravel area nearby, where there are a few tubs. “We supply the distillation system with steam, which heats the plant parts for around one and a half hours,” he says, explaining the process. The steam extracts the essential oil from the plant, while subsequent condensation separates the water and oil. “We use what’s left over to increase sustainability,” says Terry. “The farmers either spread it on the fields as a soil nutrient or in some regions, it is added to cattle feed as a fiber supplement.”

Norwest Ingredients sources around 5 % of its oil from Jet Farms and purchases the rest from approximately 80 farmers in the USA, Canada and India. All of the oils are analyzed in the lab of chemist and Head of Research David Beaver, who’s well acquainted with the variations. He can even smell the slightest changes in the distillates, which he also examines with analysis instruments such as the gas chromatograph. “The oils are often different. Soil, water supply and sunlight have a big impact,” says the 55-year-old, who has been with Norwest Ingredients for 16 years.

“The distillates have their very own properties, which we combine here into the mixes.”

Chad Greenfield
Production Manager Norwest Ingredients

He works with the company’s technicians to ensure consistent quality at all times. “Our customers have very clear demands to ensure they receive their specific mint oil that stands out from the competition.” He also works with universities to research mint plants. “This could potentially allow us to achieve higher yields or increase plant resistance to fungus.” The company, which has Sedex and other certifications, is also always looking to improve its processes and thus increase the sustainability of its operations. One-third of the mint oils supplied by Norwest Ingredients is already FSA-verified by the renowned Sustainable Agriculture Initiative Platform (SAI Platform) on a Gold and Silver level, a certification that Symrise will soon expect of all its suppliers. The independent experts took a closer look at plant health, water and energy management, biodiversity and the working conditions on farms, among other things.

Chad Greenfield, who is in charge of production at Norwest Ingredients, also vouches for the quality. He also believes that not all mint oils are the same. The 40-year-old chemist picks up two spearmint samples and smells them. “The distillates have their very own properties, which we combine here into the mixes that our customers want.” Even Symrise has specific demands for Norwest Ingredients, as these have an impact on products for its own customers. The level of quality and the taste need to be consistent at all times, so that the end products provide consumers with the same experience each and every time.

Arnold Machinek is satisfied with what he sees – and smells. While mint varieties differ significantly from each other in terms of their profile, even oils from the same variety can taste different, he says. “It’s much the same with wine. The same grape can produce very different wines depending on the growing location and processing method.” The concentration of menthofuran, for example, can make for a fuller flavor, while other components increase the level of freshness, explains Arnold. That’s also reflected in the enormous diversity of the Symrise mint portfolio. “Symrise purchases more than a dozen different mint oils,” says Markus Diekmann. The company offers around 2,000 mint recipes. “That’s why we need the entire range of mint flavors, from the essential nature- identical to the natural specialties like those sourced from this field here in the USA,” adds Arnold Machinek.

Menthol, the most important individual product

Symrise is a global market leader in menthols and its derivatives, and supplies them to around 500 customers, from global groups to medium-sized companies, which use them to produce oral care products such as toothpaste and mouthwash, sweets and chewing gum, shower gels and other cosmetic products. The pharmaceutical industry also uses menthol in a range of medications to cool, promote blood circulation and relieve pain.

Symrise extracts menthol using a process that the company developed itself nearly 50 years ago and that separates L-menthol from D-menthol in the last stage of enhancement, beginning with the raw material thymol. Chemically speaking, L-menthol corresponds almost entirely to the oil of mentha arvensis – wild mint – and can be used in the same way.

At different points during the procedure, which no longer produces wastewater, intermediate products such as D-menthol are returned to the process. This form of the circular economy improves the yield and reduces the amount of waste products. Menthol is one of the most important individual products in the Symrise portfolio and is manufactured in Holzminden, Germany, and Bushy Park, USA, where the crystallization process that ultimately gives the menthol its form is now solvent-free. In addition, a combined heat and power plant in Bushy Park has reduced carbon emissions by 800 to 1,000 tons a year.