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SCIENCE BEHIND: Candy Cane Flavor

The refreshing flavor is prominent during the holidays

NORFOLK, Va. — Tis' the season for coffees, pastries and hot chocolates to have a little extra tingle and jingle. 

On trees everywhere, hang the recognizable red and white blend of peppermint. But what gives it that refreshing and comforting taste? 

Peppermint is known as "mentha peperita". The first word may remind you of something else - menthol.

That's a common ingredient in cough drops, vapor rubs, and even candy canes. Peppermints and other minty refreshments contain the organic compound menthol and also compounds called "terpenes" like menthone and menthyl. Terpenes are hydrocarbons, meaning they're made of hydrogen and carbon atoms. 

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Menthol is a big player when we go from pumpkin to peppermint season and it has to do with that cool sensation that comes with minty flavors.

The body has tiny receptors like one called "TRPM8". Menthol triggers this little sensor to send a message to the brain that something is cold. This same sensation can also happen with ice cream and cold drinks, as well.

PS peppermint is actually a cross between watermint and spearmint.

There's some minty fresh knowledge you can share this season!

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