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Mint condition: Washington state leads the nation in mint oil production

Local company Callisons provides the mint found in 60-70% of the products you'll find at the supermarket. #k5evening

LACEY, Wash. — From the candy and breath mints aisle to those with cosmetics, toothpaste and ice cream, you'll find plenty of products made with Washington state mint oil sold by the industry's world leader Callisons.

“I would say that we are probably involved in 60 or 70% of all the mint products that are in the world,” said Jim Burgett, the fourth-generation leader of the company, which contracts with hundreds of mint farmers to distribute mint oil around the world.

“We've got probably about $100-million of mint oil sitting in here,” he said during a tour of the 98,000 square foot warehouse. “Each of those drums is probably valued at $10,000 a barrel.”

The barrels are made of metal but, even so, the warehouse smells like menthol. Mint oil is so potent a little goes a long way.

“There's probably 6 or 7 million sticks of chewing gum that can be flavored with each barrel of oil,” he said.

Credit: KING TV
Reporter Saint Bryan and Callisons CEO Jim Burgett walk through a Lacey warehouse where millions of dollars in mint oil are stored.

Founded by I.P. Callison in 1903, the company originally traded in cascara bark, before entering the mint market in the 1940's. Most Washington State farmers were growing peppermint. In the 1950's Callisons introduced spearmint to farmers.

“So the farmers they harvest the crop,” Burgett said. “They chop it and put it through the distillation process. It is steam distillation. They’ve been doing it the same way for 100 plus years. The mint oil is literally cooked out of the leaf, and we buy the oil from the farmer.”

A dedicated team of sniffers makes sure everything's in mint condition. Chemists come up with made to order blends for customers like Proctor and Gamble, Colgate and Wrigley.

“What toothpaste do you use?” Burgett asked Bryan.

“We switch off and on but I think it's Colgate right now,” Bryan said.

“OK, well, you're welcome,” Burgett laughed.

Some of Callisons' customers are close to home. At the Olympia Farmers Market, Jennifer Kassel sells family-made Chehalis Mints in colorful hand-wrapped packages.

“The quality of the mint oil is fabulous,” she said. “It just makes everything real smooth. It's not overpowering. It's just a nice smooth flavor.”

Because flavor matters to so many, Washington farmers see a bright future in fragrant fields of mint.

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