A brief history of garlicky bad breath
SUMMARY: Ever wondered how long we've been fixated on the smell that garlic leaves in your mouth?
Posted: March 20, 2012
How long have humans been obsessed with avoiding garlic breath? Really, for as long as we've eaten it. Garlic has been cherished for millennia as a healthy food and herbal medicine, but clearly it's hard not to notice that when you chow down on it, you get bad breath.
Here is a quick history of our struggle with garlic breath.
Before the Common Era - Ancient Romans disliked the pungent smell of garlic, but because the bulb grew abundantly in Italy, many soldiers and workers ate it quite often. This resulted in the pejorative phrase allium olere, which meant "to stink of garlic."
1368 - King Alfonso of Castile, apparently fed up with the reek of garlic in his castle, ruled that any knight caught with its scent on his breath would be banished for a month.
1866 - Researchers published a curious finding in the journal Dental Cosmos: "In an edentulous [that is, toothless] mouth, the odor of the garlic or the onion is less persistent; the smooth mucous membrane does not absorb the essential oil of these spices in the same manner as the crevices and deposits about filthy or decaying teeth."
1936 - Garlicky bad breath is almost written off as unworthy of study. "The fetid odor that persists for many hours on the breath of one who has eaten garlic or onions is such a common occurrence that no one has any curiosity about it," a team of Cincinnati scientists wrote in the Journal of the American medical Association.
The 1990s - Finally, researchers firmly establish that methyl mercaptan is the primary volatile sulfur compound in garlic that causes bad breath. This molecule can be neutralized with an oxygenating specialty breath freshener.