Menthol is a cyclic monoterpene alcohol which possesses well-known cooling characteristics and a residual minty smell of the oil remnants from which it was obtained. Because of these attributes it is one of the most important flavouring additives besides vanilla and citrus. Due to this reason it is used in a variety of consumer products ranging from confections such as chocolate and chewing gum to oral-care products such as toothpaste as well as in over-the-counter medicinal products for its cooling and biological effects. Its cooling effects are not exclusive to medicinal use. Approximately one quarter of the cigarettes on the market contain menthol and small amounts of menthol are even included in non-mentholated cigarettes. Natural menthol is isolated exclusively from Mentha canadensis, but can also be synthesised on industrial scale through various processes. Although menthol exists in eight stereoisomeric forms, (-)-menthol from the natural source and synthesised menthol with the same structure is the most preferred isomer. The demand for menthol is high and it was previously estimated that the worldwide use of menthol was 30-32,000 metric tonnes per annum. Menthol is not a predominant compound of the essential oils as it can only be found as a constituent of a limited number of aromatic plants. These plants are known to exhibit biological activity in vitro and in vivo such as antibacterial, antifungal, antipruritic, anticancer and analgesic effects, and are also an effective fumigant. In addition, menthol is one of the most effective terpenes used to enhance the dermal penetration of pharmaceuticals. This review summarises the chemical and biological properties of menthol and highlights its cooling effects and toxicity.
Keywords: Biological activity; Cooling effects; Flavour; Mentha canadensis; Mentha piperita; Menthol.
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