Altoids have been around forever, at least in candy years; more than 200 years now to be precise. Produced by Callard & Bower-Suchard in Great Britain, Altoids have a long and storied tradition.
In the late 1780’s, during the rule of King George III in England, a confectionary company called Smith & Company was looking for a new product to treat upset stomachs. That product was … Altoids. Only later did the marketing switch to focus on a way to treat halitosis, or bad breath. In the 1800’s Smith & Company merged with Callard & Bowser, and Altoids became “The Original Celebrated Curiously Strong Peppermints”. Not until the 1920’s was Altoids sold in the now familiar tins. Prior to that they were sold in small rectangular cardboard boxes that were similarly sizes to the tins. The company decided to sell them in tins to prevent crushing. It also helped to keep them from spilling out in pockets and women’s purses. In 1993 Wrigley bought the Callard and Bowser brand which has since been added to the Mars Company, and they remain in that family of products.
No one knows how Altoids ever got its name, but it is believed that the Smith & Company used the suffix “oids” on its products that offered medical benefits. For instance, Zenoids was produced by Smith & company as a digestive aid. But how it got the “Alt” in front of it is completely unknown.
In 1918, Altoids made a transatlantic journey to America, where they were again marketed as a “curiously strong” aid to rid poisons in the stomach. This claim was linked to the large amount of peppermint oil included in the recipe.
Stories abound everywhere on uses for the Altoids tins. People use the empty tins for emergency medical kits that hold bandages and ointments, as well as containers for tobacco or illegal drugs. They have been made into MP3 players, geocaches, amateur radios, pinhole cameras, sewing kits, and even as an emergency camping stove. This little tin seems to have unlimited uses.
Wrigley, who owns the brand, moved production from Great Britain to an existing plant in Chattanooga, TN. The move was mainly due in part that more Altoids are sold in the United States than in any other country. They are the #1 selling mint in the US. Although some long time Altoid aficionados claim to miss the “Made in Britain” tag once on the tin, and swear, the mints are not nearly as curiously strong as in the past.
Altoids not only come as mints, but also hard candy sours and gum, in a variety of flavors. The first new variety, Wintergreen, was introduced in 1997 and since then Spearmint, Cinnamon, Creme de Menthe, Dark Chocolate Cinnamon and Dark Chocolate Creme de Menthe were added to the line up. Sugar free varieties and “smalls” are available. The chewing gum version of Altoids was introduced in 2003 and includes Peppermint, Spearmint, Cinnamon, Wintergreen as well as Sour Cherry and Sour Apple. Hard candies were introduced in 2002 and include the flavors of Sour Apple, Raspberry, Mango and Passion Fruit, and they are sold in a tin like their predecessors.
Cooking ideas for Altoids
- Making chocolate bark and add peppermint or cinnamon Altoids.
- Using crushed Sours and Altoids to rim drink glasses and flavor all sorts of drinks from hot apple cider to martinis and mojitos.
- Adding ginger Altoids to the sugar coating mixture for making glazed nuts.
- Flavoring chocolate truffles.
- Dusting cake frosting with the crushed candies.
- Stir the crushed candies into whipped cream and ice cream.
Baked Altoid Brownies
recipe from David Lebovitz in his quest to get on the Rosie O’Donnel show
Makes one 9 x 13-inch pan
Adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking by Matt Lewis & Renato Poliafito
NOTE: Crush the Altoids in a sturdy freezer bag with a mallet or rolling pin, or in a mortar and pestle. They should be relatively fine. Altoids comes in a few varieties, and you may want to experiment. If you want your brownies even more minty, add the larger amount of mints. You can add some pure mint extract to the batter, too.
11 oz (315g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (60-75% cacao), chopped
8 oz (215g) unsalted butter, cubed
1 ¼ cup (175g) flour
1 tsp sea salt
2 T dark, unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Valrhona)
1 ½ c (300g) granulated sugar
½ c (120g) packed dark brown sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
optional: ¼-½ teaspoon pure mint extract
1 to 1½ packages of Altoid peppermints, (80-120g), crushed (See Note)
Preheat the oven to 350F (175C). Line the inside of a 9 by 13-inch, or similar sized baking pan, with foil. Butter or spray lightly with cooking spray.
In a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter.
In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and cocoa powder.
Once the chocolate is melted and smooth, over the heat, whisk in both sugars. Remove from heat and whisk in three of the eggs completely, then whisk in the other two, along with the vanilla and mint extract, if using.
Sprinkle the flour mixture and the Altoids over the top and using a spatula, gently fold in the dry ingredients until just combined; there might be just a trace of the flour in places. Do not over mix.
Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with just a few moist crumbs attached. Like most brownie recipes, it’s best to error on the side of underbaked than over.
Serving & storage: Once cool, wrap the brownies well. These brownies are even better the next day. Since the recipe makes quite a bit of brownies, extras can be cut into squares, wrapped, and frozen for a few months.
I don’t know about you but I always have a few tins in strategic places, not just of the mints but of the gum as well. Now, I am off in search of new Altoid ideas.