Img 7913 acxmty

It all started with a tube of fennel-flavored toothpaste from Tom’s of Maine, which we bought on a whim at Sprouts one afternoon. We hoped it would have the same fresh flavor as mukhwas—the crunchy blend of fennel, anise and sesame seeds with shredded coconut, a bit of sugar and some minty oil, often offered after a meal at Indian restaurants—that’s meant to aid in digestion, but also freshens your breath like no stick of gum can do.

Unfortunately, the Fennel Fluoride-Free Antiplaque & Whitening Toothpaste didn’t quite live up to its inspiration, tasting more of achingly sweet xylitol than anything else. We complained about the flavor to a Desi friend, who asked: “Why don’t you just buy real fennel-flavored toothpaste at an Indian grocery store?” A day later, we walked out of Subhlaxmi Grocers on Hillcroft with a half-dozen boxes of South Asian toothpaste (and powder, in one case), determined to try every flavor we found on the shelves—not just fennel, but clove and imperial basil and something called, simply, “red.”

From there, in true Houston fashion, we decided to broaden our search for a fun new toothpaste flavor, adding a few more non-Western toothpaste brands and flavors to the taste-test line-up along the way, from our favorite ethnic grocery stores throughout the city: Japanese toothpaste from Nippan Daido, Chinese toothpaste from Jusgo, Korean toothpaste from Super H Mart. Vietnamese toothpaste proved harder to track down, meanwhile, as did West African—we had no luck finding toothpaste at the Southwest Farmers Market on Bissonnet, though we did grab a jar of spicy Nigerian shrimp paste for later use.

The following Monday, we gathered the Houstonia staff around for a taste test, including one intern who always carries a toothbrush in her purse for emergency use; her day had come. The toothpaste that started it all—the fennel-flavored Dabur Meswak—wasn’t the overall pick in our grand, 10-tube taste-test, but nearly everyone found a new favorite flavor that day, and yet another excuse to explore the aisles of our city’s supersized selection of supermarkets, in search of new experiences in unexpected forms. Like toothpaste.

Toothpaste 001 yw8mqz

1. Dabur Imperial Basil

From: India
Bought at: Subhlaxmi Grocers
Tastes like: not like basil, imperial or otherwise
Notes: “Herbaceous and pleasant, but not specifically basil-flavored.” “Strong! I can now breathe through my nose.”

2. Dabur Meswak

From: India
Bought at: Subhlaxmi Grocers
Tastes like: Salvadore Persica, or miswak plant extract
Notes: “Smells exactly like fennel. My teeth actually feel clean.”

3. LG White Tea and Bamboo Salt (our overall favorite!)

From: Korea
Bought at: Super H Mart
Tastes like: a mild cup of tea with mint
Notes: “Elegant and refreshing.” “I really like this.”

4. Dabur Clove

From: India
Bought at: Subhlaxmi Grocers
Tastes like: vaguely minty cinnamon
Notes: “It tastes like a bar of cheap soap.” “Old furniture and mothballs.”

5. Himalaya Bright White

From: India
Bought at: Subhlaxmi Grocers
Tastes like: regular old Crest
Notes: “I hate this for the same reason I hate Smarties: sweet and chalky.”

6. LMZ Prickly Ash Toothpaste

From: China
Bought at: Jusgo
Tastes like: Irish Spring
Notes: “Very soapy.” “This seriously tastes like soap.”

7. Acess L

From: Japan
Bought at: Nippan Daido
Tastes like: sour, extra gritty baking soda
Notes: “Really salty with a pinch of mint.” “Worst Gobstopper ever.”

8. Clean Silver

From: China
Bought at: Jusgo
Tastes like: minty bubble gum
Notes: “Oooooh, I like that.” “This tastes like the fluoride paste in the dentist’s office, but in a good way.”

9. Neem

From: India
Bought at: Subhlaxmi Grocers
Tastes like: spearmint, sort of
Notes: “Not that strong in flavor; I want it to be more minty.”

10. Dabur Red

From: India
Bought at: Subhlaxmi Grocers
Tastes like: super-distilled red hots
Notes: “The Szechuan peppercorn of toothpaste.” “It burned my tongue.”

Show Comments

Read This Next