Originally published on FoodUnfolded.com in November 2019.
Chewing gum can be found in the form of a minty treat or perhaps a carelessly discarded cud stuck to the bottom of our shoe. But what exactly is it made of?
HOW DID CHEWING GUM COME TO BE?
Gum is among the world’s oldest confections. In its earliest form, it was an elastic lump of tree resin that people chewed on for recreation. Most civilizations throughout history are known to have chewed some sort of gum. For instance, the Maya were known to chew on the sap of the sapodilla or chicozapote tree and in Ancient Greece, people chewed on the sap of the mastic tree. It is speculated that this practice has existed in different parts of the world since the Neolithic period.1
Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a Mexican politician who was exiled to the United States is said to have brought with him something called chicle – a resin derived from the Sapodilla tree, traditionally chewed by Native Americans.1 Around this time, American consumers were familiar with chewing gum made from paraffin wax.2 Inventor and businessman Thomas Adams discovered that heating chicle with sugar and flavouring agents yielded a gum that tasted better than the paraffin-based ones.2 Adams later went on to get a patent for a gum manufacturing machine and founded Adams Sons & Co. in the 1870s.2 During World War II, American soldiers introduced this commercially manufactured, chicle-based chewing gum to other parts of the world.1
WHAT IS MODERN-DAY CHEWING GUM MADE OF?
Over the years, manufacturers replaced chicle with other substances that were easier to procure. Modern-day chewing gums have 4 main ingredients: 3
- Gum base,
- Flavouring agents, and
- Food-grade colours.
The gum base is the non-nutritive, insoluble base of a chewing gum. Gum bases can be made of both, natural and synthetic material. Most countries around the world have regulations that decide which substances are permissible and which ones are not.3
WHAT SWEETENERS ARE USED IN CHEWING GUM?
Chewing gum sweeteners can be divided into three types.3 The first kind are nutritive sweeteners, aka: plain old sugars. The second type are sugar alcohols which provide sweetness, but without the calories. The third kind of sweeteners are ‘intense sweeteners’ such as aspartame. These ‘intense sweeteners’ are calorie-free synthetic substances that provide sweetness at a far more concentrated level than nutritive sweeteners or sugar alcohol.
The production process involves melting the gum base ingredients together, followed by mixing in the other ingredients. The mixture is then extruded, shaped, conditioned to achieve desired texture, cooled and eventually wrapped.3
- Mathews, J. P. (2009). “Chicle: the chewing gum of the Americas, from the ancient Maya to William Wrigley.” University of Arizona Press. Accessed 04 September 2019.
- “A Brief History of Chewing Gum”. Smithsonian.com. Accessed 04 September 2019.
- International Chewing Gum Association. Accessed 03 September 2019.