Countries: America, Finland
The discovery of a 5000-year-old chewing gum in Finland, suggests that it existed in northern Europe, in 3000 B.C. Neolithic people are said to have chewed it for treating gum infections and also used it as glue to fix broken pots. Further analysis of this piece of evidence revealed it was made of birch bark tar.
Trevor Brown of the University of Derby explained: “Birch bark tar contains Phenols, which are antiseptic compounds. It is generally believed that Neolithic people discovered that by chewing this stuff it helped alleviate any existing gum disease”.
The ancient Greeks chewed on mastich, which is also a kind of resin, primarily for its cosmetic and medicinal properties.
The Mayans were into gum-chewing too, according to Jennifer P. Matthews’s book, Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas. What they chewed on then was made of chicle, which is a type of resin derived from the sapodilla tree in southern Mexico and Central America.
The collected resin would be cooked and dried into a substance known by the Mayans as cha, which they recognised it to have the benefits of quenching thirst and staving off hunger.Aztec men who were found chewing chicle in public were deemed “sodomites; they equal the effeminates”
Chewing on chicle also existed during the Aztecs civilization (1300 – 1521), said Matthews. The Aztecs, however, observed some social rules as to where and who were allowed to chew it. Matthews quotes the 16th-century Spanish missionary, Bernadino de Sahagun:
“And the chewing of chicle (is) the preference, the privilege of little girls, the small girls, the young women. Also the matured women, the unmarried women used it; and all the women who (are) unmarried chewed chicle in public. One’s wife also chews chicle, but not in public. Also, the widowed, and the old women do not in public…”
As for the Aztec men, they chewed chicle too but “very secretly – never in public”, for Aztec men who were found chewing chicle in public were deemed “sodomites; they equal the effeminates”, says Sahagun.
Chewing chicle in public was also what the Aztec prostitutes would do. According to Sahagun, they were identifiable by their sweet-smelling perfumes as they “go about chewing chicle along the roads, in the marketplace, clacking like castanets”.
A similar kind of social rule is also said by Emily Post, an American author, who is known for her books on etiquette, some four hundred years later. Post commented that proper young ladies should never be seen chewing gums in public as “watching someone chew gum is, as older generations say, like watching a cow chew its cud”.
Spruce tree resin became the first commercial chewing gum when, in 1848, American businessman and inventor, John Curtis invented his chewing gum sticks, State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. This was made by boiling spruce tree resin in water before cutting them into strips. To give it some flavor, it was coated in cornstarch. Two years later, in 1850, Curtis founded the world’s first chewing gum factory in Portland, Maine. However, it was soon discovered that spruce resin was not an ideal type of chewing gum due to its bitter aftertaste and it became brittle when chewed. Spruce resin was, therefore, replaced by paraffin wax.
In 1869, inventor Thomas Adams decided to explore the use of chicle as an alternative to rubber, which turned out to be unsuccessful. Adams then switched to experimenting the use of chicle as chewing gums, just like the Mayans and the Aztecs. The idea came to him when he remembered how much Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, a Mexican president, enjoyed chewing it.In 1891, chewing gum made William Wrigley Jr. the richest man in the world.
Together with his eldest son, Adams made his first batch of chicle chewing gum by boiling and hand-rolling it. The Adams sold their “first batch at the local drugstore in hours and decided to go into the manufacturing business,” writes Matthews.
The Adams’s first success spurred them on to have their first chewing gum company. In 1871, they made the world’s first flavoured gum, named Black Jack, which tasted like liquorice.
In 1891, chewing gum made William Wrigley Jr. the richest man in the world. Wrigley was formerly a soap salesman. He was giving away two packs of chewing gums to every customer who bought his soap when he later realised that the freebie proved to be more popular than his actual product. Wrigley then decided to concentrate his business on making chewing gum instead.
In 1893, Wrigley launched Juicy Fruit, and Wrigley’s Spearmint, which proved to be still as popular till present day.
In 1928, bubble gum was invented by accident by Walter Diemer, who was working for Fleer Chewing Gum Company. Diemer was testing recipe for a new gum base when he “ended up something with bubbles”. Diemer didn’t receive any royalties for his invention although he did receive many letters of thanks.
Chewing gum litter has always been a problem in countries such as Britain. It costs the government 10p to remove each piece of gum. British designer, Anna Bullus, found a cost-effective and creative way to deal with gum litter by recycling them into useful objects such as the soles of shoes.
Singapore, on the other hand, takes another approach by banning chewing gum. “Putting chewing gum on our subway train doors so they don’t open, I don’t call that creativity”, said Lee Kuan Yew, when Peter Day of BBC suggested that gums on pavement could be the arrival “the desired new spirit of creativity”.
“I call that mischief-making,” Lee added. “If you can’t think because you can’t chew, try a banana.”
Ingredients: Gum base, which has polymers, plasticisers, and resins. Other ingredients include sweeteners, flavours, and colourings.