Where Does Chewing Gum Come From: Origin and Production Insights

Chewing gum dates back thousands of years, evolving from natural tree resins used by ancient civilizations to the synthetic bases and wide varieties seen today.

Origins and Evolution of Chewing Gum

Historical Use from Antiquity to the 19th Century

Chewing gum has a rich and fascinating history that dates back thousands of years.

The ancient Maya and Aztecs, as well as the ancient Greeks, all had their own versions of chewing gum made from various natural substances.

The Maya and Aztecs chewed on a substance called chicle, derived from the sap of the sapodilla tree.

Chicle was believed to have medicinal properties and was also used to freshen their breath.

The ancient Greeks chewed on a substance called mastic, which was derived from the resin of the mastic tree.

Mastic was used not only for oral hygiene, but also to aid digestion and alleviate stomach issues.

Similarly, Native Americans and South Americans used the resin from trees for their chewing gum, while in China, gums made from ginseng were popular for their flavor and medicinal properties.

Even in the Neolithic period, people were chewing on birch bark tar as a form of gum.

Key Figures in Chewing Gum History

Humans have been using various substances from trees and plants as gum through history.

However, the development of modern chewing gum can be traced back to the 19th century. American Indians introduced European settlers to spruce resin as a natural form of gum, and it didn’t take long for this idea to transform into a business opportunity.

John B. Curtis was the first to create commercially-sold chewing gum in 1848; he named it “State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.”

As the popularity of chewing gum grew, alternatives to spruce resin were sought.

It was then that chicle, the same substance used by the Maya and Aztecs, found its way into modern chewing gum.

In 1869, former Mexican president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna introduced chicle to an American inventor named Thomas Adams who, after several attempts, successfully created the first chicle-based gum named “Adams New York No. 1.”

The subsequent evolution of chewing gum continued into the 20th century with the invention of bubble gum.

In 1928, Walter Diemer, an employee at the Fleer Corporation, developed the first commercial bubble gum called “Dubble Bubble.” Today, chewing gum comes in a wide array of flavors and shapes, and its popularity remains strong as people continue to enjoy this ancient practice with a modern twist.

Modern Production and Composition

A sleek, futuristic production facility with conveyor belts and machinery, surrounded by bubbling vats of colorful gum base ingredients

From Natural to Synthetic: Materials and Manufacturing

Chewing gum has come a long way since its early origins, with ancient civilizations using natural gum bases derived from trees, such as chicle, to create a chewable substance.

In modern production, gum bases have transitioned from natural to synthetic materials, using a combination of synthetic rubber, latex, paraffin wax, and other resins to create a cohesive texture [1].

The gum base, which accounts for about 20-30% of the final product, is mixed with sweeteners, flavors, colors, and other ingredients to enhance the overall taste and appearance of the chewing gum.

Common sweeteners include xylitol, artificial sweeteners, and sugar alcohols, while flavorings can range from fruity options like Juicy Fruit to more traditional mint flavors [2].

An essential part of gum production is the incorporation of elastomers and plastics, which ensure the gum remains pliable and resistant to breaking apart during chewing.

Ingredients such as butyl rubber and lecithin act as emulsifiers and help maintain the ideal texture of the final product.

Health and Environmental Considerations

There are potential health benefits to chewing gum, including its ability to stimulate saliva production, which can help with halitosis and antiseptic properties that may aid in combating digestive disorders or GERD [3].

However, it’s essential to consider that some ingredients, particularly artificial sweeteners, may cause digestive discomfort for some individuals.

Biodegradable chewing gum options have emerged to address the environmental impact of traditional gum disposal.

Regular, non-biodegradable gum can end up in the digestive tract of animals or littering public spaces, posing a hazard to both wildlife and the environment.

By using more eco-friendly alternatives, such as latexes derived from natural sources, these biodegradable chewing gums aim to minimize the adverse effects on our planet.