Steve Woods

Chewing Gum : A Short History

In What Day is it? on September 30, 2009 at 9:00 pm
Tree sap - Yum?

Tree sap - Yum?

It has always mystified me, the concept that what I am eating, at some point in our past, had never been eaten before.  Each and every little bit of food, every tiny delicacy savored, had to be tried, for the very first time, by someone.  Throughout our gastronomic history, our species has been populated with adventurous men and women who, after coming across a foreign substance stuck to a tree, under a rock, behind a bush or in a cave, thought to themselves, “I’ll put that in my mouth.”


Early history

The Ancient Greeks moved aside the bark of the mastic trees on the island of Chios, and grew fond of the flavor of the resinous sap they found therein, discovering that it kept their breath fresh as it cleaned their teeth.  How often have you seen something dribbling from a bush and thought you’d chew it for awhile?

The Greek physician and botanist Dioscorides decried the “curative” powers of the mastic resin.  Mastic was combined with beeswax to soften it, and the mix moved to the Middle East.  Did you know that the Greek Word mastiche, the root of the word masticate (or chew) comes from the mastic plant?

In the Second Century, the Mayans discovered the joys of chewing the sap of the Sapodilla tree, called chicle. These trees grow to over 100 feet tall, and were typically allowed to grow for 25 years prior to tapping for the resin every few years. Different tree saps appealed to different indigenous peoples. After felling spruce trees, early Native Americans discovered they could safely chew on the resin inside, and passed this little joy to the American colonists.  The practice of chewing spruce resin continued into the early 1800s, until paraffin wax grew in popularity as a chewable.

Introduction to America


After a sore defeat in Texas to the American forces, Mexican General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna was exiled to Staten Island, New York.  He took along with him a great deal of chicle, because he thought he could parlay its use as a rubber substitute for the Americans.

The Blackjack Brand

The Blackjack Brand

Inventor and photographer Thomas Adams met General Santa Anna and began experimenting with the substance as a possible alternative to rubber, which was difficult to come by at the time.   Adams tried over and over to vulcanize the chicle, to no avail.  Remembering that Santa Anna chewed the gum for enjoyment, Adams processed the substance to make it more pliable, formed it and cut it into chunks, selling it as a chew. Business was good, so Adams built and patented a gum-making machine, selling a flavorless chicle-based concoction called New York No. 1.

Compounding on this early success, Adams added licorice flavor to his gum, and called in Black Jack, the very first gum sold in sticks.  The gum was extremely popular, but did not hold its flavor for long.  Of course, this meant that fans of Black Jack had to buy a lot to keep in good supply…

Black Jack chewing gum sold well into the 1970s, and made a comeback in the late 1980s as a novelty gum.  Adam’s original company merged with others, becoming known as the American Chicle Company, where Adams invented the popular Chiclets brand.  The American Chicle Company is now part of the Cadbury Group.

Making something good better

In 1880 William White ordered some chicle, and began experimenting with a variety of flavorings, including peppermint.  He added sugars and corn syrup to the chicle mix, which seemed to greaten the enjoyment and extend the flavor for a greater period of time.  With the advent of good flavorings, chicle-based gums took the market over from both spruce and paraffin.  By 1893, the William Wrigley Company began selling Spearmint and Juicy Fruit.

Dubble Bubble Gum

Dubble Bubble Gum

The ever-popular and fun gumball made its appearance in the early 1900s.  In 1906, Frank Fleer figured out how to make gum more pliable and soft, inventing the very first bubble gum, called Blibber-Blubber.  This product, however, never came to market.  Walter Diemer discovered and retooled Fleer’s formula, enjoying commercial success with his brand Dubble Bubble, in 1928.

Since the 1920’s a variety of tree resins have been used to make chewing gums, including the lechi, caspi, sorva, nispero, tunui and jelutong trees, trees spanning the globe from Central and South America, North America, Indonesia and Borneo.  The last chewing gum brand in America to use chicle was Glee.

How chewing gum is made

The modern manufacturing process has introduced man-made resins and waxes and greatly increased the pleasure of the chewing experience. Sugars, special flavorings and other fillers are added together and mixed in with the melted gum base, and softeners depending on whether or not the gum will be used for bubbling. Sticks are scored and cut, spray-coated with super fine powdered sugar, and let sit for 2 days in a climate-controlled environment. Gum balls are coated with colored sugars mixed with beeswax or man-made waxes.

Other chewing gum facts

So much history behind this bubble...

So much history behind this bubble...

According to Wrigley’s Inc., chewing gum increases your focus, helps you lose weight if used to replace high-calorie dessert foods (only 10-15 calories per stick of average gum,) and relieves stress, among other benefits.

The American Dental Association says chewing a low-cal gum after every meal greatly reduces tooth decay because the increased saliva delivers with it flouride, calcium and phosphate to your teeth.

There are hundreds of brands of chewing gum all over the World, with at least 50 popular brands in the U.S. alone.

In 2004, a popular eBay attraction was ABC (already-been-chewed) gum that was purported to once belong to pop star Britney Spears. Pieces sold for up to $150.00 each.

Swallowing chewing gum is relatively harmless. Your body will not digest it, but as with all indigestibles, it will be passed through your body. That said, if you constantly swallow your gum, you increase the chances of one piece not getting passed, and becoming a Bezoar, or permanent stone in your digestive system.

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  1. […] Chewing Gum Day « DÕPÕDÕMÅNÌ dopodomani.me/2009/09/30/chewing-gum-day – view page – cached It has always mystified me, the concept that what I am eating, at some point in our past, had never been eaten before. Each and every little bit of food, every tiny delicacy savored, had to be… (Read more)It has always mystified me, the concept that what I am eating, at some point in our past, had never been eaten before. Each and every little bit of food, every tiny delicacy savored, had to be tried, for the very first time, by someone. Throughout our gastronomic history, our species has been populated with adventurous men and women who, after coming across a foreign substance stuck to a tree, under a rock, behind a bush or in a cave, thought to themselves, “I’ll put that in my mouth.” (Read less) — From the page […]

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