Chewing gum is a soft, cohesive substance designed in order to be chewed without being swallowed.
Modern chewing gum is composed of gum base, sweeteners, softeners/plasticizers, flavors, colors, and, typically, a hard or powdered polyol coating.
Its texture is reminiscent of rubber because of the physical-chemical properties of its polymer, plasticizer, and resin components, which contribute to its elastic-plastic, sticky, chewy characteristics.
Although chewing gum is designed to be chewed and not swallowed, it generally isn’t harmful if swallowed. Folklore suggests that swallowed gum sits in your stomach for seven years before it can be digested. But this isn’t true. If you swallow gum, it’s true that your body can’t digest it.
The cultural tradition of chewing gum seems to have developed through a convergent evolution process, as traces of this habit have arisen separately in many of the early civilizations. Each of the early precursors to chewing gum were derived from natural growths local to the region and were chewed purely out of the instinctual desire to masticate.
The Mayans and the Aztecs figured out a long time ago that by slicing the bark strategically, they could collect this resin and create a chewable substance from it. The Mayans cooked and dried it into “cha,” which Mathews says “quenched thirst and staved off hunger,” and the Aztecs recognized chicle’s function as a breath-freshener.
Forms of chewing gum were also chewed in Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum, made from the resin of the mastic tree. Mastic gum, like birch bark tar, has antiseptic properties and is believed to have been used to maintain oral health. Both chicle and mastic are tree resins. Many other cultures have chewed gum-like substances made from plants, grasses, and resins.
New England colonists borrowed from the Indians the custom of chewing aromatic and astringent spruce resin for the same purposes. Similarly, for centuries inhabitants of the Yucatán Peninsula have chewed the latex, called chicle, of the sapodilla tree (Manilkara zapota or Achras zapota), an
evergreen that flourishes in the rainforests of the region.
In the late 1840s, John Curtis developed the first commercial spruce tree gum by boiling resin, then cutting it into strips that were coated in cornstarch to prevent them from sticking together. By the early 1850s, Curtis had constructed the world’s first chewing gum factory, in Portland, Maine.
In the 1860s when chicle was brought from Mexico by the former President, General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, to New York, where he gave it to Thomas Adams for use as a rubber substitute. Chicle did not succeed as a replacement for rubber, but as a gum, which was cut into strips and marketed as Adams New York Chewing Gum in 1871.
Black Jack (1884), which is flavored with licorice, Chiclets (1899), and Wrigley’s Spearmint Gum were early popular gums that quickly dominated the market and are all still around today.
In the 20th century, chewing gum made William Wrigley Jr. one of the wealthiest men in America. In 1893, he launched two new gum brands, Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint. Because the chewing gum field had grown crowded with competitors, Wrigley decided he’d make his products stand out by spending heavily on advertising and direct-marketing. In 1915, the Wrigley Company kicked off a campaign in which it sent free samples of its gum to millions of Americans listed in phone books. Another promotion entailed sending sticks of gum to U.S. children on their second birthday.
Frank Fleer, whose company had made chewing gum since around 1885, wanted something different from his rivals and spent years working on a product that could be blown into bubbles. In 1906, he concocted a bubble gum he called Blibber-Blubber, but it proved to be too sticky. In 1928, a Fleer employee named Walter Diemer finally devised a successful formula for the first commercial bubble gum, dubbed Dubble Bubble.
Chewing gum gained worldwide popularity through American GIs in WWII, who were supplied chewing gum as a ration and traded it with locals.
After World War II various waxes, plastics, and synthetic rubber virtually replaced chicle in chewing gum manufacture.
Artificially sweetened chewing gum found a wide market in the United States beginning in the late 20th century, while mint remained the favourite among a wide variety of flavours.
More recently, some manufacturers have tried adding abrasives to chewing gum, marketing it as good for the teeth.
The brands selling the most gum to Americans these days—namely Trident to Orbit, Extra, Dentyne, 5, and Eclipse — specialize in sugar-free, mint-flavored gum.
The largest collection of chewing gum packets is 13,539 and is owned by Grzegorz Materna (Poland) as verified in Warsaw, Poland, on 26 July 2015.
The most people blowing a chewing gum bubble simultaneously is 881, achieved by Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (USA) in Trenton, New Jersey, USA, on 11 July 2018.
In 1996, Susan Montgomery Williams of Fresno, California set the Guinness World Record for largest bubblegum bubble ever blown, which was 66 centimeters (26 inches) in diameter. Chad Fell though holds the record for “Largest Hands-free Bubblegum Bubble” at 20 inches (51 cm), achieved on 24 April 2004.
Bubblegum Alley is a tourist attraction in downtown San Luis Obispo, California, known for its accumulation of used bubble gum on the walls of an alley. It is a 4.6-meter (15-foot) high and 21-meter (70-foot) long alley lined with chewed gum left by passers-by. It covers a stretch of 20 meters in the 700 block of Higuera Street in downtown San Luis Obispo.
In 2018, the BBC published a news article on British designer Anna Bullus, who created a method of collecting and recycling chewing gum into plastic, noting that litter from chewing gum is the second most common form of litter, second only to cigarette litter.