The Chew Story

What is that one thing that pops into our head when we say refreshing, minty and good for the teeth, surely people will say its toothpaste, but when we also say that it’s chewable, and then it becomes very clear, we are talking about ‘Gum’. Chewing gum a common fare amongst children initially, has become quite popular among the older group as well.  Be it male or female, people love chewing gums, whether it is to prevent bad breath, to fight cavities or just to keep something in the mouth, chewing gums are favoured by all. Chewing gums were also supplied to soldiers fighting in World War I because it helped to improve their concentration and relieve stress. So when did the gummy story actually begin?

Thousands of years back people chewed gum in its natural form. The ancient Greeks chewed mastiche gum that is obtained from the resin of a mastic tree, the Mayans chewed the sap from the sapodilla tree and the Indian Americans chewed the resin from the spruce trees. The first commercial chewing gum was developed and sold by John B. Curtis in 1848 and it was called, ‘The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum’. In 1850 he started selling flavoured gums which took precedence as the more popular form than the spruce gums.

In 1869 Antonio Lopez De Santa Anna, the Mexican general put forward his idea of chicle to the American inventor Thomas Adams. He began to make chicle toys, rain-boots and masks thereafter but failed in every attempt. In 1869, he thought of adding flavour to chicle and the first chewing gum that was marketed was called ‘Adams New York Chewing Gum’. In 1870 he opened the world’s first chewing gum factory and in 1871 he invented a machine for its manufacture. Although Thomas Adams did create a licorice-flavoured gum called ‘Black Jack’ that year all his gums had the problem of not being able to hold flavour.

In 1880 Dr. Edward Beeman solved the above shortcoming by adding pepsin powder and inventing a gum that served as a ‘digestive aid’. This was the next big discovery in the field of gums. A type of this gum known by the name of ‘Beemans Chewing Gum’ is still available today. William White also created the first flavoured gum called ‘Yucatan’ by combining corn syrup to chicle and adding peppermint extract. He found out through his creation that the peppermint flavour stayed on for a longer time than the other ones.

Raging interest to bring about ingenuity led to the first chewing gum being sold out from a vending machine, Tutti-Frutti which was created by Thomas Adams in 1888. William Wrigley Jr. founded the Wrigley Chewing Gum in 1891.  By 1900’s chewing gum had become quite popular in all its aspects.  Due to rising health consciousness among the people by the 1950’s, many sugarless gums were also created.

Experimentations with numerous flavours by different inventors have led to the emergence of a variety of gums- vanilla, coke, mint, cinnamon and various fruit flavours. Gums are also found in an array of shapes and sizes such as gumballs, bubblegum, sugar free, tube gum, stick gum, powdered gum and candy-gum combinations.

Chewing gum was banned in Singapore for 12 years because of incorrect disposal of it which would be stuck under chairs, tables, it was lifted in 2004. Still obtaining a gum continues to be quite difficult and only gum of therapeutic value is allowed there.

In spite of all the years long failed experiments and controversies, popularity for gum has grown over the years. The desire to create new flavours still runs wild among big companies which are successfully enjoyed by the people all over the world.

Madhurima Ganguly

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