It all began when the Aztec Indians and Mayans used chicle, the coagulated milky latex from the sapodilla tree, for chewing gum. Sapodilla, a tropical American fruit tree, is indigenous to the Yucatan and regions of South America. Chicle is harvested by making cuts in the tree, and allowing the chicle to flow into a receptacle at the base of the tree. Chicle was used as the principal ingredient in chewing gum in the 1890s, but was soon replaced by synthetic products. The Aztecs are credited with popularizing chewing gum by introducing it to Spanish conquerors.
How did chewing gum evolve into the delicious, chewable treat that it is today? American Indians chewed resin from spruce trees, and introduced this phenomenon to English settlers. The commercial use of chewing gum originated in the United States. In 1848, John B. Curtis invented and sold the first commercial chewing gum called “The State of Main Pure Spruce Gum”. Around 1850, paraffin wax was used as the base of chewing gum, and flavors were soon added to make it more palatable. In 1869, William Semple filed a patent for chewing gum. John Colgan, a Kentucky pharmacist, is credited with the first flavored chewing gum. He mixed powdered sugar with tolu, a powdered extract from the Balsam tree for flavoring. Also, in 1910, he patented a ‘Chewing Gum Chip Forming Machine’ that cut chips of gum from larger sticks.
General Santa Anna brought chicle from Mexico as a rubber substitute, and gave some to a man by the name of Thomas Adams. While it did not become a rubber substitute, in 1871, Adams marketed it as a chewing gum by the name of “Adams New York Chewing Gum.” By the 1880s, Adams gum had become so popular that he was producing five tons of chewing gum daily. William Wrigley came up with an idea to sell his soap by giving away sticks of gum to vendors who bought large soap orders. His gum became more popular than his soap. By the time of his death in 1932, Wrigley was one of the richest men in the United States.
By 1920, individuals were chewing at least 105 pieces of chewing gum per year. Unfortunately, the demand of chicle outweighed the ability of nature to produce it. By the 1930s, a quarter of Mexico’s sapodilla trees were killed due to harvesting practices that were used to increase the yield of chicle. However, chewing gum factories began using synthetic products made from petroleum and wax. By 1980, chicle was no longer being bought from Mexico by the United States for use in the production of chewing gum. Chewing gum, with its many different flavors to choose from, is still used by people today to freshen one’s breath. It also has many health benefits. Chewing gum not only burns calories, but can protect your teeth, increase blood flow to the brain, and relieve acid reflux after a meal. While there are many benefits of gum chewing, one thing is for sure: chewing this sweet treat is a pleasant experience that bears repeating.
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