Chewing gum, considered by many to be the quintessential candy, boasts a particularly storied history. Long before spearmint and cinnamon were staple flavors, Ancient Scandinavians chewed on birch-bark tar. Some experts believe that the tar not only offered some savory satisfaction, but it also helped relieve toothaches. Residents of Ancient Greece also transformed tree resin into an early form of chewing gum. Named mastic, meaning “to chew,” this early gum was noteworthy enough to merit a description in the writings of Pliny the Elder.
Similar to their their European counterparts, the Aztecs and Mayans enjoyed a rubbery confection made from the sap of the sapodilla tree. Archaeologists and historians have found evidence that the gum was used to freshen breath, clean teeth, and ward off thirst and hunger. An important commodity within their society, Aztecs maintained strict protocols concerning the use of gum. Only unmarried adults and children were allowed to chew gum in public as married folk who dared to chew in plain view of others were seen as morally deficient.
Indigenous peoples in North America developed their own brand of gum using spruce sap. European explorers and settlers readily adopted the practice of chewing Native American gum upon their arrival to the New World.
The commercial production of chewing gum did not develop until the mid-1800s. A more contemporary version of gum was created not until American inventor Thomas Adams, Sr., developed his recipe with the help of an unlikely source: Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the exiled president of Mexico. Santa Anna, with means unknown to modern historians, provided Adams with a copious supply of chicle. While Santa Anna believed that chicle could be developed into a practical rubber substitute, Adams and his sons eventually discovered that chicle was put to better use as the keystone ingredient of a new type of chewing gum.
Eventually, chicle-based gums fell from favor with the American consumer. Gums made with petroleum, wax, and synthetics eventually replaced chicle on the shelves. Today, gum is marketed in a variety of flavors and forms. Whether you are a fan of classic gumballs or you prefer a fruity-flavored stick of gum, there is a gum out there for everyone!