Photo courtesy of blog.oregonlive.com. (There is also unexpected news on that page).
When I was a little girl, sometimes we used to drive from Vancouver, BC into the surrounding countryside. We would pass mile after mile after mile of hop fields. Much, if not most, of the agricultural land was devoted to growing hops for the beer industry. It was the hops that gave it that wonderfully distinctive flavour that only the best hops can deliver.
The hop fields no longer dominate the landscape as beer no longer is a totally natural product. I might mention here that for those of us who are old enough to remember when beer was "all hop and no chemical", the taste was totally different - smoother, more natural. The same has happened with chewing gum. Once the base of all chewing gum, chicle is now being phased out by other less natural ingredients.
Photo courtesy of Mexicolore.co.uk.
Chewing gum has been around since ancient times. The ancient Greeks chewed ‘mastiche’ gum from the resin of the Mastic tree (hence our English word ‘masticate’ – to chew), North American Indians chewed the sap from spruce trees and the ancient Maya chewed latex from the Sapodilla tree in Central America. Dioscorides, a Greek physician and botanist of the First Century, refers to the "curative powers" of mastic in his writing.
It probably isn’t coincidence that Sapodilla trees have been found near most ancient Maya city sites. There have been suggestions that Mayan farmers planted them to provide resin for chewing gum as well as mortar to stick together the great carved stones of the ancient Mayan temples; to make shoes (bare fee were dipped into the resin and it thickened into the shape of the foot); and, to make incense.
Sapodilla wood has a particularly fine quality and many Maya temple door lintels were made of Sapodilla. The plum-sized fruits were an important food source for both humans and animals. The leaves were used to make teas to cure fevers and diarrhea. It comes as no surprise to find that the Sapodilla tree was considered sacred by the ancient Maya.
These saps were replaced primarily by chicle the natural gum from the Manilkara chicle tree, which is a tropical evergreen tree native to Central America. The tree ranges from Veracruz in Mexico south to Atlántico in Colombia. While the Wrigley Company was a prominent user of this material, today there are only a few companies that still make chewing gum from natural gum base. This is because by the 1960s chicle was replaced by butadiene-based synthetic rubber which was cheaper to manufacture.
What exactly are these synthetic bases made of? Here is where things get sticky. "The proprietary bit of knowledge that is really guarded is the gum base," Schimberg explains. Each type of gum, from those best suited to simply chew or those designed for blowing huge bubbles, requires a slightly different base. "All of these gum bases use various elastomers, resins, and waxes in different combinations," Schimberg says. According to gum research and company websites, we're often chewing on synthetic polymers—styrene-butadiene rubber, polyethylene, polyvinyl acetate—with a bit of natural latex thrown in.
The various ingredients in gum are not listed on the back of the package. Unless certain health or other claims are made, gum is exempt from labeling requirements enforced by the Food & Drug Administration. Even if every tiny pack of gum bore a label, the many ingredients that make gum chewy can legally be lumped together as "gum base."
Waynesworld enlightens us:
Most present-day sugar and artificially sweetened chewing gums are made from a synthetic gum base. According to Michael Redclift (Chewing Gum: The Fortunes of Taste, 2004), modern gum bases are made from vinyl resins or microcrystalline waxes, producing a synthetic rubberlike substance similar to that used for the cover of golf balls. These newer substances produce longer-lasting flavor, improve the texture, and reduce tackiness. According to www.wrigley.com, the Wrigley Company still uses natural rosin softeners in their gum base. In the United States, rosin is largely derived from southeastern pines, including longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) and slash pine (P. elliotti) grown in large plantations. Crude turpentine sap is distilled in order to separate the volatile essential oils called "spirits" from the nonvolatile diterpene residue called rosin. Rosin is used in the manufacture of varnishes and oil base paints, and for violin bows and baseball pitchers. Rosin also enhances the texture of the gum base used in some chewing gums.