Article: America's Need To Chew
America's Need To Chew
by: Dr. Janet Starr Hull, Ph.D., CN
People have enjoyed chewing gum-like substances in many
lands for centuries. Most of the original gum materials were
merely thickened resin and latex from certain trees. Others
were various sweet grasses, leaves, grains and waxes.
For centuries the ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum or
mastiche pronounced "mas-tee-ka". This is resin from the bark
of the mastic tree, a shrub-like tree found mainly in Greece
and Turkey. Grecian women favored mastic gum to clean their
teeth and sweeten their breath.
American colonists learned from the Indians of New England
how to chew the gum-like resin that formed on spruce trees
when the bark was cut. Lumps of spruce gum were sold in the
eastern United States during the early 1800s, making it the first
commercial 'chewing gum' in America. Around 1850, sweetened
paraffin wax became popular and eventually surpassed spruce
gum in popularity.
After being defeated by Texas in 1845, Mexican General Santa
Anna was exiled to New York. Like many of his countrymen,
Santa Anna chewed chicle. One day he introduced chicle to New
York inventor Thomas Adams, who began experimenting with it
as a possible substitute for rubber. Adams tried to make toys,
masks, and rain boots out of chicle, but every experiment failed.
Sitting in his workshop one day, tired and discouraged, he
popped a piece of surplus stock into his mouth. Chewing away,
the idea suddenly hit him to add flavoring to the chicle. Shortly,
he opened the world's first chewing gum factory. Gum made
with chicle and similar latexes soon won favor over spruce gum
and paraffin gum. It made a smooth, springy, satisfying chew
that the others lacked, and it held its flavor longer. By the early
1900s, with improved methods of manufacturing, packaging and
marketing, modern chewing gum was well on its way to its
Why do humans like to 'chew' so much? Quite literally, say
psychologists, the process begins in infancy from suckling for
milk to the soothing pacifier. Older children like to chew on blades
of grass and straw, even pencils and rubber bands at school.
Chewers say gum helps clean their teeth. They also like the way
it freshens their breath. And, of course, gum is fun to chew, it
tastes good, and contains only a few calories for the weight
conscious. Chewing is a natural and healthy exercise for
strengthening the jaw and stimulating circulation to the gums.
Chewing relaxes and eases tension, can help you stay alert and
awake, moistens the mouth which stimulates digestion, helps
some people concentrate, helps resist the urge to smoke,
reduces ear discomfort when flying, satisfies snack cravings,
and cleans your teeth after meals.
The urge to chew was probably as strong in prehistoric man
as it is today. Primitive human beings chewed on grass, berries
and trees. The first records that mention 'chewing' date from
early civilizations in both the Eastern and Western cultures.
Most indigenous people today chew on bark and tree rubbers
to exercise their jaws and keep their teeth healthy.
In Greece and the Middle East, people have chewed mastic gum
for many centuries. Dioscorides, a Greek medicine man,
pioneered the use of powdered mastiche as medicine around
50 A.D. Mastiche has been used for this purpose on the island
of Chios ever since.
In Central America, the ancient Mayans, like the ancient Greeks,
chewed resin from trees. This resin was the first to be called
chicle and it formed the basis for our story about modern
In 1879, gum was extracted from the balsam tree and flavored
with powdered sugar. At this time, Dr. Edward E. Beeman
turned his medical skills toward the manufacturing of a pepsin
powder as an aid to digestion. One day his bookkeeper, Nellie
Horton, suggested that he put the pepsin into gum "since so
many people buy pepsin for digestion and gum for no reason at
all." So, he blended his pepsin compound with chicle. He then
took the picture of a pig that had graced the bottles of his pepsin
compound, and put it on the wrapper of his new gum, stating:
"With pepsin, you can eat like a pig." It sold well, but it did even
better after a financier reorganized the Beeman Company and
replaced the pig on the wrapper with Dr. Beeman's bearded face.
The popular peppermint flavor arrived on the gum scene around
1880 by William J. White, a popcorn salesman from Cleveland,
Ohio. A neighboring grocer had received a barrel of chicle instead
of the ordered barrel of nuts and gave it to White, who began
experimenting with it in his home. He soon discovered how to
solve the problem of how to keep flavor in gum. Since chicle
itself would not absorb flavors, White turned his focus to sugar,
which would absorb flavors. He found that by combining flavors
with corn syrup, any flavor could be obtained. The syrup blended
instantly with chicle.
White decided on his favorite peppermint flavor. His gum,
eventually named Yucatan, became a smash hit.
(http://www.pfizer.com/mn_copyright.html) Cinnamon, spearmint
and peppermint are among the most popular flavors of chewing
This rediscovery of what the Mayans had known over one
thousand years earlier revolutionized the manufacturing
of chewing gum.
Other trees also contribute or have contributed their latex to
the chewing gum industry. Some of the latex used is leche,
caspi and sorva, found in the Amazon Valley; nispero and tunu,
from Central America; and jelutong, found in
Indonesia, Malaya, and British Borneo. Refined pine tree resins
from our own Southeast coastal states have also been used as
Man-made resins and waxes are used to greater degrees today
as the search continues for an even more enjoyable chew. Chicle
is still produced commercially from the red and white Sapodilla
trees that grow in the rain forests of Central and South America.
These trees, concentrated most heavily in the Yucatan Peninsula,
frequently reach heights of 100 feet or more, and develop with
great hardness and density. The Sapodillas (Achras Sapota) are
not tapped for their latex until they are at least 20 to 25 years old.
Each tapping, made with a series of cross cuts leading to a center
channel in the form of a herringbone, yields only 2 1/2 pounds of
gum over a period of six hours. Trees are tapped only once every
three to four years.
Although chicle and other natural gums are still utilized by
chewing gum industry, most modern gums are made from man-
made materials and contain corn syrup, sugar, chemical sugar
substitutes, artificial food colorings and flavoring agents added to
the gum base in the gum-making process.
The problem with modern-day chewing gum is that gum is not
what it used to be - or should be. Gum is now sated with unhealthy
man-made chemicals and is shaped so small, it does little to no
good exercising the jaw. Modernized chewing gum is no longer the
healthy answer for human's instinctive need to chew, and with the
addition of aspartame and other chemical sugar substitutes saturating
both regular and sugar-free gums, gum today can be hazardous to
your health. Search for an original gum to chew instead of the
assembly-line variety. Browse the Internet, health food stores and
coops for natural gums available.
The best advice: plant your own balsam tree.