Chewing gum is a type of confection traditionally made of chicle, a natural latex product, or synthetic rubber known as polyisobutylene. For reasons of economy and quality, many modern chewing gums use rubber instead of chicle. Chicle is nonetheless still the base of choice for some regional markets, such as in Japan.
Chewing gum in various forms has existed since at least the Neolithic period. 5,000-year-old chewing gum with tooth imprints, made of birch bark tar, has been found in Kierikki, Yli-Ii, Finland. The bark tar of which the gums were made is believed to have antiseptic properties and other medicinal advantages. The ancient Aztecs used chicle as a base for making a gum-like substance. Women in particular used this gum as a mouth freshener.
Forms of chewing gums were also used in Ancient Greece. The Greeks chewed mastic gum, made from the resin of the mastic tree. Many other cultures have chewed gum-like substances made from plants, grasses, and resins.
The American Indians chewed resin made from the sap of spruce trees. The New England settlers picked up this practice, and in 1848, John B. Curtis developed and sold the first commercial chewing gum called The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. Around 1850 a gum made from paraffin wax was developed and soon exceeded the spruce gum in popularity. William Semple filed an early patent on chewing gum, patent number 98,304, on December 28, 1869.
Modern chewing gum was first developed in the 1860s when chicle was exported from Mexico for use as a rubber substitute. Chicle did not succeed as a replacement for rubber, but as a gum it was soon adopted and due to newly established companies such as Adams New York Chewing Gum (1871), Black Jack (1884) and “Chiclets” (1899), it soon dominated the market. Chicle gum, and gum made from similar latexes, had a smoother and softer texture and held flavor better. Most chewing gum companies have since switched to synthetic gum bases because of their low price and availability. According to their website, Glee Gum claims to be the last gum manufacturer in the United States using all-natural chicle. Peppersmith Chewing Gum, launched in the UK in 2010, is also a natural gum using chicle for its base.
Use in military
The United States military has regularly supplied soldiers with chewing gum since World War I because it helped both to improve the soldiers’ concentration and to relieve stress. As of 2005, the U.S. military is sponsoring development of a chewing gum formulation with an antibacterial agent that could replace conventional oral hygiene methods in the battlefield.