The first patent for this chewy treat was awarded today in 1869, though the ancient Greeks had discovered their own version.
Gum, perhaps the world’s oldest confection, began as an edible treat from trees. Although far less sweet than today’s gums, a chewy tree sap called mastiche was a favorite of the ancient Greeks. Its name derived from the Greek word mastichan meaning “to chew.”
On the other side of the world, the Mayans enjoyed chewing on tsictle, the sap of the sapodilla tree (Manilkara zapot). Farther north, Native Americans living in what is now New England enjoyed the sap of spruce trees (Picea genus). Spruce-sap chewing gums were first brought to the U.S. market in the mid-1800s by entrepreneur John Curtis, who sold small sticks of “Maine Pure Spruce Gum.”
Spruce-sap-based gums were later replaced by those made with petroleum-derived paraffin wax. Gum makers added sugar to their paraffin gums to increase their sweetness. Such gums were sweet but not chewy enough. For the right level of chewiness, gum makers turned to an old favorite: tree sap. The Mayans’ tsictle-called “chicle” in the U.S.—came to dominate the gum market.
Another American inventor, Thomas Adams, proved chicle was no substitute for rubber. However, Adams and his sons found that heating chicle with sugar and flavor yielded a gum superior to paraffin-based predecessors. Chicle gum in hand, Adams got a patent for a gum manufacturing machine and founded Adams Sons & Co. in the 1870s. Americans were soon chewing Blackjack, the first flavored gum.
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Excerpted with permission, Chemical & Engineering News
Copyright © 2007 American Chemical Society