If you had a choice between chewing on a wad of tree sap, a mouthful of rubber bands or a stick of gum, which would you choose? If the answer seems obvious, you may be surprised. All three have more in common than most people realize.

Chewing gum has a history — a long, long, loooong history. In fact, the oldest piece of chewing gum ever found is thought to be 9,000 years old!

Many years before Columbus landed in America, citizens of the world were chewing gum and popping bubbles. The ancient Greeks chewed “mastiche,” while the Mayan Indians were busy chomping on “chicle.”

Before World War II, gum was still made from chicle. That’s right! The same stuff Mayan Indians had been chomping on for centuries. Chicle is a latex sap derived from the sapodilla, a native central America tree.

Latex? It’s true. Chicle is a form of rubber, and just as a rubber band wouldn’t dissolve in your mouth if you chewed it, neither does chicle.

One of the advantages of chicle is that it softens when warmed by the heat of your mouth. This makes it highly chewable.

After World War II, the demand for gum continued to rise, and chemists began looking for an alternative to chicle. Though some gums are still derived from natural sources, many modern recipes use synthetic rubber bases.

In order to make the gum more palatable, manufacturers mix in sugar and flavorings. As you chew the gum, the rubber releases the flavors in your mouth. Sometimes softeners such as glycerin or vegetable oil are also added to keep the gum moist.

Your teachers may not allow you to snap-crack-and-pop in school, but there are real advantages to chewing gum. While it is no replacement for brushing and flossing, one of the major benefits is that gum can actually help clean your teeth.

As you chew, the gum stimulates saliva production, which helps neutralize acids in the mouth that can lead to tooth decay. Some studies suggest the physical act of chewing gum can also help you stay alert, relax and curb your appetite for a snack.

Gum fun facts

  • Smile! The first patent for chewing gum was issued in 1869 to William F. Semple of Mount Vernon, Ohio. His occupation? Dentist!
  • A whole lotta chewin’ going on: There are more than 1,000 varieties of gum manufactured and sold in the United States.
  • Save your pennies: Each year in North America, kids spend approximately half a billion dollars on gum.

 

42 Join the Discussion

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  1. It’s cool to see this history of gum. I’d love to chew a piece of chicle just to see what it’s like.

    I’d also love to hear the science of what really happens when you swallow gum. Does it really take years for it to break down in our bellies?

    Thanks!

    • Your question sounds like the making of a GREAT Wonder of the Day, Justin! Thanks so much for stopping by Wonderopolis today! :-)

    • Chewing gum is FUN, isn’t it, Destiny? Have you tried the new kind of sugarless gum that tastes like different desserts? It comes in flavors like key lime pie, strawberry shortcake, and mint chocolate chip! Yum! :-)

  2. Strawberry Shortcake Chewing gum is so yummy! But I wish there was a marble cake flavor of gum!(licks lips)!!! Thanks Wonderopolis!

    • Marble cake gum sounds REALLY yummy, Sophie! Maybe the people who make up those flavors of dessert gum will come out with that flavor soon! Thanks so much for your comment today! :-)

    • We like candy, too, Macy! We are careful not to eat too much, though! Thank you for hanging out in Wonderopolis today and for leaving this great comment! :-)

  3. That was a cool Wonder. I learned that chicle comes from the sapodilla tree and what chicle was. It is interesting how gum has tree sap, and a rubber based substance. I can connect with this a lot because I chew gum all the time. I’m even more exited now because gum is good for your teeth. I had a lot of fun with this Wonder. What was the first flavor of gum?

    • Hello, Alex! Thank you SO MUCH for letting us know all the great things you learned from this Wonder!

      We’re not sure what the first flavor of gum was. That’s such an AWESOME question, though! We’d have to go back pretty far in the history records to research something like that, since both the Greeks and Mayans used to chew gum! Their idea of what a yummy flavor might have been is probably quite different than what ours is today! We WONDER if those ancient civilizations would like watermelon-flavored bubble gum? :-)

  4. I love the double bubble flavored bubble gum, Hubba Bubba, layered gum…all kinds of gum! If you swallow gum, how many years does it take for gum to digest in your body?

    From,
    Emmy

    • That’s a GREAT question, Emmy! We’re super happy to hear that you did some extra WONDERing about gum after you explored this Wonder of the Day® about it! We weren’t sure about the answer to your question, so we did a little extra WONDERing of our own to find the answer! We found a page on a website called kidshealth.org that explains what happens when you swallow gum! Here is a link that will take you straight to it: http://kidshealth.org/kid/talk/yucky/swallowed_gum.html. :-)

    • We’re glad you learned some SWEET new facts about chewing gum, Chelsea! Thanks for letting us know you visited Wonderopolis today! :-)

  5. Wow. I didn’t know that the oldest piece of gum was found. I thought it would like, evaporate. lol. But, this is really cool! ^_^

    • Thanks for checking out so many Wonders today and leaving us all these super comments to let us know which ones you visited, Peanut! :-)

  6. Hi Wonderopolis!
    I actually once read about this and the person who invented it didn’t invent it on purpose, it was a mistake!

    • That’s really cool, Kayla! Thanks for sharing what you know about the subject of this Wonder…we like learning new things, too! :-)

    • We’re super glad you think so, Rithik! Thanks for checking out this Wonder and for letting us know you thought it was cool! :-)

  7. I love gum a lot! My mom once teased me about swallowing gum once she said, “You will get a rubber tree if you swallow it”. The swallowing gum and making a rubber tree in my stomach was not real!

    • Thanks for sharing what your mom told you about swallowing gum, Julie, and THANK YOU for letting us know you learned some cool new facts about what happens when you swallow gum by exploring this Wonder about it! You’re a GREAT Wonder Friend! :-)

  8. That is adorable but you are not supposed to swallow gum wow it is so cute too because he is so cute and he is 2 years old.

    • WONDERful point, Sydney! We learned through this Wonder of the Day® that swallowing gum is not good for our digestive systems! We are glad you shared your comment, Wonder Friend Sydney! :)

    • Great question, Brianna! We Wonder if you have ever tried to blow bubbles with regular chewing gum? It’s not easy, but it’s possible. Bubble gum and chewing gum have different base ingredients– just a few– that make blowing bubbles with bubble gum SUPER fun! We Wonder if you can compare and contrast the ingredient lists on chewing gum and bubble gum? Great work! :)

  9. I LOVE GUM!!! I could chew it all day but unfortunately that won’t happen. I did not know that gum is like rubber. This wonder was very interesting. I have another wonder for you that you can use:

    How many licks does it really take to get to the center of a tootsie pop?
    I know the commercial isn’t much help but maybe you can!

    • We’re so happy that you enjoyed WONDERing about gum today, Panthers! The best part about gum is that you can chew and chew until you can’t chew any longer! Thanks so much for sharing your idea for another wonder, too! :)

    • We’re glad this Wonder has you giggling, K9Luv28! We are glad you learned something new about the start of chewing gum, too! :)

  10. I find it interesting that you can chew gum to stimulate production of acids in you mouth.
    But then again, I think it’s not bad to chew on gum during class, it’s not distracting or anything right?
    8-)

    • Thanks for sharing your favorite part of our gummy Wonder, Payden! Isn’t the science behind gum interesting– who knew it could have such an effect on us?! We know that many schools don’t allow gum in class, but those rules are in place for safety reasons. You can chew gum after school and on the weekends! :)

    • Hi, Billy Bob! Thanks for WONDERing with us today! We think it is probably not a good idea to give gum to babies. Keep WONDERing! :-)

  11. Did you know, if you swallow gum, it stays in your system for 7 years!? It’s because of how it sticks. Gum can’t just disappear when you swallow it, and it can’t make you hurt unless you choke on it. It might feel odd when you swallow it, but don’t worry. You won’t die from swallowing it.

    • Hi, Izabella! Thanks for sharing with us, today! You are right about gum not hurting you unless you choke on it. However, you can digest gum. It doesn’t stay in your stomach for 7 years like we all thought. In fact, we have a Wonder about it. Check this out:

      Wonder #557: What Happens if You Swallow Gum?

      Enjoy, Wonder Friend! :-)

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Have you ever wondered…

  • How old is chewing gum?
  • What is chewing gum made of?
  • How is chewing gum good for you?

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