Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Samarth. Samarth Wonders, “How do you make chewing gum?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Samarth!
Just think about it…if gum never lost its flavor, you'd only have to buy one piece — ever. You could chew and chew on it all day long.
At night, you could put it on your bedpost and commence chewing again first thing in the morning. OK, that might not sound all that appetizing after all.
But wouldn't it be great if gum never lost its flavor? If you were a gum manufacturer, that might not be such a great thing, though.
Do gum manufacturers make gum that loses its flavor just to make sure you keep buying gum? Not at all! Gum loses its flavor naturally. It's just science at work.
Chewing gum isn't like chewing regular food, is it? For example, if you take a bite of a hot dog, you don't keep chewing and chewing on it. You chew it up and swallow it. But you don't chew gum the same way.
When you chew gum, it doesn't break up into pieces that you swallow. Gum isn't meant to be swallowed. In fact, our bodies can't digest chewing gum.
Why is gum like this? The answer lies in its ingredients. The basic components of chewing gum are gum base, softeners, sweeteners, and flavorings.
Gum base is the main ingredient in chewing gum. It's what makes the gum chewy. Long, long ago, chewing gum was made from various tree saps.
One of the most popular was the latex sap called "chicle" from the sapodilla tree. Today, gum base is usually made from synthetic rubber or a mix of artificial and natural materials.
To prevent gum from becoming too hard or dry, gum makers add softeners. Most softeners are made from substances developed from glycerin or vegetable oil.
Chewing gum probably wouldn't be very popular if it tasted like rubber. To make it a true treat, gum makers add sweeteners and flavorings as the final ingredients.
Sweeteners can be natural, like sugar or corn syrup, or artificial. The most common artificial sweeteners have interesting names, such as xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, and aspartame.
Flavorings can come from all sorts of sources, and gum makers usually keep their flavoring ingredients a secret. The most common flavors of chewing gum are peppermint, fruit, spearmint, and menthol.
So why don't these flavors last? When you chew gum, the saliva (spit) in your mouth begins to digest the sweeteners and flavorings in the gum. Unlike the gum base, the other ingredients can be broken down and digested.
As you swallow while you chew, the digested sweeteners and flavorings move through your digestive system to your stomach. Eventually, you digest all the sweeteners and flavorings, and all you're left with is the gum base and softeners. That's when you sense that your gum has lost its flavor.
If you're wondering who invented chewing gum, no one knows for sure. The natural substances first used in chewing gum have been around (and chewed on) for hundreds — and maybe even thousands — of years.
Historians do know that inventor Thomas Adams of New York started a chewing gum factory in 1870. His first chewing gum product was called “Adams New York No. 1."
The following year, Adams patented the first flavored gum. Adams added licorice flavoring to his gum, called it “Black Jack," and sold it in sticks. The rest, as they say, is history!