18 Things You Didn't Know About Chewing Gum

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Sergii Gnatiuk/istockphoto

Gum Again?

Most of us don't think a lot about gum — we just chew it. But as with so many other things, it turns out chewing gum has a pretty fascinating backstory — and in honor of National Bubble Gum Day, Feb. 3, it's time to pay homage. From gum's beginnings to how it has spawned pop culture moments, modern-day industry innovations, and more, here is all the fascinating gum trivia you can possibly ponder. Now grab a stick of the stuff and get to reading. 

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Sapodilla or Manilkara zapota

Chewing Substances Go Back Thousands of Years

According to History Europeans were likely chomping on birch bark tar around 9,000 years ago, and the ancient Mayans and Aztecs chewed the sapodilla tree's chicle "to quench thirst or fight hunger." Chicle continued to serve as the main ingredient in most chewing gums until the mid-20th century.

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Adams Pepsin Tutti Frutti Gum
Adams Pepsin Tutti Frutti Gum by Science History Institute (CC BY-SA)

America's Gum Obsession Started with a Mexico Connection

After former Mexican president Antonio López de Santa Anna, a chicle chewer, was exiled and moved to the U.S. sometime in the 1850s, a man named Thomas Adams worked with him on turning chicle into rubber. When that failed, Santa Anna bowed out of the project, but Adams kept experimenting with chicle, eventually inventing one of the first modern chewing gums. 

Related: The Forgotten History Behind Your Favorite Candies

Vintage 1912 Wrigleys Spearmint Pepsin Gum Mailman Flavor Lasts Print Ad

Two Still-Popular Gum Brands Go Way Back

Juicy Fruit and Wrigley's Spearmint were launched in 1893 by William Wrigley Jr. You can still find both in supermarket checkout lanes today and, in fact, according to Statista, Wrigley's Doublemint is still the leading regular gum brand in the U.S. Wrigley the man, incidentally, was an early master marketer, developing campaigns to send free gum samples to millions of people listed in phone books and to children on their second birthdays.

Related: Can You Guess What Year These Popular Food Brands Made Their Debut?

Classic Blibber-Blubber Bubble Gum Sign

Bubble Gum Is Older Than You Think

Another early gum innovator, Frank Fleer, was the first to try to develop a gum you could blow into a bubble. Developed around 1906, Blibber-Blubber proved too sticky for most people's liking. More than 20 years later, a Fleer employee successfully revisited the formula, and Dubble Bubble was born. 

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Pink bubble gum

Early Bubble Gum Was Pink Because ...

Walter Diemer, the Fleer employee who perfected bubble gum, didn't think its original dull gray color would appeal to potential customers, so he added some red dye to turn it pink. It was, reportedly, the only color he had on hand. Pink remains the most classic bubble gum color to this day.

Double Bubble Fruit Flavor Bubble Gum

The Bubble Gum Flavor Is Actually Fruit Focused

Different bubble gum brands have their own formulas for flavors, but the basis behind all of them is a blend of esters, which are chemicals that smell like fruit. Most classic bubble gums have been described as having a  "strawberry-banana-punch" flavor, but companies can sub in specific esters for a gum that's more berry-like, tropical, or some other flavor.

Related: Diet Coke and 40 Classic Brands With Unnecessary New Flavors

Adams California Fruit Chewing Gum
Wikimedia Commons

America's Early Gum Habit Was Unsustainable

By the 1920s, Americans were chomping on about 105 sticks of gum per year, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Since the gum was still made using chicle, the demand for it eventually killed a large portion of Mexico's sapodilla trees. Looking for an alternative, gum manufacturers arrived at using less expensive synthetic bases. According to the Smithsonian, "by 1980, the United States was no longer importing any chicle from Mexico." 

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Intellectual property concept. 3d render animated brain among golden bokeh particles inside protection sphere over green background.
Floaria Bicher/istockphoto

Chewing Gum Has Unexpected Brain Benefits

A 2008 study published in Nutrition Today found that "chewing gum may have a positive impact on cognitive function, specifically concentration and focus ... and even in helping individuals to cope with 'life's small stresses.'" Although science hasn't yet figured out the specifics of why this is, a more recent study noted that "since gum increases the flow of oxygen to parts of the brain in charge of attention, it may make people more alert and improve reflexes. Other researchers say it is due to 'mastication-induced arousal,' which means that the act of chewing keeps people fully focused on a task."

Taking chewing gum

It Has Other Health Benefits, Too

Chewing gum can reportedly help keep your teeth healthy, fight nausea and drowsiness, and reduce heartburn. It can also curb food cravings — which means it can help with weight loss, too. Some people even claim it can help tighten a sagging jawline, a claim that one YouTuber was happy to put to the test.

Guinness World Records 2021
Gary Duschl, creator of the largest Gum Wrapper Chain
Rob Loud/Getty Images CC

Gum Wrapper Chains Are Also a Thing

Back in the 1960s, someone got the bright idea to fold gum wrappers in such a way that they could form chains. One retired school teacher took this practice on as a (apparently very time-consuming) hobby and eventually made a gum wrapper chain exceeding 106,000 feet. The Virginia Beach, Virginia-based retiree, Gary Michael Duschl, has his own website and has, of course, set a world record, too.

Little girl with a stomachache

That Digestion Thing Is a Myth

There has long been a legend that it takes seven years for your body to digest chewing gum, and countless parents have warned children not to swallow the stuff for fear of it gunking up their intestines. Rest easy, gum guardians — while gum cannot be digested, it does pass through the digestive tract intact and will be excreted in the stool. On the other hand, as the Mayo Clinic points out: "On very rare occasions, large amounts of swallowed gum combined with constipation have blocked intestines in children." 

Related: 30 Medical Myths That Have Been Debunked

Bruce Kremer/istockphoto

Singapore Has a Chewing Gum Ban

This Asian country banned the sale of chewing gum in 1992 (although it somewhat relaxed the law in 2004, allowing for therapeutic, dental, and nicotine chewing gum to be sold). Before you go judging Singapore and its anti-gum-chewing edicts, however, consider that a 2000 study found around 250,000 globs of chewing gum stuck to London's busy Oxford Street, and that in Rome, an estimated 15,000 pieces of chewed gum are discarded on the streets on a daily basis. 

Related: 41 Weird Laws From Around the World

Tourists Taking Photos at Seattle Gum Wall
Blonde woman makes a gross face with her tongue out while visiting the Bubblegum Alley wall in San Luis Obispo California
Melissa Kopka/istockphoto

It Has Its Own Phobia

People who have chiclephobia are likely to have a fear of chewing gum, which includes chewing it themselves, being near a person who is chewing it, or even the site of previously chewed gum, according to website Verywell Mind. (Note to those people — probably don't go to Rome, London's Oxford Street, San Luis Obispo, or Seattle.)

They Live T Shirt I'm All Out of Bubblegum Rowdy Roddy Piper John Carpenter Movie Tee

It Spawned a Classic Movie Line

Props to anyone who can name the movie this memorable line comes from: "I have come here to chew bubble gum and kick a**, and I'm all out of bubble gum." No guesses? It's from the 1988 cult-classic, John Carpenter-directed sci-fi action thriller "They Live," and it was uttered by wrestler-turned-actor Rowdy Roddy Piper. For the record, chewing (and especially bubble) gum has made memorable appearances in many movies throughout the years.

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RESPAWN by 5 Sugar Free Focus Chewing Gum Sticks Tropical Punch

The Gum Industry Is Getting Innovative

While the big players in gum manufacturing are constantly cranking out new projects and flavors, other companies are joining in the gum innovation fray as well. For example, in 2020, tech company Razer released a chewing gum called Respawn that is meant to help gamers focus. It comes in three flavors: cool mint, pomegranate watermelon, and tropical punch. There also are a number of CBD-infused chewing gums on the market, including the Endoca brand, which claims to be biodegradable. 

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Gum-tec Pop Pad (Pink) and Pencil Set
Gumdrop Ltd.

It's Also Getting More Sustainable

Speaking of biodegradability, environmentalists have long noted that most chewing gums don't break down, as many are made of inorganic polyisobutylene or polyvinyl acetate rubber bases. But there are a number of companies now making recycled products out of used chewing gum. Brit Anna Bullus, founder of Gumdrop, for example, is making phone cases, coffee cups, shoe soles, and more out of the stuff, even teaming with Wrigley on some of her company's projects. And two French students are using it to make recycled skateboard wheels — even placing used-gum collection boards around urban areas of Nantes, France, according to design website Dezeen.

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