Chewing gum may seem like a new trend. But is it?
Do you know that chewing gum is the world’s most common habit. Most people think of chewing gum and bubble gum as symbols of our modern age. You might be surprised to know that people have enjoyed chewing gum-like substances in every continent since early times. In the second century, the Mayans practised the art of chewing what was later known as chicle or the coagulated sap of the Sapodilla tree. Ancient Eskimos chewed mutak or raw whale skin. In Africa, roots and stimulating nuts from cola trees were chewed, and South Americans enjoyed chewing coco leaves.
The Greeks chewed mastic gum or mastiche, derived from the resin of the mastic tree. Dioscorides, a Greek physician of the first century, makes reference to the curative powers of the mastic.
Modern day gum products appeared in the U.S. around the middle of the 19th century. In 1845, after the Americans in Texas had defeated him, Mexican General Santa Anna was exiled to New York. Like many Mexicans, Santa Anna chewed chicle. One day, he introduced it to an inventor called Thomas Adams. He had a brainwave. Why couldn’t he add flavouring to the chicle and sell the product as a kind of candy? He did so, and soon the world’s first chewing gum factory was born! Chiclets, a sugar coated tablet form of chewing gum, also made its appearance in the U.S.
Habits of old
In India, the chewing betelnut seeds or paan is an ancient tradition. Betelnut has been mentioned in Ayurvedic medical texts, and in the Tamil classic Silappadikaram. The 13th century traveller Marco Polo mentions, that Indians were in the habit of chewing betel. In the 15th century, a Persian ambassador called Abdul Razzak visited the South Indian kingdom of Vijaynagara, and wrote about the invigorating effects of chewing betelnut.