Gum gives Bob something to chew on

Gum gives Bob something to chew on by Bob Karolevitz The subject this week is gum, the chewing kind.

I always thought that gum was the stuff you found under theater seats and card tables. Thanks to my trusty encyclopedias, a friendly librarian and the Internet, I found out that there was more to it than that.

People have always liked to chew, it seems. I haven�t been able to trace it back to Adam and Eve or the cavemen, but I do know that the ancient Greeks munched on � but didn�t swallow � the resin of the mastic tree.

And American Indians chewed gum which they got from the bark of the black spruce. I guess the flavor was blah.

The early settlers liked it, though, and before long they were bartering lumps of it. Supposedly that was the first commercial chewing gum.

It was chomped on into the 1800s until somebody discovered that paraffin wax, a by-product of petroleum distillation was a good substitute when it wasn�t being used for candies or as a sealing compound.

Some people chewed coal tar, too, but it must have tasted awful. There were (and are) tobacco and betel nut chewers, but I won�t get into that.

Finally, a Mexican general hired Thomas Adams, a New York inventor, to develop rubber from the latex of the sapodilla tree called chicle. Adams apparently failed to produce rubber, but out of his experiments came chewing gum which he wisely merchandized.

The Mayan Indians and other Central American natives had known about chicle for centuries. The rubbery substance was good for chewing. Now, however, they had a market for the grayish-brown �milk� which they harvested from wild trees in the jungles of Yucatan and Guatemala.

William Wrigley Jr. got into the act in the early 1900s; sugar and flavoring � such as spearmint and peppermint � were added; and the modern sticks in modern packaging soon followed.

I can remember Honolulu Fruit Gum which Lawrence Welk promoted in the mid-�30s. He and his band gave away free samples which tasted like Juicy Fruit for about 30 seconds and then like the back of a school tablet. But that�s another story.

In 1924 or thereabouts, the chicle crop was no longer able to meet the demands � especially from the United States � and various other gums imported from South America and the East Indies were mixed with it to produce the chewy ingredient.

Since then, of course, a synthetic material has been developed, and the chewing goes on. Now you can get gum to blow bubbles, to make you stop smoking, to cure diseases and to help you lose weight. They are advertised as breath-fresheners and even as laxatives.

They say that the use of chewing gum rises during periods of great social tension. People have to keep their jaws busy. What with all the talk about terrorism these days, I�d think that now would be a good time � but I haven�t got the statistics for it.

Come to think of it, writing this weekly column causes a bit of social tension for me. I think I�ll have a stick or two of Doublemint myself.

� 2002 Robert F. Karolevitz

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