Is there any other food so closely associated with teenage rebelliousness? Imagine a hallway full of gum-smacking adolescents, three or four walking toward you unaware of your presence. You quake in your oxford loafers while they pass, hoping to escape the sharp focus of their gaze. Thankfully they pay you no mind. You are an adult, practically invisible as you float in this petri dish of mental evolution lined by high school lockers.
But while gum may be culturally connoted with the under-18 crowd, it has a long history of supplying adults with something sweet to keep their mouths occupied during long work days. Traditionally chewing gum was made from sap of various trees tree. In ancient Greece the people used mastiche sap. In Central and South America, the natives chewed on the sap of sapodilla trees (called chicle). And in North America, the locals chewed on the sap of spruce trees. Much like the harvest of latex from rubber trees, in order to release the chicle sap you have to make large cross-cut marks around the trunks. The sap will then bleed, or weep out of the bark and it can be collected.
Once enough sap is gathered, it must be boiled to evaporate a good amount of the inherent water content. Then you are left with gum base. Gum base is a collection of naturally occurring polymers, which look like long chains of tangled molecules. As you pull, they stretch!
Making modern chewing gum is fairly easy. You can purchase gum base online and then you simply have to heat it, mix it with color, add sweetener, then knead and you’re done! Most gum nowadays is made with synthetic polymers, these rubbers are fantastic creations that remarkably don’t degrade with all that mastication. Indeed, the old wive’s tale is true: if you swallow your chewing gum it will most likely pass through your digestive tract unharmed.
WW2 is responsible for the growth of the American gum market into synthetic polymers. As soldiers traded their gum rations abroad, the demand increased exponentially .The sap from the sapodilla tree could not match the demand, and chemists were called upon to fabricate a substance that would recreate that magical chewiness. Impressively, each gum company still holds heir synthetic polymer recipe close to their chests. It is a great secret in the confection world.
What we know as bubble gum is a rather new invention, coming to market in 1928. An accountant named Walter Diemer was working for the Fleer Chewing Gum Company (owned by Frank Fleer, later the magnate of a trading card empire). He called the original formulation Blibber Blubber and it was remarkably unsuccessful due to splattering bubbles and an overwhelmingly sticky texture. Mr. Diemer altered the formula by adding latex and suddenly the gum was successful. Why is bubble gum pink? Well because that’s the only color of dye that Walter Diemer had available. Since his gum was so successful (it is still on the market, Dubble Bubble!) everyone tried to match the color.
How do we blow bubbles, and is there a best practice? Indeed! Because gum is a collection of sugars, colors, and polymers, you want to get rid of anything that could inhibit the polymer’s strength. Thankfully, color and sugar are water soluble, which means that as you chew those chemicals will naturally leech out of the material. Once your gum is colorless and flavorless, it is in prime condition for bubble blowing.