Interestingly, prior to World War II, chewing gum was made using chicle – in other words, the sap from the Sapodilla tree – with added flavourings to make it taste appealing. This material is easy to mould and becomes soft and pliable in the warmth of the mouth. However, after World War II, chemists learnt how to create artificial gum bases to replace chicle, using flavoured and sweetened synthetic plastics, rubbers and waxes that are easier to access.
Thus, you may now be questioning “is chewing gum plastic?” For the most part, the answer is yes if the chewing gum isn’t natural and plant-based. You’re not alone in asking this question either, as according to a survey of 2,000 people by Iceland, a staggering 80% have no idea what ordinary chewing gum is made of and 85% have no idea that there was plastic in chewing gum.
So, what is chewing gum made out of?
The ingredients in chewing gum vary from brand-to-brand and country-to-country. What’s more, interestingly, manufacturers don’t have to disclose any of the chewing gum ingredients on their products, so there is no way to tell what exactly you are ingesting. However, you may be wondering “what are the ingredients in chewing gum?” – read on to find out the main ingredients used.
The main ingredients in chewing gum
• Gum base
Gum base is one of the main chewing gum ingredients found in gum and is made up of three main components: resin, wax and elastomer. In short, resin is the main chewable portion, whereas wax helps to soften the gum and elastomers help to add flexibility.
The gum base can include a mixture of natural and synthetic ingredients. Perhaps, most interestingly, gum base can include any of the following synthetic substances, depending on the brand:
• Butadiene-styrene rubber
• Isobutylene-isoprene copolymer (butyl rubber)
• Paraffin (via the Fischer-Tropsch process)
• Petroleum wax
• Petroleum wax synthetic
• Polyisobutylene polyvinyl acetate
Worryingly, polyethylene is often found in plastic bags and children’s toys, and polyvinyl acetate is one of the ingredients used in PVA glue. Therefore, it is quite concerning that we all chew tonnes upon tonnes of chewing gum each year containing plastic substances – and sometimes even swallow it!
Not only is this an issue for our bodies, the use of plastic in chewing gum raises a plethora of environmental concerns too.
According to research from Just One Ocean, plastic from chewing gum contributes 100,000 tonnes to plastic pollution every year! Therefore, what better time to switch to plant-based alternative chewing gum?
Sweeteners are often added to chewing gum to create a sweet flavour, and more intensive sweeteners are intended for prolonging the sweetness effect.
These chewing gum ingredients usually include sugar, dextrose, glucose/corn syrup, erythritol, isomalt, xylitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and lactitol to name a few – sometimes even beetroot juice is used.
More intensive artificial sweeteners can also be listed as some of the ingredients in chewing gum and found in 85% of all gums. The most popular synthetic sweeteners are aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharine, sucralose, neohesperidine and dihydrichalcone.
It is worth noting that there has been some controversy over aspartame being used, despite being deemed safe by food regulators in the UK, EU and US. Over the years, there have been concerns that it can be linked to problematic side-effects and more serious conditions, such as cancer. Despite this, the NHS hasn’t confirmed a link and research still continues.
Softeners, such as glycerine (or vegetable oil) are added to chewing gum to retain moisture and increasing flexibility of the gum. It is these ingredients used which help to soften the gum when placed into the warmth of your mouth and creating the characteristic chewing gum texture.
Flavours are added to chewing gum for taste appeal and can be either natural or synthetic. The most popular chewing gum flavours include the classic Peppermint and Spearmint; however food acids can be added to the gum base to provide other appealing flavours such as Lemon or fruity alternatives.
• Polyol coating
Chewing gum’s typical hard outer shell is created due to a water-absorbent powder dusting of polyol, in order to maintain the quality and extend the shelf life of the product. This polyol coating is easily broken down once placed in the mouth due to a mixture of saliva and warm conditions.
Consider other gum alternatives
Most of the chewing gum made today is made using gum base, which includes a mixture of polymers, plasticisers and resins, and mixed together with food-grade softeners, preservatives, sweeteners, colours and flavourings.
However, there are now a range of alternative gums on the market, in order to appeal to the environment and our stomachs more, due to being plant-based and suitable for vegans.
Chewsy gums are naturally plant-based, vegan, biodegradable, free from sugar, aspartame, plastic, artificial sweeteners and flavours, and sweetened using 100% xylitol for healthy teeth.