Believe it or not, people have been chewing gum in one form or another for thousands of years.
The ancient Mesoamerican Maya and Aztecs chewed a natural gum known as ‘chicle’ from the sapodilla tree, while in ancient Greece they chewed gum from the mastic tree. The Scandinavians enjoyed sap from the birch tree and Native Americans started out with resin from the spruce tree.
The first commercially available chewing gum as we’re more familiar with it was made in the late 1840s by John Bacon Curtis, an American entrepreneur who called his product The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum. By the end of the nineteenth century, chewing gum was incredibly popular and by the early years of the twentieth century, the market for chewing gum exploded. Before we answer the question ‘how is chewing gum made in a factory’, you can chew over a short history of this gloriously gooey gum.
Chewing Gum - A Short History
Like most successful businesses, the key to the success of chewing gum lies in the marketing. Soap salesman William Wrigley Jr understood its power and gave away free tins of baking powder with his soap. He found that the baking powder was more popular than his soap, so started selling that and gave away free packs of chewing gum. Before long, gum took over and baking powder was left blowing in the wind.
He launched Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint. In 1915, he sent a free pack of gum to every American listed in the phone book – around 1.5 million people.
Back then it was made with chicle, though around the 1940s that became too expensive and there wasn’t enough to satisfy the market, so synthetic ingredients replaced the natural gum base.
Today, the annual chewing gum market is worth over $25 billion and it’s sold in a variety of flavours and shapes. So how is chewing gum actually made? Well, it’s worth noting that if you ask a manufacturer ‘how is chewing gum made in a factory’ they’re unlikely to give you their secret recipes, but the basic process is essentially the same whoever is manufacturing it.
How Chewing Gum is Made - The Base
These days, there’s very little natural gum in chewing gum, it’s instead made of synthetic food-grade rubbers and plastics such as butadiene-styrene, polyethylene – the base material for plastic shopping bags – and polyvinyl acetate which is essentially glue.
The synthetic materials used in the manufacture of chewing gum keep the flavour profile intact for longer, they improve the texture of the gum and they are less sticky.
The base is delivered to the processing plant in small pellets which are ground into the consistency of coarse breadcrumbs and left to dry for anywhere up to two days in a warm room.
Next, the ground base is melted together in big kettle drums at a temperature of around 115°C until it forms the consistency of thick treacle. It’s then filtered through a screen, spun in a centrifuge to remove any unwanted solids, and then filtered again through a finer screen.
How Chewing Gum is Made - The Additives
The filtered base is transferred to a steel drum and powdered sugar, corn syrup, softeners and the all-important flavouring is added and cooked together, mixed by slowly rotating blades. Once it’s at the desired level of smoothness, the thick mass is laid out and cooled. Next, we’ll answer the question: how is chewing gum manufactured into the pieces and sticks we recognise?
How Chewing Gum is Made - The Kneading, Rolling & Cutting
Just like the preparation of dough to make bread, the huge mass of gum is kneaded for around 2-3 hours in slow rotating machines known as extruders, allowing it to achieve the correct texture. It’s then cut into smaller sections, squeezed through rollers and coated with powdered sugar so it forms a sheet ready to be cut to size. Depending on the size and shape of each individual piece of gum, a machine will score the sheet and then cut it into sticks or pieces.
How Chewing Gum is Made - The Final Stage
Lastly, the pieces of gum are wrapped, sealed and then boxed ready to be shipped out to wholesalers and retailers.
There are other types of gum including gumballs, which are covered with individual colourings and soaked in a naturally occurring fruit sugar called sucrose, and liquid-filled gum which is injected with a sugary flavoured liquid for an added dimension to the gum chewing experience.