Have you ever wondered why the Spanish word for gum is chicle? Well, the history of chewing gum is ancient, the Maya discovered the bark of the Sapodilla tree produces a sap known as chicle latex. This sticky substance had a wide variety of uses, most notably was its use as an early version of chewing gum. It is no wonder why this tradition has stuck around for centuries- the original gum was made of tree sap!
The Sapodilla tree, or Manilkara zapota, is a remarkable plant, reaching upwards of 100 ft in the dense forests of the Yucatan. The tree’s fruit is a small yellow berry that is described as being sweet in flavor. The Maya found the tree's resin helped stave off hunger and clean teeth. Chicleros, or chicle extractors, climb the Sapodilla to cut and harvest the latex, a practice that continues for generations.
The Aztecs had very strict social standards when it came to chewing chicle. Only children and older women were allowed to chew in public. In addition to a delicate social rule, chicle had practical applications as an adhesive or sealant. Chewing chicle was a cultural practice for centuries in Central and South America and was mostly consumed locally.
Flash forward to the 1860s when Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, the 11-time president of Mexico, brought chicle from Mexico to New York. He met and sold the substance to an amateur inventor, Thomas Adams, who thought he had found a perfect rubber substitute. While Adams didn't revolutionize the rubber industry, he did find a sweet use for his purchase.
Adams marketed chicle as chewing gum by boiling and rolling chicle into bite-sized pieces. Thus began the Adams New York Chewing Gum in 1871. A few years later, Black Jack gum was created featuring a one-of-a-kind licorice flavor and was the first flavored chewing gum. Today, you can grab your own piece of history at a Vintage Gum retailer near you!