When I was in Singapore, I had a few encounters that reminded me why I love to travel, finding instances that were not typical for me in the US. One was finding a ban on chewing gum, coupled with the fact that the sidewalks were blessedly free of those ugly black, sticky spots that freckle our walkways, and are the woe of any nice pair of shoes. I also tried betel leaf, considered by many as a substitute for chewing gum, but alas, not a bubble producer.
I confess I am not much of a gum chewer, and certainly lack the necessary skills to take me to the next level. I have never mastered talking and having gum in my mouth simultaneously, so by necessity, gum chewing is a solitary activity. Also, for me, gum chewing serves many purposes; its an alternative to unauthorized snacking, I prefer to chomp on it when I am stressed, and it helps me to focus when I have much to read. Consequently, I have a tin of Altoid gum on my desk at all times. When I compared my gum chewing ability to my college roommates, I knew I fell woefully short. My roommates, literally from the moment they rolled out of bed to their last conscious thought, had gum in their mouths (ok, I think they took the gum out to eat, but I can’t remember). However, that’s not to say, I never gave chewing gum any thought, when I was in Japan I loved trying all the unique and creative flavors, checking out the intriguing packaging, and of course, in Singapore because it was banned, meant I thought about it a lot. Funny how something just out of reach proves so tantalizing.
Some claims made for chewing gum, take it a bit far. Consider Bust Up which is said to enhance your breast size – I mean come on! Here are some other creative varieties, by the always inventive Japanese gum manufacturers.
What’s the difference between car tires and chewing gum?
Chewing gum is traditionally made of chicle, a natural latex product, or synthetic rubber (polyisobutylene), which is a form of the butyl rubber (isoprene-isobutylene) used for inner tubes. For reasons of economy and quality, many modern chewing gums use rubber instead of chicle. Chicle is nonetheless still preferred in some markets, such as in Japan. Flavors vary, but all chewing gum has the same basic ingredients. The base is often made from resins from tropical trees as well as synthetic materials such as polyvinyl acetate, wax or rubber byproducts. The remainder is an amalgamation of corn syrups, sugars and hundreds of flavorings not to mention artificial colors.
Although the history of chewing gum is murky, evidence exists that the early Greeks chewed on a “gum” made from a resin of the mastic tree indigenous to Turkey. In fact it is still chewed today, considered a digestive aid.
In North America, Native Americans chomped on a “gum” of spruce tree resin until the early 19th century and this substance is considered one of the first examples of chewing gum, later that same century, paraffin or other edible waxes were substituted for spruce resin. A residual by-product can be found in candies such as wax fangs or wax lips or the retro candy classic, wax bottles – filled with sugary sweet liquid that make their annual appearance around Halloween. Thankfully wax gum did not stand the test of time.
Early gum chewers were a brave lot as they faced ingredients that were tough to chew and the flavor, if any, was fleeting. As chewing gum became more popular, manufacturers began to experiment with new flavors and non-solid, often liquid, centers. Does anyone remember the bubble gum, that when you bit into it it oozed sweet liquid?
When is truth is stranger than fiction?
The advent of modern chewing gum owes something to Mexican General, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, infamous as a participant in the Alamo. After being exiled from Mexico, perhaps with an eye towards a new career, he introduced Thomas Adams Sr. to chicle, a substance derived from Sapota or Saodilla trees. Adams wanted to find elastic ingredients to make more economical car tires. Although he never was able to produce an economical tire substitute, in the end, he created one, if not the, first mass marketed chewing gums called Adams New York Chewing Gum. He was awarded the first patent for chewing gum in 1869, and went on to create the first mass production chewing gum assembly line until 1871. How he made the leap from car tires to chewing gum, I’m still trying to determine.
Chewing gum became an integral part of American culture and is considered a catalyst behind the vending business. As early as 1888, vending machines appeared at New York subway stations offering a variety of chewing gum. In 1893, the William Wrigley Company introduced two new chewing gums, Juicy Fruits and Wrigley’s Spearmint, which remain some of the best selling chewing gums in the world. In 1899, Franklin V.Canning, a dentist, introduced Dentyne Gum and later that year, Chiclets were formally introduced. Both chewing gums are still available today albeit with updated formulas. The industry, fiercely competitive, saw little change until 1914 when the William Wrigley Jr. Company introduced Doublemint Gum. Later that year, Thomas Adams introduced Adam’s Clove Gum that remains a “cult” classic. American Chicle, in hopes of narrowing competition, purchased the company that invented Chiclets and acquired the Dentyne Company while William Wrigley Jr. Co., in 1923, became one of the first candy companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
Woohoo – Bubbles
1928 was a pivotal year for chewing gum, as Walter Diemer, an accountant for Fleer Gum, created the first formula for bubble gum. Fleer Gum had searched for years to produce a formula that allowed bubbles to be blown and didn’t stick, which was exactly what Diemer stumbled upon. He was such a dedicated employee that he took to experimenting in his own time, how else could this accountant get distracted from his accounting sheets? This discovery also marked the first use of food coloring in gum, specifically the color pink, which became the industry standard.
In 1938, two brothers started a company in Brooklyn called Topps Gum. The gum was sold at cash registers and is considered the first “changemaker” – a marketing strategy to get consumers to part with their change. This gum sold well, but it was not until post World War II that they introduced the product that made them famous: Bazooka Bubble Gum! This gum remains one of the best selling bubble gums of all time. In 1953, they included the first comic in each piece, and by 1950, Topps introduced the first trading card – but it took two years later before they decided to make cards focused exclusively on baseball. Although Topps diversified into other non bubble gum candies they remain one of the largest bubble gum manufacturers in the world with annual sales over 3 billion dollars!
In the war years of the 1940’s, the nation was introduced to Rainblo Bubble Gum by Leaf Confectionary Co. and the William Wrigley Jr. Co., introduced Orbit specifically as a wartime product. Wrigley chewing gum was standard issue in the soldier’s field rations, as was the Hershey Milk Chocolate Bar. Dubble Bubble also offered bubble gum squares as part of the ration kits.
In the 1950’s, as consumers became more health conscious, sugarless gum was introduced. The formula remained standard until 1970 when the FDA banned the active ingredient, Cyclamate. In 1983, Aspartame (known as Equal or Nutrasweet) began its use as a sugar free sweetener. Later, Sorbitol was introduced and is still used today as diabetics can tolerate it. The original idea behind sugar free gum is credited to a dentist named Dr. Petrulis. Chewing gums contained ammonia, which he determined counteracted the acid that lead to tooth decay. Dr. Petrulis sold his company to the William Wrigley Co., and in the late 1960’s, they introduced the first sugar free bubble gum called Blammo.
Today, hundreds of varieties of chewing gum exist, and companies push the boundaries with unique products such as Bubble Gum Tape, Bubble Beepers, Bubble Jugs and Ouch Gum to name a few. So check out your gum aisle at your grocery store next time you pay a visit, you may be surprised at what you find.
How many types are there, anyway?
Chewing gum is available in a variety of flavors such as mint, wintergreen, cinnamon and various fruits, and just about any other concoction. There is no standard type of gum, as it can be formed in many different shapes and sizes. Some examples include:
Ball gum – candy coated gum shaped like a ball – often sold in gum ball machines. In the United Kingdom, they are often referred to as ‘Screwballs’, as they are found at the bottom of a ‘Screwball’ ice cream treat. In the US, they are known as “gum balls”.
Bubble gum – formulated for its elastic properties to allow for blowing bubbles.
Candy & gum combinations – Charms Blow Pops is a perfect example.
Center-filled gum – Pellet or ball gum formed around a soft or liquid center.
Dragée gum or “pellet gum” – a pillow-shaped coated pellet, often packed in blister packs.
Powdered gum – free-flowing powder form or powders compressed into unique shapes.
Stick gum – a rectangular, thin, flat, slab of gum.
Ribbon gum or tape gum – similar to stick gum in shape, but much longer, coiled up in a cylindrical container often shaped like a hockey puck. The chewer tears off a piece of the desired size. My brother loved this gum growing up as the packaging was baseball centric and looked like a container for chewing tobacco; a poplar product among some baseball players.
Tube gum or spaghetti gum – bubble gum squeezed from a tube or can.
Culture or politics, or just lack of inclination may have limited chewing gum adoption in some countries, so here’s a few substitutes I found.
One intriguing item I found in Singapore was this package of cuttlefish. I took a few back to San Francisco, and hesitantly at first, my family has warmed to this gum alternative. I have a Japanese friend who says she likes to munch on dried cuttlefish with a beer, and I can certainly see her point. I found the dried fish very tasty, and it perfectly complimented the beer.
Betel Leaf or Paan
Paan is an Asian tradition consists of chewing betel leaf and areca nut, of which there are many regional variations in preparing this combination. Paan is chewed as a palate cleanser and a breath freshener. It is also commonly offered to guests and visitors as a sign of hospitality and as an “ice breaker” to start conversation. It also has a symbolic value at ceremonies and cultural events in south and southeast Asia. While most paan combinations contain areca nuts as a filling, not all do. Other types include what is called sweet paan, where sugar, candied fruit and fennel seeds are used. The areca nut is often mistakenly translated in the English language as “Betel nut”, which is not correct – the betel plant is harvested for its leaves and has no nuts. This name originated with the fact that the betel leaf is chewed along with the areca nut, the seed of the tropical palm Areca catechu.
Although “paan” generally refers to the leaves of the betel vine, the common use of this word refers to the chewing mixture wrapped in the betel leaves.
Pan Dan is used for serving Paan after a meal. This was a tradition in the Royal families of Pakistan and India and continues to this day.
Paan is created in a variety of ways, here are some of the most common:
- Tobacco (tambaku paan): Betel leaf filled with powdered tobacco with spices.
- Areca nut (paan supari, paan masala or sada paan): Betel leaf filled with coarsely ground areca nuts and other spices.
- “Sweet” (meetha paan): Betel leaf with neither tobacco or areca nuts. The filling is made up primarily of coconut, fruit preserves, and various spices. It is also often served with a maraschino cherry.
- “Trento” (olarno paan): It is said that it tastes like betel but has a minty after taste. Eaten along with fresh potatoes, it is served in most Indian restaurants.
A variety of betel leaves are grown in India and Bangladesh, and the preparation method differs by region. The delicately flavoured paan from Bengal is known as Desi Mahoba. Maghai and Jagannath are the main paans of Benaras. Paan prepared from small and fragile leaves from south India is known as Chigrlayele. The thicker black paan leaves, the Ambadi and Kariyele, are commonly chewed with tobacco.
Betel leaf and Areca nut consumption in the world
Chewing the areca nut and betel leaf, dates back thousands of years. Ibn Battuta describes this practice as: “The betel is a tree .. cultivated [like a] grape-vine; … The betel has no fruit and is grown for its leaves … The manner of its use is that before eating it one takes areca nut; this is like a nutmeg but is broken up until it is reduced to small pellets, and one places these in his mouth and chews them. Then he takes the leaves of betel, puts a little chalk on them, and masticates them along with the betel.”
Paan chewing is a popular cultural activity in many Asian and Oceanic countries. Its origins are unknown, especially how and when the areca nut and the betel leaf were married together. Archaeological evidence from Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines suggests that they have been used in tandem for over four thousand years. In urban areas, chewing paan is generally considered a nuisance, because some chewers spit the paan out in public areas creating a red stain from the combination of ingredients, and is an eyesore.
In Bangladesh, everyone, regardless of location or class, chews paan. Paan is offered to the guests and festivals irrespective of religion. A mixture called dhakai pan khili is renown in Bangladesh. The sweet paan of the Khasia tribe is famous for its special quality. Paan is also used in Hindu puja and wedding festival and to serve visitors. It is a tradition of Bangladesh society.
In the Indian Subcontinent the chewing of betel and areca nut dates back to 2600 BC ; it was a custom of the royalty to chew this combination. Kings had special attendants carrying a box with the ingredients necessary for a good chewing session. There was also a custom to chew areca nut and betel leaf among lovers because of its breath-freshening and relaxant properties; hence some romantic symbolism was attached to the chewing of the nut and the leaf. The areca nut represented the male, and the betel leaf the female. Considered an auspicious ingredient in Hinduism, the areca nut is coupled with betel leaf in religious ceremonies, and while honoring individuals.
The skilled paan maker of North India is known as a paanwala, and everyone believes their paanwala is the best, considering it an art that takes practice and expert touch.
Paan eating in North India became an elaborate cultural custom, and a ritual of the utmost sophistication. The betel leaves are stored wrapped in a moist, red colored cloth called shaal-baaf, inside a metal container called PaanDaani which has multiple lidded compartments for storing different fillings or spices. To serve, a leaf is removed from the wrapping cloth, de-veined, and kattha and lime paste is applied to its surface. This is topped with tiny pieces of Areca nuts, cardamom, saffron, coconut, cloves, tobacco etc, according to the eater’s preferences. The leaf is then specially folded into a triangle, called gilouree and is ready to eat. On special occasions, the gilouree is wrapped in delicate silver leaf (vark). To serve, a silver pin is inserted to prevent the gilouree from unfolding, and placed inside a container called the Khaas-daan. Alternatively, the gilouree is sometimes held together by a paper or foil folded into a funnel with the gilouree’s pointed end inserted inside. Voracious paan eaters do not swallow – they chew, savour the flavors, and then spit (preferably) into a spittoon.
Paan has been part of the culture in the Philippines. Known mainly as tepak sirih in Bahasa Melayu, it is also commonly and simply referred to as nga-nga in the Tagalog dialect, literally to “chew”. Now, it is most popular with the older population.
Kun-ya is the word for paan in Myanmar, and has a very long tradition. Beloved by all – every household, until the 1960s, had a special lacquerware box for paan called kun-it which was offered to visitors along with cheroots to smoke, and green tea to drink. The leaves are kept at the bottom of the box, which included a top tray for small tins of various other ingredients such as the betel nuts, slaked lime, cutch, aniseed and a nut cutter. The sweet form, acho, is popular with the young, while adults prefer kum-ya with cardamom, cloves and tobacco. Spittoons are ubiquitous, and signs saying “No paan-spitting” are common due to the messy red splotches on floors and walls. Kum-ya lovers are easy to spot with their betel-stained teeth.
Taungoo in Lower Burma is where the best areca palms are grown, hence the popular expression “like a betel lover taken to Taungoo”. Other regions contribute to the best paan according to another saying “Tada-U for the leaves, Ngamyagyi for the tobacco, Taungoo for the nuts, Sagaing for the slaked lime, Pyay for the cutch”. Kun, hsay, lahpet (paan, tobacco and pickled tea) were deemed essential items to offer monks and elders, and may still hold that esteem today. Burmese history references an ancient custom of allowing the condemned enemy ‘a paan and a drink of water’ before execution.
Paan consumption was a popular cultural tradition in Pakistan since the beginning. Pakistan grows a variety of betel leaf, although paan is imported from countries like Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Thailand. The paan business is famously handled and run by Memon traders, who migrated from western India when Pakistan was established in 1947. It helps to understand that the average Pakistani can consume up to 7-8 paans a day.
The chewing of the paan is part of the Khmer culture. Cultivation of areca nut palm and betel leaves is common in rural Cambodia. Today, many young people have given up the habit in the urban areas, while most older people continue the habit.
In Vietnam the areca nut and the betel leaf are such important symbols of love and marriage that in Vietnamese the phrase “matters of betel and areca” (chuyện trầu cau) is synonymous with marriage. Areca nut chewing starts the talk between the groom’s parents and the bride’s parents about the young couple’s marriage. Therefore the leaves and juices are used ceremonially in Vietnamese weddings. A folk tale explaining the origin of this Vietnamese tradition illustrates the belief that the combination of areca nut and the betel leaf so perfect, that they are practically inseparable, like an idealized married couple.
The lady in the picture has stained teeth and lips from chewing betel leaf, they turn a deep red. Some of the pictures I found look a trifle disturbing until you realize its only betel leaves causing the stain. I confess to being a bit nervous that I’d end up having to double up on my whitening strip usage to counteract the results of my betel experiment, but it appears to take multiple chews to cause the stains to the teeth, and also I think outside of the US, the obsession with white teeth is not as prevalent.