getting fresh: A truly American phenomenon: chewing gumSo what would prompt an archaeologist to write a book about gum, or rather chicle, the natural gum base? As author Jennifer Mathews, an associate professor at Trinity University in San Antonio, responds, she’s drawn to stories that “span an extensive amount of time.”
In her recently published book, Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas, From the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley, Mathews explains that her interest in chicle – the latex sap that comes from sapodilla or chicozapote trees used to produce natural chewing gum – began when she started studying the ancient Maya roads that crisscross the jungles of the Yucatan in Mexico.In doing so, she and her colleagues discovered that these old roads are where the chicle industry laid track for their miniature railroads to haul bricks of raw chicle.
That discovery spurred her to begin mapping out these railroad lines known as Decauville railroads, which, in turn, led her to meet “chicleros,” men who had worked in the chicle industry up until the 1970s. As Mathews relates, “They were curious that anyone would be interested in their stories, but were happy to share them. I soon realized that there was a really colorful history to tell. I started with a book chapter on the railroads, and before I knew it, I was writing a book on a history of chewing gum that goes back even further than the Aztec and Maya.
What fascinated me about the publication of this book is that it introduces readers working in the candy industry to the origins of another fascinating native confectionery ingredient: chicle. Just think about it, here were Aztecs purchasing chicle with cacao beans, the Mesoamerican currency at the time. What’s perhaps even more fascinating is that the Aztecs chewed chicle for the same reasons most of us chew gum, breath freshening and teeth cleaning, although those who did so in public were “bad” – either prostitutes or homosexuals, as Spanish friar Bernadino de Sahagun writes in his chronicles known as “The Florentine Codex.”
Interestingly, the connotation that chewing gum in public is a faux pax carried over from those days to the 19th and 20th centuries, with British health officials issuing warnings about American chewing gum, saying it was even more dangerous than Italian ice cream, and Emily Post advising young women it was unladylike to chew gum.
You’ll find these as well as even more fascinating historical tidbits about chicle and chewing gum in this book, including the well-documented story of famed Mexican general and president Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna introducing Thomas Adams Sr. to chicle. Interestingly, Santa Anna and Adams originally thought they could develop chicle as an alternative to rubber.
Well, it didn’t quite turn out that way, and Santa Anna lost interest. Adams almost gave up on coming up with any use for chicle until he ventured into a local drugstore in 1859 and overhead a young girl asking for a piece of paraffin wax gum. After chatting with the shopkeeper about this particular treat, Adams recalled how the Aztecs chewed chicle. A bit of boiling back home led to the creation of small, gray, flavorless hand-rolled balls. Adams and his sons eventually fine-tuned the product, moulding it into flat pieces containing sugar and flavor. Sales increased dramatically, and chewing gum as we now know it was born.
Of course, the book also details the rise of the chewing gum industry in the United States, tracking the emergence of William Wrigley Jr., the Fleer Brothers, the Beech-Nut Packing Co., the American Chicle Co., Topps Chewing Gum and others. It also chronicles the demise of chicle as a gum base, as companies switched to less costly and less volatile synthetic sources.
Mathews does, however, point out that there are still companies that use chicle as a truly natural chew – Verve, Inc. producers of Glee Gum, and Chicza, a Mexican-based company exporting to Europe and Asia – prompting her to say that this special natural ingredient is making “a minor comeback.”
So if you’re looking for a fascinating read about one of nature’s most interesting confectionery ingredients, pick up Chicle by Jennifer Mathews, published by the University of Arizona Press. It’s a quick read, but the knowledge lasts forever.
Just Born to open new distribution centerCandy manufacturer Just Born, Inc. has announced the purchase of a 600,710-sq.-ft. warehouse in Lehigh Valley Industry Park V, Bethlehem Township, Pa. When it opens in late 2009, the facility will become the central storage and distribution point for all Just Born products.
Just Born will upgrade the building to a Food Grade, FDA-certified facility. It also plans to pursue Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification through amenities such as environmental friendly and energy-efficient HVAC, roof and lighting systems.
In addition, by moving the distribution center closer to its manufacturing facility in Bethlehem, Just Born will eliminate more than one-half million truck-miles from Pennsylvania roads. The current distribution center is 75 miles away in Scranton, Pa. The new building will employ 70 workers when fully operational.
For more information about Just Born, visit www.justborn.com.
Werner joins Barry Callebaut as director of marketingBarry Callebaut has appointed Parveen Werner director of marketing for the Americas region. Werner brings with her more than 20 years of experience, 12 of which were spent in marketing positions for food companies. Most recently, she was a marketing consultant for Synergy Flavors, Inc., a global flavor manufacturer.
In her new role, Werner will be responsible for marketing Barry Callebaut’s line of chocolate products in the Americas region, which includes the United States, Canada and Mexico.
For more information about Barry Callebaut, visit www.barry-callebaut.com.