What Is in Chewing Gum?

Chemical composition of gum

Woman blowing large bubble gum bubble before pink background

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Chewing gum seems like one of the strangest, most unnatural products that millions of people use every day. But what exactly is chewing gum? And what exactly are the ingredients used to make chewing gum?

The History of Gum

Originally, chewing gum was made from the latex sap of the sapodilla tree (native to Central America). This sap was called chicle. Other natural gum bases may be used, such as sorva and jelutong. Sometimes beeswax or paraffin wax is used as a gum base. After World War II, chemists learned to make synthetic rubber, which came to replace most natural rubber in chewing gum (e.g., polyethylene and polyvinyl acetate). The last U.S. manufacturer to use chicle is Glee Gum.

Making Modern Gum

In addition to the gum base, chewing gum contains sweeteners, flavorings, and softeners. Softeners are ingredients such as glycerin or vegetable oil that are used to blend the other ingredients and help prevent the gum from becoming hard or stiff.

Neither natural nor synthetic latex are readily degraded by the digestive system. However, if you swallow your gum it will almost certainly be excreted, usually in pretty much the same condition as when you swallowed it. However, frequent gum swallowing may contribute to the formation of a bezoar or enterolith, which is a sort of intestinal stone.