Monday, 24 June 2013

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees – Chewing Gum Does

Money Doesn’t Grow on Trees – Chewing Gum Does

Arie Letzter, Sugars Development Technologist at our confectionery plant, tells us about the important role of trees in the chewing gum industry, and describes the different types of trees used to produce the most chewed-up candy.

Throughout human history, people used natural resources for a living and for pleasure. Trees have many roles in human life: House building, protection against intruders, heating and…yes, pleasure and fun as well.

Many years ago, the Mayan and Inca tribes chewed tree leaves and roots for fun. Their American Indian descendants discovered the Chicle tree and chewed the resin that was flowing from it after cutting the bark.

Years later, a chewing gum manufacturer called “American Chicklets Company” was founded in the U.S., taking legal possession of the rectangular gum “Chicklets”. In fact, it was the ancient Greeks who coined the name “mastic” (chewing gum). Mastic (Greek: Μαστίχα) is the resin of Mastic tree, which they used to chew. The chewing action itself was called “masti-ca”.

In the middle of the 19th century, chewing gum control returned to America. American industrialists produced chewing materials from resins of the Chicle and Sapodilla trees.

The chewing gum industry flourished, and for more than 100 years these trees remained the natural source for making gum bases for chewing gum. However, these resins, which grow only in jungles, in evergreen forests, were dependent on rains. The price of gum was high and the hygiene aspect wasn’t superb either.

For these reasons, most of the chewing gum industry moved to production of synthetic gum bases. However, natural resin extracted from trees still serves several companies dedicated to all-natural manufacturing processes.

Another important tree for gum production is the Acacia tree which grows in Africa. The substance extracted from it serves as natural glue that sticks a hard outer shell to the gum in a coating process called “dragée”. This is the Arabicum gum found in the trunk and branches of the Acacia tree.

The Arabicum gum is also used as an emulsifier and thickening agent in other food products. Another substance that grows on trees is the wood sugar, or “xylose” in its scientific name, which is processed as the familiar sugar substitute xylitol, and known for its medicinal properties.

Xylitol upgrades the quality of chewing gum in terms of both sweetness, which resembles sugar, and its cooling effect when chewing the gum.

In my capacity as Product Technologist, my responsibilities include product composition and taste. Several years ago I inserted a small amount of xylitol into all types of chewing gum, to provide consumers with added medicinal value. To my delight, while back then the public showed small interest, today, openness to healthy ingredients has become important to all.

But as we all know, we don’t only put in our mouth products that are delicious or have proven health benefits, but also products that are appealing. Therefore, in order to make eye-catching products, we address another quality dimension- their shiny look.

So how is it done? Again, trees come to the rescue- this time the Carnauba palm tree that grows in North Brazil. The leaves of this palm tree contain the Carnauba wax. This wax has several unique characteristics: First and foremost, it is all-natural and regarded as a hard substance. It is inserted toward the end of the chewing gum coating process, and its hard surface sands the surface of the product, making it shiny. Beeswax can also be added to the process in order to improve its technological effect.

These two waxes combined help to seal better the product surface as a protective layer that won’t let it become hygroscopic (=absorption of water/moisture. A non-hygroscopic substance does not absorb water/ moisture.)

As technologists we must consider which product the Carnauba wax is intended for. White products, like our rectangular chewing gum, require bleached wax, unlike colored products where the yellowish shade is insignificant.

So next time you chew a gum, just remember that money may not grow on trees, but chewing gum, though, certainly does.


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