Chewing Gum: Characteristics and Components
What do you do when you want your breath to smell fresh in a pinch? Do you lug around a toothbrush and toothpaste for emergencies? Do you have a strong mint to keep any unwanted smells at bay? Or, do you rely on the age-old habit of chewing gum. In today’s blog, we’re talking about the characteristics and components of the latter. Plus, the health effects it provides.
What is Chewing Gum?
Chewing gum is a soft, cohesive substance designed to be chewed without being swallowed.
Its texture is reminiscent of rubber because of the physical-chemical properties of its components. These contribute to its elastic-plastic, sticky, chewy characteristics.
Modern types get their composition from:
- A Gum Base. This has three main components: resin, wax, and elastomer. Resin is the main chewable part; wax soften the gum; and elastomers add flexibility.
- Sweeteners. Intensive sweeteners are additionally added to delay the release of flavour.
- Glycerine. This maintains moistness.
- Softener/Plasticiser. These soften the gum by increasing flexibility and reducing brittleness by altering the glass transition temperature.
- Flavours. Often, manufactures add these for taste and sensory appeal. They exist in liquid, powder, or micro-encapsulated forms. Oil-soluble flavours (as opposed to water-soluble or water-dispersible) remain in the gum longer. Thus, resulting in a longer lasting flavour because it attracts the hydrophobic gum base.
- Colours. These are solely for visual appeal.
- Polyol Coating. Typically seen in pellet gum, this helps to maintain the quality and extend the shelf life of the chewing gum.
To manufacture gum, first the gum base is prepared through a melting and straining process. Next, they add other ingredients like sweetness and flavours until the mixture thickens like dough. Next, they heat the mixture to increase the chemical properties of the polymer. Thus, allowing for a more uniform dispersion of ingredients. Then, the gum goes through a shaping process. Lastly, the poll coating conditions the gum.
The cultural tradition of chewing gum traces back to many early civilisations. Early chewers sought taste stimuli and teeth cleaning or breath-freshening capabilities. Old gum came from:
- Birch Bark Tar: believed to have antiseptic properties and other medicinal benefits.
- Chicle: a natural tree gum that also stuck objects there in everyday use.
- Mastic Gum: similar to tar in its oral health properties.
The first flavouring of chewing gum arrived in the 1860s.
What do we associate with chewing gum?
- Chewiness. Because the polymer the make up gum are hydrophobic (repel water), they maintain their shape in the chewing process. Thus, we can chew for a long time without the gum breaking down in our mouths.
- Stickiness. Additionally, because of this hydrophobic characteristics, the gum attracts oils. Thus, it forms bonds and sticks when it makes contact with oily surfaces such as sidewalks, skin, hair, or the sole of a show. What’s more, it’s hard to “unstick” gum because these polymers stretch instead of break.
- Bubble-blowing Capacity. Bubblegum bubbles form when the tension and elasticity of the polymers act against the constant and equally disperse pressure of air.
- Flavour Release. During the first three to four minutes of chewing, sugars and other agents have the highest solubility and are thus chewed out first. Therefore, other components must be added to prolong the taste of the gum. To solve this, encapsulated flavours allow the release of flavour up to 30-45 minutes into the chew.
How does chewing gum affect our health?
- Brain Function. Evidence shows that chewing gum improves: working memory, episodic memory, and speed of perception. But, only lasts for about 15-20 minutes after the chew.
- Dental Health. Sugar-free gum reduces cavities and plaque. In general, not only does gum add freshness to the breath, but it aids in removing food particles and bad-breath-associated bacteria away from the teeth.
- Use in Surgery. Chewing gum is a useful treatment therapy in open abdominal or pelvic surgery. Additionally, it aids in patient recovery from colon surgery.
- Stomach. Newly tried, gum is a treated for gastroesophageal reflux disease. One hypotheses for this is the production of more bicarbonate-containing salvia and the increase in rate of swallowing. However, conversely, chewing can contribute to the development of stomach ulcers.