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Bubble Gum Day | Sylwia Golba, PhD, Eng.

05.02.2022 - 06:19 update 06.05.2022 - 11:05
Editors: magdakorbela
Tags: guma balonowa, inżynieria materiałowa, save the date, save the date
dr inż. Sylwia Golba

5 February


Save the date with our scientists

„Save the date” is a series of articles that have been written to celebrate various unusual holidays. The authors of the presented materials are students, doctoral students and employees of the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Silesia.

5 February is celebrated as Bubble Gum Day.

You put a piece of chewing gum in your mouth and slowly begin to taste its sweetness, feel your mouth fill with a rubbery mass allowing for rhythmic movements of your jaw: up-down, up-down. Do you then wonder what you have just put in your mouth? Did you know that one of its ingredients can be secretions from sheep’s wool? Surprised?  And yet – I invite you to a journey into the flexible world of chewables.

fot. Tomasz Kawka


Institute of Materials Science and Engineering of the University of Silesia

Bubble gum, chewing gum – a sweet, sticky element of temptation

You put a piece of chewing gum in your mouth and slowly begin to taste its sweetness, feel your mouth fill with a rubbery mass allowing for rhythmic movements of your jaw: up-down, up-down. Do you then wonder what you have just put in your mouth? Did you know that one of its ingredients can be secretions from sheep’s wool? Surprised?  And yet – I invite you to a journey into the flexible world of chewables.

We are not the first to like to chew – we’ve been chewing on what we had within reach for a long time. In Bokeburg, Sweden, a 9,000-year-old fragment of chewing resin has been found. The ancient Greeks relieved stress by chewing gum made from the resin of the mastic tree, while the Mayans of Mexico deliberately chewed chicle, which is the sapodilla resin.

American settlers adopted the practice of chewing from the natives, which in the 19th century allowed John B. Curtis to develop and market the first chewing gum. Soon after, paraffin gum began to be used (although its taste was questionable – lick the candle and you’ll understand).  They tried to improve them by dipping them in a powdered sugar sprinkle, which helped, however, only temporarily.  The year 1869 came and William Semple immortalised himself in the world of chewing gum by filing a patent specifying its composition (it was half a page long), while work was still in progress to improve the recipe to improve its composition and taste.

The known version of the bubble gum appeared only in 1928, when Walter Diemer obtained the first gum that could produce bubbles.  Chicle ceased to meet the needs of the consumer and the era of synthetic rubbers began – the technology opened its doors to users of chewing gum. In practice, artificial materials were simply cheaper to produce. During World War II, US troops spread chewing gum by trading and giving it as gifts to people in Europe, Africa, Asia and the rest of the world. Apparently, it was used here and there as a means of payment for a wife…


What exactly is Chewing gum?

Bubble gum, Kaugummi, sakız, τσίχλα – children (and not only) all over the world know these sweet words.  They open a piece of paper and take out a white (usually) dragee, which is what exactly?  The ingredients found in a standard rubber dragee can be divided into water-soluble and water-insoluble. The former are sugars and other aromas (washed away by saliva), and the insoluble ones are the elastic base (it remains insoluble, but turns into a spongy paste after a few chewing cycles).

The base must, of course, be of a rubber nature. Most often it is obtained from the chicle (latex juice) of the sapodilla tree, natural resin or food agar. With helpful technology in hand, chewing gum is now also made of synthetic resins, polyvinyl acetate, polyethylene (no, I’m not kidding) or wood resin glycerol esters. The different compositions of the base allow you to prepare bubble gum or chewing gum. We can prepare chewing gum made of chicle, but you cannot blow a large bubble out of it It is synthetic materials that form the basis specially developed for blowing out effective bubbles. The bubble gum base is harder and more flexible than regular chewing gum. By the way, according to the Guinness Book of Records, the largest bubble ever inflated was almost 51 cm in diameter..

We like the gum to be soft, delicate – softeners will do it for us. They will keep the texture of the gum soft and smooth. We will use here versatile glycerine or vegetable oil. The gum must also be sweet – so this is where sweeteners come into play, which account for about 60-70 percent of the weight of the gum (yes …). The offer includes standard sugar, corn syrup or artificial sweeteners (sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, aspartame).

The taste of chewing gum is a sensitive matter – one could argue about the superiority of mints over fruit ones. Not to mention the coke flavour (yuck!) We always expect a long-lasting and refreshing taste. Some of the exciting, innovative flavours are cinnamon, mustard, liver, pumpkin, and roast beef.

The first bubble gum was pink because it was the only colour the creator had at his disposal. The colour has stuck and to this day bubble gum is still pink in most cases. Unless you bite it through with a cracked liner of colored pencils (unforgettable childhood experiences – then there were no tongue colouring versions yet).

One of the mysterious additives in chewing gum is lanolin, which is a waxy secretion from the sebaceous glands of the sheep’s skin. In this charming herbivore, lanolin covers the wool fibre, acting as a waterproof coating.  How does this relate to chewing gum? It is present as a component of the gum base (the one that makes the gum chewable) and modifies its properties, although it is often not disclosed in the composition. Manufacturers diligently guard recipes like secret alchemical knowledge, without revealing the ingredients in detail.


One gum unequal to the other

Gum, like gum – everyone has seen some.  But is it really the same?  There are different types of chewing gum. We can indicate gums of various shapes / sizes (the largest gum was the size and weight of 10,000 ordinary pieces and was produced in 1974), taste (e.g. pepper), or with an additional function (giving the teeth a shine, ensuring fun – bubble gums). There are even medical gums – they are a carrier for the medications introduced into them (analgesics with aspirin, stimulants – with caffeine, anti-caries with xylitol) or help in the treatment of e.g. halitosis (bad breath).

In the 1920s, in the US, prohibition increased the sale of chewing gum because law-abiding citizens were forced to mask the smell of alcohol in their breaths. When Prohibition was introduced, Adam’s Clove Gum was a hit in the market with the slogan “It takes your breath away!”

Have you ever swallowed a gum and thought with fear what it could happen? The good news is that nothing – gum does not clog your intestines, but it will stay with you (actually in you) for the next few days. The gum base is not digestible for us, so it will pass through your system in one piece and come out. You know where.


And when it comes to retrieval 

Chewing gum at school often got you into trouble – a culprit caught in the act of chewing was forced to spit out the contents of the mouth and to write 100 times “I will not chew gum at school”. You may admit that the picturesque remains stuck under the desk also do not arouse enthusiasm. So what to do with the chewed bits of mushy residue?

The methods are different – one of them, it would seem simple – is to prohibit the use of chewing gum. This action was taken in Singapore, where an attempt was made to ban the use of chewing gum entirely, imposing heavy fines (approximately $ 6,000) for having it or using it without a medical indication. The action, however, had little effect as the ruminant underworld flourished. Another more creative form was shown by the residents of Seattle who accidentally created the famous Gum Wall. Tourists come and stick the wad of chewing gum to the facades of the buildings there.  In this artistic and gummy way, we can leave a mark on ourselves (or rather on our teeth) and leave something behind for posterity. You can also do it in California’s San Luis Obssipo, or on the wall next to Juliet’s balcony in Verona, Italy. I wonder if it would inspire Shakespeare?

A slightly more practical form is to give the used gum to special bins – it will be recycled into consumables such as shoe soles, rubber boots, plastic cups, pencils. There are companies that deal with such business.

We know that gum residue is difficult to remove from sidewalks, benches or shoe soles.  Gum adheres strongly to these substrates and its chemical nature is to blame for this. The gum base is formulated on hydrocarbon polymers that have a strong affinity for such substrates. Not to mention their porous structure. Is there only scraping left? This is where chemistry and knowledge of material properties come into play. To get rid of the rubber from the material, cool it strongly (this will allow the rubber to crumble) or rub something greasy, e.g. with peanut butter (this will allow the base to dissolve). You can also try to create non-stick rubber on the pavement surface so that you don’t get into spits left by others.  Scientists have developed a material called Clean Gum, which is said to be easy to remove from shoes and rugs (as well as hair, skin and clothes) and retains its nice flavor. Work is also underway to obtain enzymes capable of digesting rubber-based material. But that is still ahead of us, leaving the sidewalk cleaning companies in deep frustration.


A gummy monster?

Can chewing gum be dangerous? This seemingly strange question should be answered in the affirmative: yes! Excessive chewing gum can lead to painful disorder of the temporomandibular joint (TMD). It is the joint that connects the jaw bone with the temporal bone of the skull. Excessive chewing can cause chewing stress, which is manifested by pain, inflammation of the jaw muscles, and headache.

What’s more, gum can contribute to stomach problems – it allows more air to enter the digestive tract, which can cause abdominal cramps and gas. As soon as you put the gum in your mouth, your brain activates the digestive system (it believes a meal has started). So saliva and other gastric juices are released (and no food), and this impairs the digestive capacity. The fact that gum can cause tooth decay is well known. However, it can also cause tooth erosion. It is a cumulative decalcification that slowly damages the teeth. Additionally, the gum can release mercury from dental fillings.


Anything positive?

Can we find advantages of chewing gum? Yes, chewing gum after a meal is desirable – the saliva formed helps to clean the teeth and the taste adds freshness to the breath. Additionally, chewing gum while slicing onions can help hold back your crying. Chewing gum helps people to concentrate and therefore improves long-term and working memory.  Gum (within reasonable limits – see TMD above) has been shown to reduce muscle tension and increase alertness. This was used in an experiment in Bavaria where (OMG!) students are encouraged to chew gum during lessons. According to the originators, it is supposed to help in concentration and coping with stress – especially during a written test. An idea to consider in view of the upcoming exam session.

Let’s stay in Bavaria, because this is where one of the scientists is working on anti-covid gum – Covidgum While in quarantine, he tried to find a way to get better protection against the virus. He decided to disinfect the oral cavity – he developed a gum with extracts that have natural antiviral properties (ginger, ginseng, cinnamon oil).  According to his assurances, the material works perfectly.

So let’s celebrate chewing gum and bubble gum today by choosing the one that will bring you the most fun – let the power of endorphins be with you! I wish you a moment of relaxation, huge balloons and high concentration.

And by the way, let’s include the listening experience:













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