Random Food Fact #5 – Chewing Gum

Ever heard of the “Island of Gum?” It is there that humans first started chewing gum, sometime back during the early days if Ottoman Empire (1300 – 1920’s). Chios, as the island is commonly known, is a Greek island where the Pistacia Lentiscus tree grows. Its resin, known as “Mastika,” or “Mastic,” drips noticeably against its bark. It hardens to yellowish crystals.

The people of Chios have enjoyed chewing this resin for centuries, as it releases a most refreshing, pine-like flavor. This practice is the earliest recorded evidence of chewing gum. The name “Mastika” and the verb “to masticate,” share the same Greek root, for obvious reasons. Unlike commercial gum though, mastic truly holds its flavor, naturally. Some will argue that it has an herbal taste, similar to rose-water. In truth, the flavor evolves as one chews, beginning on the bitter side and blossoming to what is often compared to “winter-fresh mint.” In its liquid form, it is used as a flavoring agent in desserts and breads. It is also used in alcoholic beverages.

Native Americans chewed the resin of the spruce tree and taught New England Settlers to do so. Commercial chewing gum was inspired by this practice. Maine businessman John Bacon Curtis developed and sold the first commercial gum in 1848. He called it, “The State of Maine Pure Spruce Gum.”

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