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Professor Jennifer Mathews

Question for December 2016

Is the chewing gum tree only found in Mexico? Asked by Redriff Primary School. Chosen and answered by Professor Jennifer Mathews.

The sapodilla or chicozapote tree - notice the cuts made by chicleros
The sapodilla or chicozapote tree - notice the cuts made by chicleros  (Click on image to enlarge)

Great question! So, the chicozapote tree, which produces “chicle” is distributed throughout Mexico, as well as Belize and Guatemala. However, there are other kinds of plants that produce chewing gum - the ancient Greeks chewed “mastich” the lentisk or mastic tree, and in India and Arabia they chewed a gum from the lam or laina tree. Ancient peoples in Europe chewed bar tar as early at 9,000 BC, and in the 1800s, people living in the US liked to chew spruce tree gum, which they learned from Native Americans. So there are lots of different kinds of “gum” from all over the world, but most of us think of “chicle” that comes from the sap of the chicozapote tree in Mesoamerica and was used for making chewing gum until the 1950s.

Photo courtesy of Professor Jennifer Mathews.

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