Most of us have tried all kinds of chewing gum, with a variety of flavors, colors and even different smells. But, did you know that “chicle” (gum) was born in the Yucatán Peninsula? Keep reading and discover this amazing chapter of our history.
The Maya have contributed not only their huge wisdom and vision of astronomy and architecture, but also something within reach of almost everyone: chewing gum. Known among the Maya as “sicté,” meaning “essential fluid,” it was completely natural, with white color and without flavors or added sugar.
This gum has a special and unique manufacturing process that is still used for artisan and organic production. It all begins with the sap from the “chicozapote,” a huge tree that is common in the Yucatán Peninsula. Imagine a small team of men with a rope around their bodies, climbing the trunk of these 15 meters-high trees, cutting the bark to extract the white resin. After that, the resin is sundried in blocks and is cut into sheets for the gum. Incredible!
You are probably asking yourself if the Maya used gum for hygienic reasons. The answer is “yes,” because the chewing gum that they obtained from trees was mainly used to clean the teeth and mouth after eating. Not everybody had access to this product, only the high class, as the government and councils members used it.
This custom was transmitted to other regions of México, and there were even commercial trading with gum. That’s is how it reached the Aztecs and later the Spaniards during the conquest. It was used for hygienic purposes all over Europe.
Gum’s commercial explosion began after a meeting between former Mexican president, Antonio López de Santa Anna, with a young man named Thomas Adams who saw the president chewing gum. He became interested in its mass production and commercialization; that was when the successful exportation of the sap produced in the Yucatán Peninsula, began, especially to the Wrigley company. However, in the 1950’s a synthetic gum was created which replaced the natural sap, contributing to the economic decline of the gum tree, along with with the massive experimentation of flavors among the brands that we know today.
Today, the ancestral production techniques inherited from the Maya is maintained with organic brands as Chiczá (www.chicza.com). This is how you can enjoy the real gum experience, just as it used to be enjoyed by the ancient Maya.
Violeta H. Cantarell
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