Rainforest chewing gum could answer sustainable needs

By Lindsey Partos

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Gum, Chewing gum, Gum base, Uk

In a break from artificial gum formulations, a consortium of Mexican co-operatives have used an organic gum base as the key natural ingredient for a new biodegradable gum set to spear soaring natural and sustainable food trends.

Produced by Consorcio Chiclero – the gum consortium – the latex gum used in the formulation is extracted from the rainforest's chicozapote tree that can live and produce gum for 300 years.

"The natural gum base is made by boiling until sticky the latex from the tree sustainably. These trees will not yield latex if planted outside their natural environment,"​ said the co-operative.

In a single move, this biodegradable gum innovation from the Mexican co-operatives targets the thriving trend for natural foods and organic products, plus a sustainable solution to the costly issue of littered chewing gum.

Gum littering

Chewing gum is the single most littered item in the UK, found a survey carried out by environmental charity Keep Britain Tidy and packaging group INCPEN released earlier this month.

UK councils spend £150m (€161m) a year clearing away the discarded gum that makes up more than three-quarters of the litter found on UK streets. And the problem is growing, with these latest survey figures representing a five-fold increase since 2004.

According to the Mexican co-operatives, which include around 2000 farmers, one of the compositional advantages of its Chicza Rainforest gum is biodegradability.

"Once disposed of, its all-natural components will become dust within weeks,"​ they claim.

This latest gum innovation, made entirely from natural ingredients, is set to breath new life into the saturated US and European chewing gum markets. Recent data from trend tracker Mintel shows from 2007 to 2008 the UK's chewing gum market actually contracted by six per cent in sales value from £355m (€381m) to £349m (€374m).

Dominated by gum giants Wrigley and Cadbury, in recent years, the sugar-free gum trend has rescued flat sales for the gum industry. But, by fully embracing the natural foods trend, the Chicza rainforest gum has opened up new market opportunities.

The product will hit British shelves for the first time this week with high-end UK retailer Waitrose selling the gum, available in lime, mint and spearmint flavours, at £1.39 (€1.49) a packet.

Natural vs artificial

"Commonly available chewing gums typically carry no more than 5 to 7 per cent of gum base, if at all. The rest of the product is artificial, and made from petrol-based polymers, that is, plastics. This is a small amount compared to Chicza's 40 per cent organic gum base,"​ comment the natural gum makers.

According to the co-operative, the chicozapote latex – a sap – is extracted from 100 ft tall trees through z-shaped cuts on the bark. Dripping sap slowly fills the bags with each tree rendering from 3 to 5 kilos a harvest.

Liquid latex is then boiled, dehydrated and brought to a sticky paste, which is stretched, kneaded and moulded into solid marquetas​.

Each marqueta is "carefully marked by its maker" ​. The sustainable management of the rainforests is certified by FSC (Forest Stewardship Council), and the mark indicates the name of the chiclero who harvested it, and the exact location of the harvested tree in the rainforest.

The natural gum is melted together with natural waxes before it becomes a gum base. Still hot, the gum base is then mixed with organic sweeteners (including the low glycemic index agave syrup) and natural favours, then pressed and shaped into chewing gum strips.

Related topics: Ingredients, Gum, Sustainable Sourcing

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