Is Chewing Gum Made From Whale Fat?

Willis Lam/Flickr

Chewing gum is not made from whale fat. Today’s chewing gum is usually made with a rubbery synthetic base, and while it is not always vegetarian-friendly, none of the ingredients come from whales. In the past, chewing gum was made from chicle, a natural substance derived from a tree similar to rubber.

Ingredients in Chewing Gum

The chewing gum available in most stores is made from manmade materials that are essentially plastics. Common synthetic gum bases include:

  • Petroleum wax
  • Petroleum wax synthetic 
  • Butadiene-styrene rubber 
  • Paraffin
  • Isobutylene-isoprene copolymer
  • Polyethylene 
  • Polyvinyl acetate

In addition to the base, gum usually includes resin to keep the gum together, fillers such as talc or calcium carbonate to add texture, softeners such as wax or vegetable oil, preservatives such as butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT), sweeteners like sugar or corn syrup and natural or synthetic flavors.

Some chewing gum has no animal products used at all. When some of the ingredients do come from animals, however, they’re not whales. For instance, stearic acid, which is used as a softener, is usually made from tallow (fat from farm animals), herring or sardines as well as plant oils. In the United States, stearic acid comes mostly from tallow and coconut oil. Similarly, while glycerin is sometimes used in gum, it’s usually made from plants, tallow, or synthetic sources.

Benefits of Chewing Gum

Chewing gum has numerous surprising health benefits. While chewing sugared gum can cause cavities, sugar-free gum encourages the mouth to create spit that, in turn, removes sugar and food remains from the teeth. Xylitol-based gum is even better for oral hygiene because it also prevents the growth of harmful bacteria.

There is also evidence that chewing gum can improve people’s short- and long-term memory, although exactly why is something scientists don’t fully understand. The act of chewing may promote the flow of blood to the brain. Similar studies also suggest that chewing gum can lower stress. Chewing itself has been shown to reduce stress hormones in the body.

Chewing gum that contains the sweetener xylitol has been linked to fewer instances of middle ear infections in children while nicotine gum can help smokers stop using cigarettes. Chewing gum has also been connected to faster recovery times after surgery. Lastly, some studies suggest that chewing gum can help people lose weight, but the results are inconsistent.

Downsides of Chewing Gum

Along with the benefits of chewing gum, there are downsides. Sugared chewing gum is bad for your teeth, but even sugar-free gum can act as a laxative, meaning it can cause digestive problems and diarrhea. Any chewing can cause a rare disorder called temporomandibular disorder (TMD). It’s also possible that chewing gum can make headaches and migraines worse in people who already have them.

Gum Before Gum

While chewing gum as we know it is a recent invention, people have been chewing substances like gum for a long time. Stone Age humans chewed birch bark while the Ancient Greeks and Native Americans chewed resins and other substances from plants. More recently, people used spruce resin and paraffin wax in the same way we use chewing gum.

Modern Chewing GumW

Today’s chewing gum can trace itself back to Thomas Adams, an inventor who tried and to substitute chicle, a substance derived from trees in Mexico, for rubber. While his experiments were unsuccessful, he realized that chicle could be substituted for the sweetened paraffin wax most people chewed at the time. While he wasn’t the first person to patent chewing gum, his flavored chicle gum became the most popular variety. It remained so until after World War II when cheaper synthetic bases replaced chicle.