Bubblegum is an iconic flavor that is as American as apple pie. It’s sweet, it’s sticky, it’s pink, and it’s familiar to everyone who’s ever purchased a chewy sphere from a gumball machine or watched a teen movie set in the ‘90s and channeled their inner Cher Horowitz. The faintly fruity concoction has been remade into ice cream, lip balms, jelly beans, and even dental products. There are dozens of bubblegum brands -- from Bubble Yum to Bubbalicious -- all sporting similarly pink packaging with the slightly varied, yet still cloyingly sweet, bubblegum flavor. But what is the actual flavor of bubblegum?
The short answer: a combination of fruits. Though the recipe differs from company to company, the generic bubblegum flavor is usually made from a unique blend of esters -- chemicals that smell like fruit. This could be a “strawberry-banana-punch” mix, as Bob Bouclin, president of pharmaceutical food flavoring company, Knechtel Inc., notes. If a company wants their bubblegum to have extra berry flavor, they would include more strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry esters. If they’re in need of a tropical gum, mango and kiwi may be subbed in.
Modern chewing gum was dreamt up by scientist and inventor Thomas Adams in the late 1800s. But before he was a scientist or inventor, he was a photographer and failed experimenter with a day job in New York City as a secretary. After attempting to make toys and rubber bicycle tires from chicle, a naturally occurring gum tapped from Mexican sapota trees, Adams became inspired by Mexican general Antonio de Santa Ana -- the person he was performing secretary duties for -- who frequently enjoyed chewing chicle.
“Adding flavor was crucial to [Adam’s] gum’s success, as chewing chicle alone was not a tasty treat,” Darlene Lacy, author of Classic Candy: America’s Favorite Sweets, explained. “For his first two flavors, he chose black licorice as a strong lasting flavor -- the famous Black Jack gum -- and tutti-frutti as a pleasing sweet flavor.”