As a dedicated D.I.Y.er, I’ve successfully brainwashed my children to the point at which, when my five-year-old wanted to try out chewing gum for the first time, her question to me was not “Will you buy me some gum?”, but, “Can we make some gum?”
Hmmmn…could we make some gum? Turns out we could! I purchased the Make Your Own Chewing Gum kit from Glee Gum, and within hours after its arrival, we were chewing away. It turns out that DIY chewing gum can be a surprisingly eco-friendly project (hint–it’s the chicle), but be warned: in the process of making this chewing gum, I got a really, really, REALLY bad DIY chewing gum-making injury.
Chicle is the boiled-down sap of the sapodilla tree, which resides in Central American rainforests. Chicle is sustainably harvested by tapping the tree throughout its lifespan, wherever it lives in the rainforest. The entire process is done by cooperatives of workers–these chicleros are making a living from the rainforest without decimating it.
Whenever you buy commercially-produced chewing gum that contains chicle, whatever other freaky ingredients it contains, you’re at least supporting real workers doing eco-friendly work in a commercially-viable and intact rainforest. However, if you make your own chewing gum–which is shockingly simple!–you’ll be doing that AND controlling the ingredients.
The DIY Chewing Gum Kit comes with all the ingredients required to make chewing gum–chicle, corn syrup, flavoring, and confectioner’s sugar–as well as the instructions and a plastic tray for heating the chicle (more on that plastic tray later). But if you instead purchase the Chewing Gum Refill Kit, which we did, you’ll still get the instructions, the plastic tray, and the chicle, but you can substitute your own kitchen ingredients. For instance, we used organic confectioner’s sugar in our gum, and although we did use corn syrup and Kool-aid in our first batch, for the next batch we’re trying out brown rice syrup and herbal flavorings.
The instructions are simple: heat the chicle, knead it with the ingredients, and chew! The instructions warn that the chicle is very sticky when it’s gooey, which is why the kit provided us with a microwaveable tray. I don’t usually use the microwave to heat plastic, and my instinct was to grab a thrifted china bowl that I could re-purpose if I couldn’t clean it, but after many years of kitchen disasters, I now try to follow a recipe to the letter at least the first time that I make it.
However, as we were kneading the corn syrup and sugar into the chicle at the pace of two small children, it cooled down and got stiff again, so stiff that we could no longer knead it. The instructions didn’t mention this, but I figured that I could probably just pop it back into the tray and microwave it a little more to soften it again.
And that’s how we came to the point at which, as I was carrying the freshly-microwaved plastic tray of my chicle, corn syurp, and sugar mixture across the kitchen back to the table where my children waited, the plastic tray’s bottom melted away and and entire batch of molten sugar, syrup, and gum poured out and landed on my bare feet.
Just so you know, the instructions told me that the tray would melt if it got too hot, but not being a plastic-microwaver or a candy-maker, I didn’t realize that the tray could melt nearly a minute after being removed from the microwave, and I didn’t realize how hot sugar and syrup can be even if it doesn’t look that hot. Thanks to the second-degree burns on my feet (not to mention the fact of the chewing gum now fused to those burns)–yeah, I have one more reason not to microwave plastic now, and I may never get up the courage to make that popcorn ball recipe that I have pinned for next Halloween.
Fortunately, the batch that did not melt all over my feet was perfect: chewable, flavorful, definitely able to be modified to use better ingredients, and my empowered little children have a little more proof that they can make what they want instead of buying it.
So, words to the wise: absolutely make your own chewing gum, because it’s totally worth it if you don’t seriously injure yourself in the process, and to avoid seriously injuring yourself, dispose of that disposable plastic tray (paint palette? Seed starter?) and pick yourself up a beater china bowl from the thrift store.