Zapote or chicozapote are the common names of the tree from which chicle,
the chewing gum resin, is extracted.
No one knows if the ancient Maya chewed gum (chicle), but pre-Hispanic
evidence suggests the Mexicas—also known as Aztecs—once did. Women
and young folks chewed gum to clean their teeth.
Legend has it that the American James Adams got his idea for chewing
gum by watching Mexico's President Santa Ana chewing on chicle. Adams
decided to sell it sweetened and flavored and Adams chewing gum made
him a millionaire.
Chicozapote is one
of the most common trees in the jungles of Mesoamerica, There
are up to 30 species in some areas. Chicozapote grows in the
jungles of eastern Nicaragua and to the great tracts of tropical
forest that cover parts of Guatemala, Belize and the Yucatán Peninsula
The number of chicozapote trees located near almost every ancient city
suggests that the Maya planted them there. The wood of the tree is very
hard, so it is able to last for centuries. Five hundred
years after being planted, zapote doors and woodwork are still visible
in many ancient Mayan structures.
Chicle is harvested from July through February. Once a tree has been
harvested — producing from 500 grams to two kilograms of latex—it should
be left alone for up to five years or so, depending on the number of
times it has been harvested.
It was not until the Second World War that gum became
very popular. American soldiers started to chew gum to relieve tension.
Chewing gum became very popular around the world.
In 1943, México exported nearly 9,000 tons of chicle to the United
States, the largest amount in the industry's history. Today only a few
companies were using real chicle in their gum