Since the appearance of first industrial made chewing gums that were not using natural sweeteners, several substances tried to compete in the market for being the best replacement for natural powdered sugar. The rush to find these substances was the strongest in the 1960s when international regulations and difficulties in procuring large quantities of natural Chicle from Central America (mostly Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize) pushed North American manufacturers into research and development efforts that enabled the switch from natural rubbers to easier to produce and affordable butadiene-based synthetic rubbers. Switch to those rubbers was also followed by the switch from natural sweeteners to artificial ones, most notably aspartame, a non-saccharide sweetener that quickly became one of the most popular sugar substitute on many products on the store shelves.
Aspartame was invented by the chemists James M. Schlatter who worked at G. D. Searle & Company in 1965, and it became popular all around the world under the brand name NutraSweet that was sold by NutraSweet Company. Primary reason for his popularity with industrial food manufacturers was his potency. This sweetener is around 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Since very little of it had to be used in food recipes, its caloric value on was negligible and many food manufacturers marketed their products with some “low caloric value” branding. It was also popular because its sweet taste lasted more than the one from table sugar, but to achieve similar overall taste to natural sugar it had to be mixed with other artificial sweeteners.
Even though this product ended up in thousands of products that were sold worldwide, there was much health-related controversy surrounding it. During the first 50 years of it being discovered, aspartame became one of the most tested and closely looked at human consumption food substance in the world, with over 90 government and scientific studies being dedicated to it. Opponents of aspartame cited numerous health risks and alleged conflicts of interest that brought to its mass use in the food industry, but official government studies repeatedly came to the conclusion that aspartame is very safe to use and can only cause rare health disorders if it is used in excessive quantities. The controversy never managed to leave aspartame, with several “hoaxes” popularizing the opinion that this artificial sweetener is not safe to use.
Eventually, pressure from the public and discovery of new artificial sweeteners moved chewing gum manufacturers to switch to other substances. The most popular artificial sweetener in chewing gum today is xylitol, a substance that not only provides sweetness but also protects teeth from bacteria by denying it nutrients. Some of the many chewing gum brands that decided to focus on xylitol are Epic Dental, Glee, Pur Gum, Spry, Peppersmith Chewing Gum, Xyla Gum, Xponent Gum, Trident, and Xylichew Gum.
People who want to avoid using aspartame in their food products still have to be careful today because this artificial sweetener is still used in over 6 thousand consumer foods today, including beverages, soft drinks, instant foods, breath mints, frozen desserts, pharmaceutical drugs, instant coffees, milk products and of course many brands of chewing gums.