I never imagined that I would ever have anything to say about chewing gum. But over time interesting things piled up. So there you have it.
The first time I became aware of chewing gum was only about ten years ago. Sure I’ve consumed it before that, but I’ve never really paid any attention to it. Then I had just moved to the US and for the first time in my life I tasted cinnamon flavored gum. I’ve always thought of cinnamon as a spice mom would seldom use for baking. Cinnamon gum or candy? Weird and exotic. Boy, I hadn’t had a scant feeling of what lies ahead.
A couple of years went by when I’ve read in Wired about the Black-Black caffeinated gum that is hip in Japan. I never liked the taste of coffee, but was sure that I could use some caffeine tingle. If not for anything else, than at least it would be indispensable for keeping me alert during the then frequent and much loved all-night geek-out sessions. I was onto something. So the next time I was in New York, I stopped by my favorite Japanese grocery store and picked up a couple of packs, just to make sure I don’t run out as soon as I get addicted.
And? Disappointment. It might have had all the promised “Hi-Technical Taste”, but the more I chewed the lamer it got. I don’t know about the exact numbers, but doubt that the caffeine in that gum could give a noticeable oomph even to an ant. In a word, useless. Especially if you imagined a pack of Black-Black would keep you up all night. The whole deal even reminded me of caffeine soap promising slumbering geeks to get them up and running, but does it with as much kick as a warm blanket on a rainy day.
Fast forward to almost now.
When I arrived to Finland the chewing gum oddities increased exponentially. Anyway, that Finns have their own set of bizarre chewing gum flavors did not surprise me at all. What did, was what those flavors were. Why would Finland be any different? All I can say is that being tucked in the far north-eastern corner of Europe, the country differs from the rest of Europe in many unusual ways.
Some of the weirdest gum I’ve tasted so far is the tar-liquorice gum. Yes, tar as in tar that has been used for paving roads and is still in use around here for protecting the wood (even though EU regulations have greatly limited the use of tar). Why would someone want tar flavored gum? Sure tar smells nice, but so does soap and it doesn’t cross many people’s minds to chew soap.
For a while I could not wrap my brain around this one. Then I found out that in Finland tar was considered to be panacea (and I can imagine that for some it still is). So much so that it is one of the three pillars in the Finnish folklore medical holy trinity. And a quaint Finnish adage remains to tell about tar’s medical virtues: “If sauna, vodka and tar won’t help, the disease is fatal.” I dare say that must be just about right. If you can get wasted on vodka, covered yourself with tar, are sitting in a 100°C humid room and are still alive, then I’d say you’re in darn good shape.
Really, as gum flavor tar really doesn’t cut it. Neither does tar mix with booze. Although that’s another popular combination Finns have love-hate relationship with. In a snap you can get into a heated discussion over whether tar in anything tastes good or bad.
This might seem like a deliberate sneaky intermission just to get away from the topic I have thought frivolous. Far from it, tar holds the chewing gum world together.
You might not be aware of this, but Finland is the place to be when it comes to epochal moments of chewing gum. After all, it was on the west coast of Finland that an archaeology student found a 5,000-year-old piece of chewing gum last year. Guess what they were chewing. Yep, tar. Protofinns were chewing birch bark tar to keep the local dentist out of business.
Nevertheless it took five millennia before they discovered why chewing birch bark tar saves teeth (and lives): xylitol. And xylitol was discovered, well, in Finland. I mean this is so full of coincidences that it’s almost mawkish, but it’s true, those Finns who discovered xylitol first derived it from birch. Aaawh, puppies and teddy bears all over the place; how romantic. Seriously, I’m sure that practically everywhere in the world people were chewing something, but Protofinns were chewing the right stuff.
I have no idea how it is in the country where you live, but in Finland you’d have to go across the border to get a non-xylitol sweetened gum. This has gone to such extremes that nowadays all you can get is gum stuffed to the brim with xylitol. Which causes even the marketing people to go gaga and come up with a harebrained teeth-filling progress bar (no pun intended).
I wonder how many Finns have seen any chewing gum commercials where Finnishness of xylitol is used as a sales clout. First the funny ones. I don’t know what the producers of these two commercials were chewing, but I’m pretty sure it must have been something strong. For the non-Finnish speaking, the dancing gentleman who doesn’t fit in the scene is shouting “Good! Good!” in Finnish. Oh my. If you also thought Koreans were chewing something, than the Italian producers must have been smoking crack. I don’t think they would have been able to come up with something as asinine as this.