Saturday, July 10

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Singapore chewers could regain outlawed pleasure with new U of I gum formula

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[JULY 10, 2004]  It's sticky and it's icky and it's not biodegradable. That's what they thought in Singapore when they banned its use in 1992. Singaporeans were tired of looking at chewed-up, used-up globs of chewing gum.

Recently the ban was lifted somewhat, and you can now buy prescription gum in Singapore for "therapeutic" purposes only -- say you're trying to kick a cigarette habit. You'll have to submit your name and an identity card, though, and pharmacists who deal chewing gum illegally can face two years in jail.

But what if scientists could develop a chewing gum that had all of gum's good qualities and none of its bad ones? University of Illinois researcher Soo-Yeun Lee thinks a corn byproduct called zein has definite potential as a biodegradable, non-sticky chewing gum base.

"If we could develop a gum like that instead of the synthetic-based gums that are on the market now, it would not only be good for the environment, it would be a significant use for a corn byproduct. Zein-based gum would use a lot of corn," Lee said.

"And, no, it doesn't taste like corn," she added. "The cinnamon flavoring we add makes it taste very much like the gum we're used to."

In sensory panels in Lee's lab, nine panelists have been chewing six types of gum -- four with a corn zein base -- once a day for five weeks and evaluating them for taste, texture, aroma and mouth feel.


 

As any experienced gum chewer knows, the flavor of chewing gum changes over time. That's because the rate at which flavor compounds are released varies during the chewing process.

 

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Every 0.5 seconds, the computerized system in Lee's lab records the intensity of flavor that participants are experiencing. With these readings, Lee can tell exactly when maximum flavor intensity is reached, how long it takes to reach maximum intensity and the duration of intensity. At a certain point, panelists are cued to spit the gum out; then they evaluate its aftertaste.

After each sample has been thoroughly evaluated, panelists first rinse their mouths by eating a piece of matzo cracker, swallowing warm water and finally by drinking water at room temperature. Then it's time for the next piece of gum.

Of the six gums tested, Lee believes she's found a couple of winners -- two gums with corn zein bases, each one requiring certain modifications but definitely gums with high potential to taste good, not stick to things after they've been chewed and degrade naturally in the environment.

"We still have a lot of work to do before we come up with a final 'recipe' for corn zein chewing gum that will hit it off with consumers, but we know what we have to work on now and we've shown that the idea is viable," Lee said.

Bridget A. McGowan and Graciela Padua assisted Lee with the study, which has been submitted to the Journal of Food Science for publication.

[University of Illinois news release]

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