Chicle is the latex from the Sapodilla tree which is native to Central and South America. This latex was collected and used as a chewing gum by the Mayans.
Chicle was mixed with sugar and flavoring, typically sassafras or liquorices and made into a gum which was patented in 1871. This led to the production of other well known gum products such as Chicklets, and Wrigley gums.
The chewing gum industry has long since exhausted the supplies of natural chicle so most gum is now made of synthetic blends of rubber, resins and oils
This is an excerpt from Chicle.com describing the collection process of this natural gum. Originally, chicle -natural chewing gum- is the milky juice, or latex of the “chicozapote”, or sapodilla tree (Manilkara zapota), found in the tropical forest of the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, and northern Guatemala. Today this region, which is the heart of the Mayan world and is Known as the Gran Petén, has the second largest land surface covered whit tropical rain forest on the American continent, the Amazonia ranking first.
The sapodilla is the most abundant tree in the jungles of the Gran Petén. In some places it is possible to find over thirty trees in a single hectare, while there will be only one mahogany tree in that same area. Sapodillas sometimes reach a height of over 40 meters, with diameters of more than a meter.
Chicle is collected from July to February, during the rainy season, when the latex flows better. With a sharp-edged machete, chicle collectors make zigzag cuts from the base of the tree trunk up to its first branches. The latex drips down these grooves and is collected in a bag. At present, approximately 5,000 chicle collectors perform their arduous, artisianal work each season in the jungles of the Gran Petén.
One of the main environmental problems faced by our planet is the growing destruction of tropical forest. The most widespread solution put into practice to curb this process has been to create natural parks and reserves where the utilization of the resources found there is usually prohibited. As an economic activity, chicle extraction is very important for the people who live in the Gran Petén. There, chicle collectors have become zealous guardians of the sapodilla tree and its ecological settings. Through the consumption of NATURAL GUM CHICLE™, a sustainable extractive activity is being promoted, helping to keep alive the jungles where the Mayan civilization once flourished.