Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Classic Gums: Black Jack, Clove, Beemans & Teaberry
The world of gum is huge these days. No longer is it just a world of soothing mint & peppy cinnamon. There are at least a half a dozen formats: sticks, gumballs, nuggets, chicklets, tape & goo filled pieces and the flavors are all over the map with the general array of mints & fruits but now there are sour gums, exotic flavors and even more combinations & special ingredients than ever.
Chewing gum started out, early on, as a simple little stick of chicle base with sugar and a little flavoring. Some of the earliest varieties, launched in the late 1800s still survive today in pretty much the same format. For your chewing enjoyment I have a few classic gums: Black Jack, Clove and Beemans plus Clark’s Teaberry.
Teaberry is a regional name for wintergreen (also known as Canada tea, which may explain the name of Canada mints which are also wintergreen flavored).
The D.L. Clark Company used to be a rather large & diverse candy manufacturer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania which made both candy bars and gums starting in 1886. At one point the company was making 150 different kinds of confections. In 1921 the gum side of the business (which was made in a separate factory anyway) was spun off into its own company: Clark Brothers Chewing Gum Company (later shortened to Clark Gum Company). They were best known for two flavors: Teaberry and Tendermint.
Though Tendermint is no longer produced, Teaberry is still available.
The biggest issue I’ve had with purchasing Teaberry gum in the past 10 years or so, besides it being rather difficult to find is freshness. The pieces, first of all, seem a bit thinner than I remember them. Second, they’re often stale & crispy instead of soft & pliable. (Yes, sometimes I like to roll up my sticks.)
Even so, I’ve never felt that gum needs to be “fresh” in order to be enjoyed, though sometimes the flavor isn’t quite a vibrant.
Like all the gums profiled in this review, Teaberry is still made with sugar and no other sweeteners. (Though it’s now made in Mexico.)
Here’s an old commercial from Teaberry’s heyday in the 60s called the Teaberry Shuffle performed by Herb Alpert.
Though the Clark’s Gum Company is only a vague shadow of what it used to be, Adams is the oldest gum company and some of the classic flavors are still produced today now that it’s part of the Cadbury Adams company. The Adams nostalgic line is still made sporadically (in Colombia), in fact, the gums are back on store shelves presently (and when the inventory is gone, it’s pretty much gone until they make more in a year or two). I got mine at Cost Plus World Market.
The Thomas Adams gum story is pretty interesting. (If you want to know far more than I’m prepared to cover, please read this great page.)
Black Jack gum is the first flavored gum in the United States, starting in 1871.
The package doesn’t even say what it is, but I found the flavors are anise, ginger & green woodsmoke.
If I’ve had Black Jack before this, I’d forgotten (for the most part all I chew is Peppermint Chiclets, Teaberry and bubble gum balls). It’s much more mellow than I would have expected after the scent. Caramel, molasses & licorice but it also reminds me of the woodsy ginseng gum I pick up in Chinatown from time to time. A little weird bitter metallic taste to it but also a very, very sweet note that doesn’t go away even when the sugar is gone.
The scent is pure clove, just like sticking my nose in a bottle of the spicy, dried flower buds.
The chew is soft and mellow, the clove also has a hint of cinnamon to it, making the whole thing reminiscent of spiced cider and a baked ham.
My biggest issue with clove is its association with dental problems. Clove oil is a natural analgesic and one that can be applied topically in the mouth without worry of poisoning. So the mere scent of it reminds me other teething issues ... probably not my own, probably more of an association with other screaming toddlers.
The numbing quality is a bit evident as I chewed it, I could swear that my tongue felt a little like putty towards the end. Overall, this kind of changed my mind about the clove flavor, it wasn’t as medicinal as I expected and the flavor certainly lasted a long time for a sugared gum.
Because of the white package I always assumed that this was peppermint flavored gum and I saw no need to switch from Wrigley’s Spearmint of Doublemint gum for this niche product.
Even though the sticks were white, once I opened the package it became apparent that this is a wintergreen flavored gum.
A little backstory about wintergreen & Beemans.
The gum was developed by an Ohio physician named Dr. Edward E. Beeman. Pepsin was a common treatment for digestive issues and working it into a gum was a good solution for delivering it in a slow dose. The Adams company purchased it from Beeman in 1898.
The flavor is a bit more intense than Teaberry. Actual pepsin doesn’t appear as an ingredient on the label. The chew is soft and smooth but after the sugar is gone it has a bit of a warming quality, like Ben Gay for the tongue. (Which may or may not be a selling point.)
I prefer Teaberry ... though I like the fact that the Beemans and Clove have no artificial colors in them.
They’re all rather simple gums and lack a liquid center, fancy graphics and huge marketing campaigns. They’re quiet and contemplative ... comforting and a rather cheap little way to buy some nostalgia.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:49 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.