A chiclero bleeding a tree for chicle, Belize 1917

Chicle is a natural gum traditionally used in making chewing gum and other products. It is collected from several species of Mesoamerican trees in the Manilkara genus, including M. zapota, M. chicle, M. staminodella, and M. bidentata.[1][2]

The tapping of the gum is similar to the tapping of latex from the rubber tree: zig-zag gashes are made in the tree trunk and the dripping gum is collected in small bags. It is then boiled until it reaches the correct thickness. Locals who collect chicle are called chicleros.


The word chicle comes from the Nahuatl word for the gum, tziktli , which can be translated as "sticky stuff". Alternatively, "chichle" may have come from the Mayan word tsicte.[3] Chicle was well known to the Nahuatl-Aztecs and to the Maya, and early European settlers prized it for its subtle flavor and high sugar content. The ancient word is still used in the Americas, chicle being a common term for chewing gum in Spanish and chiclete being the Portuguese term (both in Brazil and in parts of Portugal).


Historically, the Wrigley Company was a prominent user of this ingredient in the production of chewing gum.

In response to a land reform law passed in Guatemala in 1952, which ended feudal work relations and expropriated unused lands and sold them to the indigenous and peasants, the Wrigley Gum Company discontinued buying Guatemalan chicle. Since it was the sole buyer of Guatemalan chicle, the government was forced to create a massive aid program for growers.[4]

By the 1960s, most chewing gum companies had switched from using chicle to butadiene-based synthetic rubber which was cheaper to manufacture. The only U.S. gum companies still using chicle are Glee Gum and Simply Gum.[5]


  1. ^ Mathews, Jennifer P. (2009). Chicle: The Chewing Gum of the Americas, From the Ancient Maya to William Wrigley. Tucson: University of Arizona Press. pp. 19–21.  
  2. ^ Chicle, Retrieved March 17, 2011.
  3. ^ Mexicolore article on chicle
  4. ^ LaFeber, Walter (1993). Inevitable revolutions: the United States in Central America. New York: W.W. Norton. p. 119.  
  5. ^ Burks, Raychelle (6 August 2007). "Chewing Gum: Popular confection began as a not-so-sweet treat from trees". Chemical and Engineering News 85 (32): 36.