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Sunday 4 December 2016

Scientist's non-sticky end to the curse of chewing gum

Breda Heffernan and Ralph Riegel

Published 09/11/2011 | 05:00

FOR generations it's been the curse of local authorities, school cleaners and cinema attendants.

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But now the days of sticky chewing gum are numbered thanks to a revolutionary breakthrough by a team of Irish researchers.

The University College Cork team -- led by Prof Elke Arendt -- has developed a new process for making non-sticky chewing gum.

It has the same "chewability" as traditional gum and you can even blow a bubble with it.

However, after 45 minutes it dissolves in the chewer's mouth and breaks up into small pieces which can be safely swallowed.

If commercially applicable, the process could offer hundreds of thousands of euro in savings to local authorities who face the annual headache of trying to prise hardened gum off streets.

The country's biggest local authority, Dublin City Council, spent €334,000 cleaning gum from pavements last year.

Discarded chewing gum is the second most common form of rubbish on streets after cigarette butts and requires specialist cleaning to remove.

Chewing gum is traditionally made from synthetic rubber, softeners, sweeteners and flavourings. These rubbers are stretchy and extremely sticky and are resistant to many cleaning chemicals.

However, the rubber base is important because it plays a role in determining how the gum tastes, its chewiness and its shelf life.

Biodegradable

Prof Arendt has solved the problem of making gum biodegradable, yet still retaining that all-important chewiness.

Using her previous research in the area of gluten-free foods, she has created a new gum that uses cereal proteins rather than synthetic rubber as its main ingredient.

She has now patented the recipe for the non-sticky gum and is looking for manufacturers who will bring the product to market. There has already been interest from a number of multinationals.

"The prototype is a gum mix that has the same chewability and you can even blow a bubble with it. But it doesn't last as long, it degrades in your mouth after 45 minutes," explained Prof Arendt.

"It's also non-sticky, you can swallow it and it's totally healthy -- like eating bread."

She said the gum takes flavourings well, however the team has not yet dried it or coated it and is hoping chewing gum manufacturers will help with this aspect.

The research was funded by the Department of Agriculture.

Irish Independent

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