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Does Chewing Gum Help During Air Travel?

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Does chewing gum help during air travel?

Does chewing gum help during air travel?

Do you frequently travel by air? Have you experienced discomfort in your ear during air journeys? If the answer is ‘yes’, then read on.

The altitude change during take-off and landing of flight is accompanied by air pressure change as well. When the air pressure on either side of the ear drum i.e., that in the cabin and the middle ear, is not equal the discomfort in ear occurs. This condition is termed as “aeroplane ear” or “ear barotrauma”. The pain may be dull or throbbing; some may even hear everything only as muffled noises. The strategy to relieve ear barotrauma involves popping open the Eustachian tube to allow entry of air into the middle ear, to equalize pressure on both sides of the ear drum. This can be achieved by simple movements like chewing, swallowing, sucking and yawning. By now, the role of chewing gum in relieving aeroplane ear would have become crystal clear to you.

Eustachian Tube (PSF)

Eustachian Tube (PSF) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chew gum works fabulously to keep the Eustachian tube open during air travel. It not only promotes chewing but also swallowing, to send the saliva secreted during chewing down the oral cavity. The candies distributed by the  cabin crew during take-off, is also with the same motive, though it is widely perceived only as a gesture of welcome.

A chewy ride on an aeroplane definitely helps ease ear pain that arises due to barotrauma. So, ultimately there is yet another thing your air travel check list should cover besides travel documents, electronic gadgets, currencies and medications. And yes, that is a pack of CHEWING GUM.

Include chewing gum in your air travel checklist

Include chewing gum in your air travel checklist.

 Other tips to combat ear barotrauma:

  • Suck on lozenges for relief.
  • Drink water, both to keep yourself well-hydrated and to encourage swallowing; Hydration prevents irritation of the nasal cavity, throat and ensures better functioning of the Eustachian tube.
  • Yawn from time to time.
  • A feeding bottle or pacifier should do the trick for infants. If possible nurse them during the flight’s ascent and descent.
  • Wear ear plugs during the journey.
  • Consult a physician before air travel to treat any condition like cold or sore throat that may lead to blocked Eustachian tube.
  • A prescription decongestant spray or antihistamine may also help.

If you want to catch up with more about chewing gum, read Stretchy Snappy Snippets.



Cool Down with Gond Katira

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Summer is at its peak in some countries in the Middle East during July-August. The mercury even soars to more than 45°C during the day. Information has it that the highest temperature recorded last year in Kuwait was 53.1°C on 15 June, 2010. People resort to various measures like using air-conditioners, reaching out for their sun glasses, sun screen lotions, umbrellas, hats and drinking lots of chilled drinks to get respite from the scorching heat.  They even go to the extent of staying indoors during most of the day time and venture out only during nights 🙂 Last summer, I was quite new to the place and was in the process of getting acclimatized. Amidst juices, barley water, butter milk and other such usual stuff to beat the heat, I was introduced to a coolant prepared from a not so common ingredient called Gond Katira.

Gond (Urdu: gum) Katira follows in the line of gum arabic, xanthum gum and guar gum and is used as an additive in the food industry. Known by a myriad of names like Goond, Katira or Quatira, Dragon gum, Tragacanth gum, Shiraz gum, gum Elect and Qujah, it is referred to as E413 on food labels. Katira serves as an emulsifier, thickener, binding agent and stabilizer. It is used in sauces, salad dressings, processed cheese, cottage cheese, ice cream, icing and confectionery. On acquiring this information, I frantically searched the labels of some of these foods at home, but was disappointed on not spotting E413 on any 😦 Then it dawned on me that since Katira is native to Middle Eastern countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey, I should rather be looking for it on products manufactured from such places.

Katira is the exudate obtained from the roots and incisions made in the stem of various species of leguminous shrubs belonging to the genus Astragalus (locoweed or milk vetch). Though the gum is extracted from A.adscendens, A.tragacanthus and A.gummifer, the one from the latter (common name: goat’s thorn) is rated to be of the best quality. The gum is tasteless, odourless, predominantly dull white with tinges of brown and amber. It is viscous and dries into flakes, blocks or crystals on exposure to air. It is composed of polysaccharides and like any other gum has no nutritional value. Its virtue of swelling on absorption of water paved way for its use as a texturant in food industry; this trait also makes it a good laxative. Katira packets are usually placed along with the spices and condiments in super markets and cost 600 fils per 100 g.

Gum Karaya or Indian Tragacanth is often mistaken for Katira. Though Karaya has properties similar to that of Katira, it is the sap obtained from the bark of a tree called Sterculia urens (local name: Thapsi or Karaya tree) and its industrial identity is E416. Karaya is sometimes used to adulterate Katira.

Now, for the preparation of the coolant:


  • Gond Katira– 10 g
  • Water            — 300 ml
  • Milk               — 500 ml
  • Sugar            — as desired
  • Cardamom powder– a pinch
  • Chopped Almonds  — a few pieces


  • Pound the Katira blocks to get smaller crystals. Do not powder them finely as it may make it difficult to separate the impurities.
  • Soak the crystals in water overnight so that they absorb water and swell.  The swelled up gel is not gooey but sort of stiff. It looks like crushed ice, to be precise. Tip: Do not be misled by the small quantity of gum taken for preparation because it expands to enormous volume. About 25 g of gum in 300 ml of water filled a 500 ml capacity bowl up to the brim on gelling. So, use a relatively large bowl to soak the gum.
  • Next day, drain the water away; wash the gel twice or thrice; remove the impurities.
  • Boil milk; add sugar and cardamom to it; simmer it and reduce it to half its volume; refrigerate it.
  • Add the chilled flavoured milk to about 2-3 tbsp of  gel.
  • Garnish with chopped almonds.

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Wow! This  gummy coolant is not a mere visual treat, it tastes yummy as well.

Portions: 2 

The traditional preparation is a simple mixture of the swelled up gel with cold milk and sugar. But just to pep it up a little, I added the thickened milk, flavouring and nuts. We could tap our imagination to extend Katira’s use in sherbets, cordials, custards and many other desserts.

Related Posts

Additives in Food – Info – Tragacanth

Gum Karaya (Sterculia urens)

Opinion of a Scientific Panel on the Use of Certain Food Additives in Jelly Mini Cups

UK Food Gide – E413 – Tragacanth Gum

What is Gond Katira?

Stretchy Snappy Snippets

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“BLACK JACK”… a card game, a pizza or a pirate? What is this Black Jack that is stretchy and snappy? A smile is inevitable when you find that Black Jack is nothing but a chewing gum. It was the first ever flavoured chewing gum launched in the US way back in 1884.

The gum base “chicle” in it came from the bark of the Sapodilla (Hindi: Chikoo; Tamil:  Sapota) tree. Owing to the long duration involved in collecting even a small quantity of chicle (almost 6 hrs to yield only 2 ½ pounds of gum), technology has extensively replaced it with the more resilient synthetic gums. With time the other ingredients also underwent change. Sugar or corn syrup has been replaced by a combination of artificial sweeteners like sorbitol, xylitol, acesulfame-K and aspartame and this brought the era of sugar-free gums.

Few brands of chewing gum

Few brands enlist the nutritional information on the pack whereas others stop with net weight and ingredients. The calorie content of gums may vary with their constituents and size. The International Chewing Gum Association (ICGA) reports that a gum stick provides less than 10 calories whereas a pellet less than 5 calories, on an average. An experiment conducted by Mayo Clinic has shown that a person burns 11 calories per hour in the mastication of a gum. So if the expended energy is more than that provided by the gum (11 Vs 5-10 per hour), then some experts say that it can also be deemed as a negative calorie food”. But this effect cannot be seen as a means to shed weight as the Mayo Clinic study also concluded that even if a person chomped on a piece every waking hour of the day for a month, he would lose less than a pound. Though not effective as a negative calorie food, chewing gum has been universally hailed as a low calorie food.

People in the world of sports use chewing gums to their advantage. The process of chewing stimulates secretion of saliva and prevents dryness of the mouth and throat. Walkers and joggers exploit this feature and are thankful for the exercise to the jaws and facial muscles that come as a bonus. Yet others use it for the same reason while shopping for long hours in air-conditioned malls.

A study conducted by investigators at Louisiana State University showed that chewing gum post lunch not only suppressed the return of hunger, but reduced cravings to snacks and promoted satiety. Chewing gum during the post-operative stage of colon surgery quickens the return of normal bowel function and also shortens hospital stay.

Sugar-free gums have also earned the endorsement of reputed organizations like International Dental Health Foundation and British Dental Association because they delay dental caries. The saliva secretion stimulated by chewing gum has a cleansing action. It quickly flushes away the oral bacteria and the acids produced by them, thus guarding the enamel. Moreover saliva contains hydrogen carbonate ions that help in neutralizing the plaque acids.

Nicotine gums are saviours of those trying to quit smoking. They reduce the craving to smoke by releasing a steady amount of nicotine in the body and alleviate withdrawal symptoms like irritability, restlessness and hunger.

Chewing gums widely used as mouth-fresheners are not meant to be swallowed.  But there are yarns spun around what happens on gobbling them. Some popular myths are that they stick to the intestines, cause constipation and take years to get digested!!! A reply from Wrigley’s Public Relations Coordinator to a consumer throws clarity on these misconceptions. Sugar, corn syrup, softeners and flavours are soluble in the saliva and are digested whereas the gum base, the indigestible part finds its exit in a matter of 2 or 3 days through the normal route. This is applicable in case of gulping one pellet accidentally. But gorging large quantities at a time may definitely lead to choking. Let alone swallowing, even chewing large quantities of gum is not advisable.

The laxative effect of sorbitol(E420) used in sugar-free gums has been well documented by two classic cases published in British Medical Journal. Doctors came across 2 patients with chronic diarrhoea, abdominal pain and dangerously excessive weight loss. When lengthy investigations failed to yield answers, a detailed dietary analysis pointed to eating too much chewing gum with sorbitol as the reason. One patient, a 21-year-old-woman consumed about 15-18 sticks of gum each day and her sorbitol intake through them was about 18-20g. The other patient, a 46-year-old man devoured 20 sticks of sorbitol-containing gum plus approximately 200g of sweets (candy) each day leading to a sorbitol intake of 30g. Once the sorbitol intake was stopped, the patients regained normalcy.

Aspartame(E951), one of the artificial sweeteners used in gums yields phenylalanine on breakdown. So Phenylketonurics and those with Hyperphenylalaninemia should refrain from consuming them. Warnings about overindulgence and Phenylketonuria (PKU) are printed on the pack. It is for the consumers to read them and get benefited. A word of caution to those who chomp gum frequently and vigorously – it may lead to temporomandibular pain.

Warning about phenylalanine content and overindulgence on chewing gum pack

Warning about phenylalanine content and overindulgence on chewing gum pack

Warning for Phenylketonurics on chewing gum wrapper

Warning for Phenylketonurics on chewing gum wrapper

Some chew gums just for the heck of it, some to drive away boredom and yet others to improve their concentration. Whatever the reason, it is necessary to chew slowly and keep the mouth closed during chewing. Otherwise it leads to gulping of air (Aerophagia) which in turn may result in abdominal bloating, belching and flatulence. Discard the gum when it is devoid of its juiciness and is a little hard to chew. Talking about discarding gums, improperly disposed ones have been the subject of public nuisance for long. Blobs left on pavements, bus seats and walls have posed major threats in terms of environmental hygiene and expenditure required to clear them. So much so that Singapore has imposed a ban on it, unless it is for a medicinal purpose.

This problem brought about the proposal of biodegradable gums-those that become non-adhesive when dry and completely decompose in a few weeks time. CHICZA, the first organic and biodegradable gum made its entry in the UK in 2009. But till it becomes available world over, let us take the graphical cue on gum wrappers or packs to keep our surroundings clean.

Graphical cue on pack for proper disposal of chewing gum

Graphical cue on pack for proper disposal of chewing gum

A stress buster, a concentration enhancer or a gastrointestinal malady creator, a jaw pain inducera chewing gum is what you make of it.


Related Links:

Does Chewing Gum Help During Air Travel?

The Benefits of Gum, International Chewing Gum Association

Calories in Chewing Gum

Biodegradable Chewing Gum Launched

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