Chewing gum is one of those things in life that was perfected a long time ago. Sure, there are new and exotic flavors released every year, and some R&D whiz will every once in a while get a wild hair up his ass and add some kind of crystallized blue stuff in to the stick to make me feel like I’m chewing on the shattered remains of a mystical power gem that will grant me the ability to fire lasers from my teeth and have fresh breath at the same time, but even with that the basic idea of gum has remained the same for quite a long time: put it in your mouth, enjoy the flavor for a few minutes, rejoice in the masking of your foul garlic hummus breath, stick it under a desk. Done.
This started to change in 2007, when chewing gum mainstay Wrigley’s released a new line of gum – provocatively titled 5 — that was marketed to young, hip and groovy kids from 500 years in the future, where a mad scientist with a weird obsession with gum kidnaps wanderers and subjects them to absurd and presumably wildly expansive tests that simulate the flavor of gum, even though the tests have nothing to do with actual gum, because, apparently, the nuclear/robot/zombie apocalypse’s most lasting effect was a collective decline in tooth retention.
Then, in 2010, Wrigley’s released a sub-line of 5 gum called React. React was and currently is being sold with the idea that each person that chews it will experience a different flavor. Seeing as this is a rather bold claim to make, especially since this is just chewing gum and not, say, some incredible food from a far off planet given to us by aliens as a welcoming present for making in to the galactic space council, I decided to put 5 React through a series of rigorous tests to determine whether this claim was true. And, of course, by “rigorous tests” I mean I will chew some gum. Maybe even blow a bubble if I want to get crazy all up in this shit.
The entire 5 line comes packed in this stylish black case that makes pulling out a stick of gum seem like you’re about to smoke an exotic drug that only savvy, bored billionaires and Afghani opium farmers can smoke. It has that cool, edgy kind of packaging that is eerily reminiscent of Axe Body Spray – it’s overly stylized to appeal to young kids that generally don’t care about the quality of a product, just as long as it looks like the inside of a trendy night club that’s infamous for its many ruffies -related incidents.
React, though, has an added feature to the case that ties in to the theme of the unique flavor experience, this feature being a thumb-print shaped patch on the sleeve that, when a finger is pressed to it and removed, changes color depending on your body temperature, which is about as fantastically high-tech as scratch-n-sniff stickers and holographic baseball cards. This is a good example of what happens to once impressive technology: it eventually gets slapped on a pack of gum and sold for a little over a dollar. One day iPhones will become so ubiquitous that you may find one in place of that annoying sticker on your bananas, and future-you will be all like, “Goddamnit, iPhone! I just want to eat a goddamn banana!”
Each stick of gum is wrapped in a sleek black wrapper that makes opening a pack feel like your opening a secret government intel package filled with pictures of the crime lord you have to assassinate. That, or as I like to imagine, it looks like my gum sticks are dressed in tiny tuxedos, and they’re all going to a fancy party in my mouth.
Does It Work?
And now for the true test: do different people actually experience different flavors?
To test this I gathered together three of my friends and gave them each a stick of the mint flavor of React. “Wait,” you say. “What’s this? A gum that claims to be a different flavor to everyone, yet plainly states that its mint flavored?” Why, yes. Right out of the gate the gum is already defeating its own purpose. You never see or hear of people going to job interviews and telling the interviewer that there is absolutely nothing that differentiates them from every other person vying for the job, even though they just got finished saying they’re 100% different from everyone else on the planet. Regardless, we all figured that mint was just a generalization, and that the real difference will come in the form of the subtle, yet different variations in minty flavor.
So we all began to chew. And chew. And chew. About a minute in to chewing one of my friends made the wise observation that we were all a bunch of assholes just standing in around in a parking lot looking off in different directions while making loud chewing sounds, deeply thinking about gum. If it weren’t for the fact that one of the four of us was getting paid to do this, we would have all shared a long, depressing cry about the state of our pathetic lives.
But after some more chewing and savoring of the flavor, I conducted a quick survey to find out about the flavors everyone was experiencing. It went a little something like this:
Me: “So, what do you taste?”
Friend 1: “Mint.”
Friend 2: “Mint.”
Friend 3: “Mint.”
Me: “I taste duplicitous gum marketing and a load of horseshit.”
As expected, we all tasted mint. At one point one of my friends attempted to describe the subtle nuances of the minty flavor, but seeing as describing the specific flavor of a specific type of mint isn’t generally something people do on a regular basis, he just kept saying the word mint over and over again with different inflections, occasionally adding the letter “-y” after mint, informing us of nothing we didn’t already know. We all tasted gum. We all tasted mint. We all tasted…LIES!!
It’s just a fucking piece of gum. That’s it. It’s just gum. There’s no fancy-shmancy flavoring wizardry going on here. It’s just a thing of gum that’s pretty enjoyable when it’s not wrapped in dastardly deception. The commercials for React make it seem as though every person on earth that tries this stuff will taste wildly different things, as is shown in this melodramatic tale of chewing gum that looks like it was written by Philip K. Dick on one of his signature acid trips…
According to the commercial above, the gum will either taste like a flower, a bird covered in crude oil, or a demon octopus, or any number of random things that aren’t gum. But the gum itself doesn’t even taste like different types of mint. It’s just mint.
Now, this does raise the question of whether we actually all did experience different flavors, but none of us could find the words to describe what we tasted beyond the word mint. This is a valid point. But if Wrigley’s expects me to swap chewed gum with my friends, or make out with them while swirling my tongue around theirs and gently licking their gum line, they can just go to hell. I love my friends, but I’m not licking the inside of their mouths for the sake of a mysterious gum flavor.