Initially launched in 1984 as the first sugar-free gum sold in the United States, Wrigley's Extra gum is now owned by the Mars corporation. It's still sugar-free, sweetened using products such as aspartame and acesulfame K.
Extra Gum Ingredients
Wrigley's Extra gum starts with a generic gum base that, as Purdue University explains, is actually made of polymers — plastics — that may be naturally occurring or synthetically derived. Next, Wrigley's adds a combination of artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols; a powdering of starch to keep the gum from sticking to its wrapper; natural and artificial flavors; and coloring agents.
The colors may be natural or artificial, or both. For example, Extra's spearmint gum is colored with the natural product turmeric and with the artificial color Blue 1 Lake. The polar ice flavor is colored with a mix of titanium dioxide and Blue 1 Lake. Extra peppermint gum is colored with just Blue 1 Lake, while the sweet watermelon flavor of Extra gum is colored with a couple of artificial red pigments.
Extra gum uses BHT as a preservative. Some of the flavors may also contain citric acid or soy lecithin.
According to the official Extra gum website, flavors can be customized to local tastes in different countries. In the U.S., your options include spearmint, peppermint, polar ice, smooth mint, winterfresh, classic bubble, sweet watermelon, berry burst and cinnamon.
Sweeteners in Extra Gum
Extra gum may be sugar-free, but it's still plenty sweet. That's thanks primarily to the artificial sweeteners aspartame and acesulfame K.
Extra gum also contains sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and mannitol. As the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) explains, these are neither sugar nor alcohol, but instead a special type of carbohydrate that shares characteristics of both. That's what allows gum with xylitol or other sugar alcohols to be marketed as sugar-free.
Small amounts of these sweeteners occur naturally in fruits and vegetables, or they can be commercially produced from sugar or starch sources. Sugar alcohols are often combined with the artificial sweeteners already mentioned, or they can be used to influence the bulk and texture of your food.
If you have a delicate digestive tract, then food — or gum — with sugar alcohols in it may not be for you. As the FDA explains, sugar alcohols may cause abdominal gas, bloating and diarrhea for some people, because they're poorly absorbed in the small intestine and thus linger in your digestive tract to be fermented by bacteria in the large intestine.
Read more: The Ultimate Guide to Natural Sweeteners
Both acesulfame K and aspartame are FDA-approved — but there's some controversy over whether they're really safe. As the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) explains, a few animal studies suggest that acesulfame K can cause cancer and affect the thyroid. The CSPI also notes recent animal studies that broach similar concerns about aspartame.
Chewing Gum and Dental Health
Companies marketing chewing gum with xylitol and other nonsugar sweeteners often lean heavily on a small, older study, published in the May 2008 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association.
In this study, researchers found that chewing sugar-free gum after meals produced a significant decrease in the incidence of dental caries (cavities). But as the authors note, the benefit comes from stimulating salivary flow, which is what actually protects your mouth — not any particular ingredient in the gym.
Another study, published in the October-November 2012 issue of the Journal of the Irish Dental Association, affirms the potential tooth-protecting benefits of chewing gum. But as the American Dental Association points out, it's the sugar-free nature of the gum that's important. Chewing gum with sugar in it can actually increase your risk of cavities, no matter how much saliva it produces.
- American Dental Association: "Chewing Gum"
- Mars: "Mars Wrigley"
- Extra: "Flavor Family"
- Food and Drug Administration: "Sugar Alcohols"
- Purdue University: "Polymers in Chewing Gum"
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "Acesulfame K"
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: "Aspartame"
- Journal of the American Dental Association: "The Effect of Saliva on Dental Caries"
- Journal of the Irish Dental Association: "The Oral Health Benefits of Chewing Gum"