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One Girl’s Search for Bubble Gum in Buenos Aires

An intern embarks on a quest for a taste of home.

By | [email protected] | February 4, 2020 8:00am

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Coming to Argentina for the first time, I arrived prepared with the knowledge that I may have to search a little harder for some of my must-have staples: peanut butter, Greek yogurt, and tampons with applicators. But, apart from these, I’ve found that there’s not an extensive list of what you *can’t* get in Buenos Aires. A quick disclaimer: any and all trade-offs are definitely worth it, considering 1) dulce de leche, 2) Malbec, 3) yerba mate, and 4) did I mention dulce de leche?! Oh, and there’s even a delivery app for everything.

Nonetheless, here, my quick trip to a kiosko differs from a stop at my regular 7-11 back home. For example, when I discovered forgot to pack my toothbrush, occasional shifts in generic brands caught my eye… but a toothbrush here is a toothbrush there, right?

At first, I was enticed by the endless Vauquita tablets and alfajores galore—glorious wonders of saccharine mass production brightened my day, for prices that are actually still cheap for everyone, even with inflation. But as I looked beyond the candy display, I realized that there was one American classic that I couldn’t pin down: bubble gum.

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Confessions of the newest The Bubble intern: I’m a bubble gum freak. I’m a pack-a-day kind of gal (hey, at least it’s not cigarettes?!) At the office, you can always catch the faint murmur of my chewing and popping. My workspace is cluttered with wrappers and napkins sticky with discarded pieces that have lost their flavor. Considering my addiction, I packed enough gum to last me a few weeks in Buenos Aires. But realizing that my stockpile was quickly diminishing, the fear of no gum began to arise. I would need an alternative to my trusty pack of Trident.

A new quest was calling my name: could I find bubblegum-flavored chicle in Argentina that could suffice as a substitute? But before blindly accepting the challenge ahead, I realized the need for a moment of self-reflection. In my search for bubble gum, was I just another foreign visitor clinging to an American comfort?

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But first, some history. Interestingly, I learned that chicle actually has roots in the Southern Hemisphere. It originated 11,000 years ago, when Mayan and Aztec peoples discovered that the extraction of chicle, a resin from the sapodilla tree, could be used to create a chewable substance. Mayans realized that chewing on chicle could temporarily ease hunger and thirst, while the Aztecs found that it could help with bad breath.

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In the late 19th century, Americans transformed the chewing gum industry to capitalize on its mass production (but depleting more than 1/4 of Mexico’s sapodilla trees in the process) Lucky for the sapodilla trees, the yanquis discovered how to synthetically produce gums, using petroleum, wax, and other substances for a base. Eventually, the chewing gum industry’s shift from natural to synthetic was complete. But chewing gum is essentially made from plastic, meaning that it isn’t biodegradable, and adds yet another source of pollution.

And as for that notorious bubblegum flavor? It was created in 1928 by an American Walter Diemer. The exact profile is hard to define, since it draws on multiple artificial flavors. Some call it a mix of strawberry-banana-punch, while others believe it has twinges of blueberry. Altogether, different companies conceive their own concoctions.

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So, the verdict’s out: chicle isn’t completely un-Argentine after all. And what’s more, Argentines actually love their chicle: in fact, Argentina is the country that chews the most sugarless gum per capita in Latin America. But bubblegum? The flavor is as American as the red, white, and blue…. And given the lack of “chicle globo” observed in kioskos, I’m unsurprised. It seems as though Argentines haven’t been interested in developing that characteristic bubblegum profile.

Armed with this new intel, I gave myself a pass, and granted myself permission to proceed in my bubblegum quest, so long as I was willing to expand my flavor horizons, for a truly immersive cultural experience (well, for me, at least). One afternoon, I decided to take a systematic approach to finding bubblegum. This was not a quest for a weak-jaw—I needed to try every single flavor that seemed similar to bubblegum, so as to not take a premature imperialist attitude proclaiming its superiority.

I made stops at ten different kioskos throughout Buenos Aires, also seeking out two specialty candy stores to see if they had the elusive treat. Sure enough, I found plenty of chicle. Most kioskos carry several brands of chewing gum that offer a variety of flavors. In my search, I found every fruity flavor imaginable.

Cherry? Check.
Watermelon? Check.
Apple? Check.
Strawberry? Check.
Banana? Check.
Raspberry? Check.

As for the more unique flavors–I found vibrant strawberry, sweet berry, and violet cherry. Chewing gum brands surely aren’t afraid to get creative. Several featured a tutti frutti flavor—which I was optimistic could come close to the American bubble gum flavor (spoiler alert: it doesn’t.) But bubblegum? Not so much.

Only one common brand features bubblegum-flavored gum, in fact. It’s held at most kioskos: Beldent – you’ve probably heard of it. Apart from that, no one else makes a classic bubblegum variety.

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I put Beldent—the sole brand with a bubblegum flavor—to the test first. But alas, 10 minutes after popping a piece, I was thoroughly let down. The burst of flavor had subsided, and the piece had hardened in my mouth, making the prospect of blowing bubbles out of the question. Should I accept defeat here? Not so fast—I braced myself to have an open mind and got to work—testing out every flavor I could get my paws on.

Unwrapping piece after piece, I conducted a thorough analysis of each brand and product. This was not a mindless chewing experience – I gnawed with vigor, considering the taste, texture, and tenure of each one.

First, as for the sugar free flavors, I enjoyed the Mentos and Airheads. The Airheads produced some controversy in the office—according to Paige, its cherry flavor “tasted like medicine” but according to me, it tasted like heaven. While neither matched the bubblegum flavor, they impressed with their longevity and silky-smooth feels.

I also tried Bazooka and Bubbaloo—non-sugarless gums. In the States, bubblegum-flavored Bazooka is everywhere. But in Buenos Aires? Nope. Nonetheless, I enjoyed all three flavors: tutti frutti, banana, and manzana. Shockingly, banana tasted similar to bubblegum, and was one of the closest substitutes. More impressive was the tutti frutti Bubbaloo gum: it was the most unique gum that I’ve ever tried. Upon first chew, there’s a major texture surprise: a burst of liquid-sugar goodness. The initial texture is divine, but it hardens fast. For a non sugar-free gum, its tenure is solid—better than your average piece from an American gumball machine, which loses flavor after literally 60 seconds.

None of these gums are Argentine, though. Their names were familiar to my American senses: Mentos’ and Airheads’ parent company is Perfetti Van Melle, headquartered in the Netherlands. Bazooka manufactured by Topps—an American company. Bubbaloo is Mexican, produced by Canaderaria.

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Sure enough, I saved the best for last: TopLine gum. TopLine is produced by the Argentine company Arcor. Head into any kiosko, and you’re sure to find several flavors and types of TopLine. So just like Pikachu, I had to catch ‘em all. I tried crazy tutti, cereza, frambuesa, violet cherry and vibrant strawberry—all in stick form. I also found one interesting variety, called TopLine crunch, which featured two varieties of strawberry flavor: frutilla ácida and frutilla cremosa.

Alas, none of TopLine’s flavors come close to tasting like bubblegum. Crazy tutti seemed like it would be the closest match, but the gum is bright orange. Have you ever seen bubblegum that is bright orange? I think not.

But TopLine flavors, however, did not disappoint. They’re strong, but not overpowering… assertive but not aggressive. If TopLine were a man, he’d be my type. My favorite flavor: the frutilla cremosa in the TopLine crunch. Qué rico. Moreover, TopLine’s texture is top-notch. The gum is superbly smooth, but it doesn’t dissolve. One piece creates a solid chew. The only caveat is you need two pieces to generate some excellent bubble blowing. To wrap it up (pun intended), the gum will last for nearly an hour—a major win for this gal.

In the end, with every piece of TopLine gum, I savored that new flavor that I was after all along: ~cultural immersion.~