If you are anything like me, sugar-free chewing gum is a major food group for you, if only to keep you from nibbling on everything else that you might encounter. Let me tell you, the Chinese rival the Americans in gum availability and selection, even the sugar-free kind!
The flavor profile is definitely different than what we typically see here, but the brands are similar. Above is a selection of Chinese Wrigley’s Extra! gums, including cantaloupe, grapefruit, strawberry and blueberry flavors. And that ominous looking bottle happens to be Pepsi Max, if you’re wondering. But more on diet drinks in China some other time.
Now this is a bit off the beaten track, and I was only able to find these gems (in my opinion) in the small town of Wenchuan, that was completely rebuilt after the 2009 Sichuan earthquakes. Lotte is a Korean brand that also is everywhere in Japan, and here you see sugar-free coffee-flavored gum and drops. Most people I know have judged this to be completely disgusting, but I *loved* this stuff back in Japan and was ecstatic to find it again in China, if only once.
As with tea, the Chinese are big on flower, or hua, flavors. On the right you can see some rose-flavored sugar-free gum, and I’ve also seen lotus and lilly flavors. On the left is another Lotte variety, “Black Black + X”, which seemed to be mainly caffeine with an unidentifiable flavor that may or may not have been meant to be licorice. Not one I’d recommend…
This is another cantaloupe-flavored sugar-free gum, with actor/singer Wang Leehom on the front (kudos to my friend living in China, who adds that his face also graces water bottles!). This gum came in little chewy cubes with blue pieces meant to help clean your teeth. Not bad! I only came across this brand once, though, in Chengdu.
And mentos! Mentos were everywhere, and this particular version was shaped like the mints, but consisted of sugar-free gum with a liquid sour juice center. Very refreshing! The bottle had three mixed flavors, my favorite was the green gum filled with red juice.
This final example was a mixed box of mango, peach and rose sugar-free gum, and came with the most gimmicky dispenser mechanism I have ever seen:
You had to pull up the top, let it drop down again, and you’d end up with one or two pieces of gum resting atop a center column that wasn’t mobile. Not too practical, but a fun discovery nevertheless.
As you can see, you won’t have to import your gum if you go to China and are afraid you’ll go into withdrawal.
Most nutritional information is given per 100g, as is also common in Europe, so it will be difficult for you to just check calories to determine whether a bottle of gum is sugar-free or not. A few of the bottles/packs will have the English word “sugar-free” printed on (see for example those little cubes with the actor on the bottle), but the easiest way to identify them is to check the ingredients. If it says “Xylitol”, you know you’re looking at artificially sweetened gum. By the way, most artificially sweetened items in China are made with xylitol rather than the sweeteners we’re used to see in the United States (mannitol, sorbitol, aspartame, stevia, sucralose, etc.). Xylitol is used here for dental care products with a sweet flavor though!
So, what crazy gum flavors are your favorites, or what would you like to see explored on the Western gum market? I sure vote for coffee…