Chewing Gum Literally Makes You Basic
Updated: Mar 23, 2020
I figured for my very first blog post, I would complain about a pet peeve of mine: chewing gum in cocktail bars. Hey, it's my blog, I get to be grumpy, right?
The number of times I've had people send back drinks for tasting "off" or "gross" while they smack on mentholated gum is astounding. Even worse is how often I've had to scrape people's gum from under tables, chairs, and bar tops over the years. I'm sick of it, so I figured I'd do the most effective thing possible: rant into the empty void that is the internet at nobody in particular.
The first thing you learn during the two-day Cocktail 101 training at Pouring Ribbons is the difference fresh citrus makes in a cocktail. Joaquín fresh-squeezes lemon and lime, and then grabs the citrus from last night's service that was saved specifically for this educational tasting. The difference between the two is night and day and explains why fresh citrus (vs. pasteurized or old, oxidized juice) became one of the defining cornerstones of the craft cocktail revival.
To pivot slightly: when learning how to muddle mint properly, a common demonstration is to place a mint leaf in your mouth, then press that mint leaf against the roof of your mouth with your tongue. Delicious and minty, right? That's because you've released the oils in the mint. Now chew that same piece of mint and see how quickly it becomes bitter and awful. That's because you've broken the mint and released the bitter chlorophyll.
These are great examples that prove how easy it is to ruin the flavor of a cocktail. But what about chewing gum?
First, most chewing gum, sugar-free or not, is just menthol and a series of sweeteners bound together. Even the sugar-free stuff still contains anywhere between 2 and 5 different alternatives. Besides the menthol affecting your perception of flavor (many of the sweeteners are added to balance the potent minty chemical extract), it will actually, literally make your palate more basic.
According to this 2011 study, mint- and cinnamon-flavored gums significantly increase salivary flow rate as well as salivary pH. As a reminder, low pH is “acidic,” while high pH is “basic.” In short, when you chew gum, you are effectively making the acid in your drink taste more acidic.
Additionally, the sweeteners found in gum are typically up to 200 times sweeter than sugar. This will alter your perception of sweetness on the palate, essentially conditioning your tongue to think sweet drinks are less sweet than they are. That's all fine and good until your gum loses flavor, or you spit it out. Now, a balanced drink that you had ten minutes ago will taste significantly sweeter than it actually is.
More often than not, the reaction to someone chewing gum and taking a sip of a cocktail is a contorted face and, occasionally, a complaint.
So, short of asking guests to spit their gum out (which I, unfortunately, admit to having done in the past), I'll now do two things:
warn them ahead of time that chewing gum will affect the flavor of their drinks
offer a complimentary palate cleanser of a mini spicy, ginger-based Moscow Mule, taking inspiration from the pickled ginger used by the Japanese between courses
Everybody wins, right?
Everybody except the underside of your bar top and tables.
Don't @ me.