Chewing Gum…Bracha or No Bracha?
By: Rabbi Ari Enkin
Although there are differences of opinion on the issue, I’ve always been of the opinion that a bracha must be recited on chewing gum. The Shulchan Aruch states: “On sugar one recites shehakol and shehakol is also recited when sucking sweet sticks.” It seems to me that gum fits nicely into both these categories as it is essentially sugar which is sucked (chewed) for its taste (the sugar). Most contemporary halachic authorities seem to agree with this reasoning and rule that a bracha must be recited upon gum.
Nevertheless, the sefer Birkat Hashem maintains that gum does not require a bracha. He reasons that a bracha is not recited because the gum’s taste is absorbed into the saliva which is then swallowed. He argues that saliva, albeit flavored, is not something upon which a bracha is ever recited. So too, Rabbi Chaim Tabasky quotes a number of authorities who rule that a bracha is not recited upon gum as it is not considered to be “hana’at achila”, the manner is which food is typically enjoyed. Included in this list of rabbis are: Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein, and Rabbi Seraya Deblitzky, among others. I’ve also recently been told that Rabbi Shimon Schwab would not recite a bracha when chewing gum and that Rabbi Yisroel Belsky rules that hard gum requires a bracha while soft gum does not. However, most other halachic authorities seem to disagree and indeed common custom is to recite a blessing on chewing gum.
That being said, however, I am not yet convinced that sugar-free gum requires a bracha. One reason for this is because sugar free gum essentially has no content that is ingested. The package for the Elite “Must” gum, Israel’s most popular sugar-free gum, states that a piece of gum contains two calories. From a simple survey of the ingredient list it appears that these two calories might only be from the aspartame and coloring content. Now, besides the fact that aspartame cannot be called food, at least not when consumed on its own, these two calories of aspartame are likely completely dissolved in one’s saliva. The swishing of the gum around the crevices of the mouth, especially between the teeth, likely renders this small amount of aspartame (or other caloric content) batel, completely nullified and insignificant, even if it actually does make its way into the stomach, at all. The same argument would not hold true for regular, sugar-filled chewing gum as the sugar content in that variety of gum is much greater than the aspartame content of sugar-free gum.
Furthermore, although I don’t accept the Birkat Hashem’s argument as it applies to regular sugar filled gum, I do think it makes sense to apply it to aspartame-flavored-saliva from sugar-free gum. It should also be taken into account that there are opinions that a blessing is not recited when tasting, even if swallowing, minute amounts of food.
Not too long ago I spoke at length with Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt (Memphis -> Jerusalem) about this. He seemed to agree with my arguments and said they make sense. He concluded our conversation suggesting that one should first recite a shehakol on another food item with the intent that the blessing serve to cover the sugar-free gum, as well. It is interesting to note that, in a similar vein, the sefer Minhag Yisrael Torah cites an opinion that before smoking tobacco one should recite a shehakol on a food item with the intent to include the cigarette and tobacco.
Finally, chewing gum must have a hechsher and I have never seen a convincing argument to the contrary. So too, gum must not be chewed on a fast day.
 OC 202:15.
 Yabia Omer, OC 7:33.
 See: http://www.yeshiva.org.il/ask/eng/?id=3131
 OC 210:2
 Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 210:1.
 See: http://www.ou.org/kosher/daf/advanced/gum.html
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