As part of our enduring commitment to do the dirty work and the heavy lifting, the tough stuff and lo bien difícil, so that all of you can enjoy yourselves with a beer and a grilla—or grillo—we present our deep chew through one of the most difficult and persistent questions you will face during your time in Colombia, a decision that can make or break social status, win you the woman—or man—of your dreams or lose them in a heartbeat, we present, without further ado, the Grand 2008 Colombia Reports Chiclets Test.
You’ve seen their red, yellow, green little boxes in shops, in street corner stands, hawked by vendors aboard buses, and in the hands of tired moms sitting with their children on street corners. Chiclets are everywhere in Colombia. About the size of a squashed thumb and mostly filled with empty space, you can easily, as we found out, fit six into your pocket with room to spare for change, your keys and all those little flyers advertising “massage therapists.” Owned by Cadbury Adams and often manufactured in Ecuador, they won’t earn you that many local food points. But buying a box, or cajita, and chewing the contents will make you a little more like everybody else in Colombia.
For our study we followed the strictest scientific format, but stayed within the Medellín city border. We made our purchases at one brick and mortar store, one street stand and one specialist—a guy outside a metro station with just a plastic bucket filled with chiclet boxes. Each were, of course, quizzed to assure they were perfectly representative of their genre. We considered buying from a woman in Parque Periodista known for her herbal offerings, but decided we didn’t want to be in anyway compromised on our maiden chicle test. That brings us to our first section…
Chicle by colour
The best deal, surprisingly, was found at the brick-and-mortar. Six boxes for just 100 pesos a pop. Bulk purchasing triumphs, it seems, despite the high overhead of having a roof over your head. Besides, this is probably where the others buy from too. The worst deal was from a woman on La Playa operating a grab-bag of a cart, with tinto, fruit and sweets all on offer. Five boxes at 200 pesos each—convenience means a markup. But what are we complaining about? It was still less than 50 cents. (For what its worth, the metro guy was also selling at 200 a box – the market rate? – but quinientos for three, so an even 1000 got us six).
Teeth were then brushed, glasses of water (a.k.a. palate refresher) poured and ice put at the ready for emergencies. And thus we set out, pen in hand, to determine the best flavors, the best sellers, in truth, the best chicle!
1) Yerbabuena, or mint: Wait a sec, this is almost like chewing a mint leaf coated in sugar. And the mint persists. Gets a little bitter at the end, but persists. That’s a nice pice of gum. At first try, it seems the metro guy was selling sun-baked chiclets—this one is tougher, the flavor fades faster than the others.
Status report: All clear, cue…
2) Menta ICE, or peppermint ICE: Opens with sharp sizzling bang. Not for the weak of tongue. I can’t tell if the gum has already lost its flavor or my taste buds are in shock. In any case, my whole mouth burns. Yes, the metro guy definitely had the oldest of the bunch, harder again but, strangely, also better flavor.
Status report: A sore is starting to develop on the right side of my tongue, but in the name of science, I will soldier on.
3) Canela, or cinnamon: Oooh, rich at first, powerful. But tougher than normal too. And there goes the flavor, after less than a minute. I’m left with a tongue coated in saccharine sweet chemicals and a rubber plaything in my mouth. A bad clash.
Status report: Tongue now definitely jodeada, plus a touch of soreness on the right side of my jaw. That Canela was tough. Get the ice ready.
5) Tutti-Frutti: Uggggh! A noxious bomb of artificial sweetness. Gagging seems like a good option.
I’m dizzy. I want to lie down.
4) Fresca Fusión, or fresh fusion: WOW! Cherry and orange explosion with peppermint afterburners. No wonder they have this nifty feature where you just break the box in half—this stuff is dynamite. And they weren’t kidding about fusion. It’s like a whole new world in gum—or is this just my Tutti-Frutti addled brain speaking?
Status report: Super duper, dude.
5) Menta, or peppermint: Solid, predictable, a little biting but still unremarkable. It’s what chiclets started with in 1906, and it’s where we’ll leave off. Thanks for listening. But oh yea, check out the…
Most likely to leave your tongue feeling abused: Canela, or cinnamon
Most likely to be very satisfactory, but never spectacular: Yerbabuena, or mint
Most likely to be found everywhere you go: Menta, or peppermint
Most likely to taste like total mierda in less than a minute: Canela, or cinnamon
Most likely to burn a hole in your tongue: Menta ICE, or peppermint ICE
Most likely to make you dizzy with disgust: Tutti-Frutti
Most likely to blow your mind but be discontinued by the company: Fresca Fusión, or fresh fusion
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