chicle (chĭkˈəl) [key], name for the gum obtained from the latex of the sapodilla tree ( Manilkara zapota ), a tropical American evergreen. The sapodilla (known also by many other common names) is widely cultivated in tropical regions, including S Florida, for its fruit, which is plum-sized with translucent yellow-brown flesh. Large-scale cultivation of the tree for latex is impractical because it can be tapped only infrequently and varies widely in yield. Chicle is collected during the rainy season from wild trees in the rain forests. Natives, called chicleros, cut zigzag gashes in the tree trunk and collect the sap in bags. The collected material is boiled until it reaches the correct thickness and is then molded into blocks. These are exported, chiefly to the United States, for use in making chewing gum. Unsystematic and excessive tapping of the sapodilla (especially in the Yucatán peninsula, where it was most abundant) is leading to its depletion and has necessitated increasing use of chicle substitutes from other latex-producing plants.
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