Thinking of a new chew

Date: April 22, 2008
As seen on the front page of Palo Alto Daily News.

Thinking of a new chew

What has peppermint, rosemary, ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine and bacopa? A new type of gum developed by a Stanford student

By Kristina Peterson / Daily News Staff Writer

Earlier this year, Stanford University graduate student Matt Davidson brought to his lab a 100-packet box of Think Gum, the memory-boosting chewing gum he developed.

The box is now empty and his lab mates are on the prowl.

"They're always asking me if I have gum," said Davidson, 24, from his dorm room Monday. Three days after he received his second delivery of 100,000 packets of Think Gum, he had already sold one-third of the shipment.

"It's going faster than I expected," said Davidson, a first-year graduate student in immunology at Stanford's School of Medicine, who began selling the herb-enhanced gum at Stanford and online last December.

Laced with peppermint, rosemary, ginkgo biloba, vinpocetine from periwinkle plants and the Indian herb bacopa, the gum also gets a dose of caffeine from guarana - "a South American berry that looks really weird," Davidson said.

With only 10 milligrams of caffeine, roughly the same amount as a quarter of a can of Coke, one piece of gum will not give chewers the jitters, he said.

"We want people to do better work, not poor work really fast," he said.

Davidson developed his product after spending years as a prolific gum chewer, while studying molecular and cellular biology as an undergraduate at the University of California at Berkeley.

"I used to always chew gum to concentrate," Davidson said. After reading several studies citing the beneficial effect chewing gum and certain aromatics could have on memory, he began consuming rosemary with his gum.

Later, he decided to mix in the more exotic herbs to boost the flow of blood to the brain and increase alertness.

Davidson mixed the first batch of the gum himself, but the somewhat lumpy results prompted him to get help from a canning company that now manufactures the gum and ships it to Los Angeles, where Davidson's parents store the pieces in his bedroom until he has secured their sale.

Davidson personally delivers the packets of two "mentally refreshing pieces" of gum to all the campus locations that sell it, including Stanford Law School, the Terman engineering building and the Medical Center's cafe.

But the gum's best point of sale on campus is Moon Bean's Coffee, a small cafe strategically located between Stanford's two undergraduate libraries.

Moon Bean's manager Jeff Picaman said the cafe's sole gum product sells well and sales spikes as mid-terms and finals approach.

"Consumption goes up around the end of the quarters," he said.

The gum also competes for attention with build-it-yourself straws, spy camera sunglasses and caffeinated soap on the Web site http://www.thinkgeek.com.

Think Gum has been selling well enough for the site to order more, said customer service representative Shane Peterman, though not as well as some of the caffeinated candy, he noted.

"Honestly I think a lot of that stuff is more novelty, whereas the Think Gum seems a lot more practical," Peterman said.

Meanwhile, the customer testimonials are beginning to pour in, Davidson said.

His cousin chewed his way through a preliminary bar exam, and while juggling graduate school and a business, Davidson is known to pop a piece.

"I still chew it all the time," he said and reached into his mouth to prove it.