Gum Arabics

Of the several gums that are dried, gummy exudations collected by hand from various trees and shrubs, only gum arabic, also called gum acacia and acacia gum, is still in significant use (2,4-6).

Gum arabics are collected by hand from various species of Acacia, a small tree. Tears of gum exude from wounds in trunks and branches. Wounds can be natural, but trees often are cut deliberately. Dried tears are sorted into lots based on clarity, color, and gross impurities. Representative samples of each lot are analyzed for ash content, water-insoluble impurities, and viscosity. The lots are then cleaned, converted into grains or powders of varying mesh sizes, and blended. The best gum comes from the region just south of the Sahara Desert. The most highly purified grade is produced by spray drying a clarified solution.

Gum arabic preparations are mixtures of highly branched, branch-on-branch, acidic polysaccharides, and protein-polysaccharides that occur as mixed salts. Their specific compositions and structures can vary with species, season, and climate.

Gum arabic is unique among gums because of its high solubility and the low viscosity and Newtonian flow of its solutions. While most other gums form highly viscous solutions at 1 to 2% concentration, 20% solutions of gum arabic resemble a thin sugar syrup in body and flow properties.

Gum arabic also has the unique property of being an effective emulsifier of flavor oils plus an effective stabilizer of the resulting emulsions. It is often used in the preparation of baker's emulsions of citrus and other essential oils. Another major application is in the preparation of dry fixed-flavor powders, which are prepared by adding citrus oils and other fruit or imitation flavors to gum arabic solutions and spray drying the resulting emulsions. Some gum arabic is also used in the preparation of confectioneries and lozenges.

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