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Whether part of trends like clean label, clear label, or ingredient transparency, a growing number of consumers are reading food labels and asking about the ingredients inside. Names like gum arabic, xanthan gum, or locust bean gum may not be familiar to consumers who may then search for information online or in popular media; unfortunately, the information they find maybe inaccurate or misleading. Our Basics of Food Gums video series seeks to demystify this class of common food ingredients. Subscribe to the series

Videos in the Basics of Food Gums Series

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PATRICK: Hello everyone and welcome to the Basics of Food Gums. I’m Matt Patrick and this is Maureen Akins and we are going to be your guides through this exploration of a seldom recognized but highly useful food ingredient: Hydrocolloids or Food Gums.

AKINS: So do you ever wonder why you find an ingredient like Guar Gum or Xanthan Gum on your food label? That’s the kind of question we’re going to tackle in this video.

AKINS: With any topic of discussion, we have to start with some sort of foundation. So here’s a little background on food gums before we dive deeper.

PATRICK: Gums are sourced from all over the world. US, Spain, Italy, Chile, Africa, Japan, just to name a few. In Food Science, gums belong to the Hydrocolloids category, along with other ingredients like proteins and starches. The name Hydrocolloid originates from the Greek “hydro”, meaning water, and “colloid”, meaning glue-like; having the ability to form a glue-like characteristic in water.

AKINS: If you want to get really technical, it’s a homogeneous, non-crystalline substance consisting of large molecules or microscopic particles of one substance dispersed through a second substance. We could spend hours covering this in much more detail and put a considerable amount of us to sleep so we’ll leave it at that for now.

PATRICK: There are many benefits to using Hydrocolloids in food. They provide stability, viscosity, texture and even fiber to the products that incorporate them. Additionally, they’re used to create gels, films, and in many cases are used as an emulsifier, which is a technical way of expressing the ability to bind “unmixable” substances together; like oil and water for example. Another benefit provided by hydrocolloids is viscosity, which some refer to as “thickness” or how “thick” a product is. But that’s just one of many benefits.


AKINS: To thoroughly understand the properties of different hydrocolloids, we break them out into different categories. In this video, the gum source category that we’ll be covering is Tree Saps, also referred to as Plant Exudates. All the gums in this category derive from exudations, also known as “sap” from plants and trees, for example, what you see when they harvest maple syrup.

AKINS: Gums included in this category are Gum Arabic, Karaya, Tragacanth and Ghatti; the most popular being Gum Arabic. These gums are hardened sap collections that exude from the plant or tree. Incisions, hole drilling or natural exudation are the traditional ways of accessing this gum. This is referred to as “tapping”. Once the gum has exuded or leaked out, it dries and is gathered by harvesters, also known as “tappers”, for sale and distribution.

PATRICK: As we mentioned, Gum Arabic is by far the most commercially popular gum in this category. Gum Arabic, in some cases is referred to as Gum Acacia or Acacia Gum because it comes from the Acacia tree. These terms are used interchangeably, but we’ll stick with Gum Arabic for this video. To collect this gum, commercially available grades of Gum Arabic are only harvested in central Africa where the trees exist in their natural environment. The first known use of Gum Arabic can be traced back to ancient Egypt where the gum was used during mummification so it’s been around for quite some time.

AKINS: Gum Arabic is utilized worldwide in a multitude of ways. It’s used in everything from beverage emulsions and confections to functional dietary fiber. Gum Arabic is even utilized in common everyday food and beverages like granola bars and soft drinks. Gum Arabic is used as an emulsifier, binding the oil and water ingredients together keeping the emulsion stable throughout the shelf-life of the beverage. It’s also used in food to impart specific characteristics like texture. So don’t be afraid if you come across Gum Arabic on a label somewhere. It may just be what’s giving your food that unique texture.

PATRICK: Hopefully in this video we’ve given you a decent introduction to the world of Food Gums, I know it was a lot to take in.

AKINS: If there’s more learning you’d like to do on food gums, then check out this book by Andrew Hoefler called “Hydrocolloids”. It may be a bit technical at times, but it’s a great overview of common hydrocolloids. Also, there are some online journals you can reference and again, they can get technical but don’t let that slow you down.

PATRICK: Again, we hope you found this video helpful and hope presented a new perspective for you into the world of Food Science. Thanks for watching.

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