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Gum Arabic: Facts, Properties, and Importance

Eman is a writer and engineer. She writes about natural resources and many other topics.

Acacia Tree

Gum Arabic: Long History & Great Important

Gum Arabic: Long History & Great Important

Gum Arabic is a mixture of sugar protein and multiple sugars. It is a source of the sugars arabinose and Ribose. Gum Arabic is harvested from wild trees commercially throughout the coast from Sudan, Senegal, and Mali to Somalia.

Acacia is thorny shrubs that prefer dry, sandy climates. Most of the acacia trees can be found in North Africa, especially in Sudan. It is also found to a lesser extent in Arabia, India, and Australia.

Gum Arabic comes from two types of trees: Acacia Senegal and Acacia Seyal. Acacia trees are among the tallest and fastest-growing trees in their habitat.

Acacia is a large genus of shrubs and trees in the subfamily Mimosoideae of the pea family Fabaceae. There are about 170 species of acacia that are native to Africa.

Sudan is the largest producer and exporter of Gum Arabic in the world.

The United States is the largest market for Gum Arabic and accounts for about 30% of its trade while Europe constitutes about 20%. The confectionery industry is the largest use of Gum Arabic in Europe, while in the United States it is widely used in the soft drink industry. Japan accounts for less than 10% of the global trade. There are new markets in India, China, and South Korea.

Acacia Tree, Ancient Egypt

Birds on an acacia tree, wall painting from Tomb of Khnumhotep III. He was an Ancient Egyptian high steward and vizier of the 12th Dynasty.

Birds on an acacia tree, wall painting from Tomb of Khnumhotep III. He was an Ancient Egyptian high steward and vizier of the 12th Dynasty.

A Brief History of Gum Arabic

In the Stone Age, acacia gum was used as a food in the desert and as a sticky substance in Africa, for at least 70,000 years.

In ancient Egypt, Gum Arabic was used in the preparation of inks, watercolors, and dyes. It was also a pigment binder for the paints used to make hieroglyphs. It was used to make mummy bandages adhere quickly. It was also used in the manufacture of cosmetics and food.

Since the fifties to the early nineties, Sudanese gum has been 80% of the global Gum Arabic trade. However, as a result of the fluctuation from year to year, the general deterioration in Sudanese gum exports, the effects of drought (mid-seventies and eighties), political instability, and weak marketing procedures that led to the emergence of other countries producing Gum Arabic such as Chad and Nigeria. As a result, Sudan’s share in the market has decreased over the past fifteen years globally to less than 50%.

Mali was one of the historical exporters of Gum Arabic, along with Senegal and Sudan, but the trade diminished in the second half of the twentieth century. Until the 1960s, Mali was producing more than 10,000 tons of raw Gum Arabic per year. But a combination of natural and political factors devastated the trade so that by 1992 Mali had exported only 32 tons of raw gum per year. From 1960 to the present day, Mali has lost 82% of its vegetation cover. Approximately 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) were lost between 2001 and 2018 due to several factors including forest fires and deforestation for fuel.

Chemical Structure of Gum Arabic

gum-arabic-its-properties-and-importance

The chemical composition of GA is complex. The backbone of Gum Arabic is possessed of 1,3-linked β-D-galactopyranosyl units. The side chains are composed of two to five 1,3-linked β-D-galactopyranosyl units, linked to the prime chain by 1,6-linkages. Both the prime and the side chains consist of α-L-arabinose furanose, α-L-rhamnopyranosyl, β-D-glucopyranosyl, and 4-O-methyl-β-D-glucopyranose units. Gum Arabic is made of high-molecular-weight polysaccharides and their magnesium, calcium, and potassium salts, which on hydrolysis; yield three main fractions of polysaccharides and proteins, including arabinogalactan, arabinogalactan protein, and glycoprotein.

Arabinogalactan protein is the most active component, and responsible for the emulsifying properties of GA.

Gum Arabic

gum-arabic-its-properties-and-importance

Gum Arabic Properties

  • The physical properties of GA may vary depending on tree origin, age, and climate.
  • Premium quality Gum Arabic is teardrop-shaped, round, orange-brown in color. After being crushed, the pieces have a vitreous appearance.
  • GA has high water solubility and relatively low viscosity compared to other gums.
  • Gum Arabic can be dissolved in water, forming a fluid solution with acidic properties (pH ~ 4.5). The resulting solution is colorless, tasteless, and does not easily interact with other chemical compounds.
  • The viscosity of GA solutions can be adjusted by adding acids or bases as they change the electrostatic charge on the macromolecule.
gum-arabic-its-properties-and-importance

Uses of Gum Arabic

  1. Gum Arabic is used in textiles, ceramics, lithography, cosmetics, paints, and the paper industry.
  2. GA is mainly used in confectionery, bakery, dairy, and beverages, and as a fine packaging agent.
  3. Senegal gum is widely used in food applications mainly due to its better emulsifying properties than seyal gum. Additionally, the solutions of A. senegal Gum are generally less colorful than A. seyal Gum. These characteristics explain the differences in the higher price of A. Senegal Gum compared to A. seyal in the international market.
  4. Gum Arabic is used in essential oils and cola oils for soft drinks.
  5. GA is used as a stabilizer in frozen products such as ice cream.

The Great Green Wall program: The Kloran Botanical Foundation Report

Gum Arabic Future

The increase in the cultivation of acacia trees is considered an increase in the production of Gum Arabic. Several projects have already been implemented to increase the cultivation of acacia trees.

Mali planted 1,250 hectares (3,090 acres) of Acacia Senegal in the Nara region, near Mauritania.

The agricultural financial company Déguessi Vert works with farmers and the Principal Agricultural Research Agency of Mali, along with the Institute for Rural Economy on the farm, which also aims to develop health infrastructure and schools in the villages participating in the Mali Acacia project. It is a program of 6,000 hectares (14,800 acres) of acacia trees in different areas of the country.

Malian authorities also see growing acacia as an opportunity to reduce deforestation as part of the African Union's Great Green Wall project. Mali is planning to plant thousands of hectares of acacia trees.

The Great Green Wall is a symbol of hope in the face of desertification. In 2007, the African Union launched this African-led initiative aimed at restoring degraded landscapes in Africa and transforming the lives of millions of people in one of the world's poorest regions, the Sahel. The project is 8,000 km long, spanning the entire width of the continent.

The Great Green Wall project will help create more than 4,970 miles of vegetation that will help bind soil, reduce erosion, conserve water, and slow desert encroachment. More than 80,000 palm trees have already been planted, and more than 45,000 hectares (110,000 acres) of the desert has been re-greened with various trees including Acacia Senegal and Acacia Seyal, according to the Klorane Botanical Foundation.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Eman Abdallah Kamel

Comments

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 16, 2020:

It is my pleasure, Peggy. Gum Arabic has a long history and great importance. I hope that the efforts made to revive it will succeed. I really appreciate your feedback and comment.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 16, 2020:

Thank you very much, Liza, for reading the article and your kind comment. I appreciate your visit.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on October 16, 2020:

I have noticed Gum Arabic on some ingredient lists, but had no idea of its wide applications in so many different industries. Your article was so informative. It is very encouraging to read about the effect of the Great Green Wall and the continuing project to plant thousands of additional trees each year.

Liza from USA on October 16, 2020:

Eman, always a pleasure reading your article. It's filled with information, and of course, history. Like Liz, I also aware of Gum Arabic on the ingredient list. Thanks for sharing the article, Eman.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 14, 2020:

It is my pleasure, Liz. Gum Arabic is like many natural resources whose production has begun to decrease for several reasons. It is really useful and interesting. I appreciate your visit and comment.

Liz Westwood from UK on October 14, 2020:

I have sometimes noticed gum arabic on ingredients list. You give a detailed and interesting explanation of it.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 14, 2020:

Thank you very much, Linda. I always appreciate your visit and comment.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on October 13, 2020:

Thank you for sharing so many details related to Gum Arabic, Eman. This is a very informative article.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 13, 2020:

Thanks, Ankita. Gum Arabic is very important. I appreciate your visit and comment.

Ankita B on October 13, 2020:

This was an interesting read. I didn't know about Gum Arabic before and its so many uses. Thank you for sharing this wonderful article.

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 13, 2020:

Thank you, Chrish, for reading the article and for the kind comment. I wish success for their plans and efforts too. I appreciate your visit.

Chrish Canosa from Manila Philippines on October 13, 2020:

I wish and pray for a successful outcome to all the plans and purposes they are doing, despite the fact that the natural calamities has been a huge challenge to deal with,they still moving forward keeping hope These are awesome people!!! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us Ms Eman. I hope you have a great day ;-)

Eman Abdallah Kamel (author) from Egypt on October 13, 2020:

Thank you very much, Lorna, for this comment. When I read about the history of Africa, this ancient continent and its many resources. My heart also breaks because of the loss of these resources or their lack of good exploitation. Despite the ideal exploitation of these resources, it will bring good not only to the people of the African continent but to the whole world. Because we all live in one community and one world, and what negatively affects one part of this world will affect the rest for sure. I always appreciate your visit.

Lorna Lamon on October 13, 2020:

I thoroughly enjoyed this interesting and informative article. I particularly enjoyed the historical facts and was delighted to read that the 'Great Green Wall' project and the planting of trees is underway. My heart breaks when I hear about the destruction of the Rain Forests and your welcome article gives me hope for the future. Thank you for sharing Eman.

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