Today we’re going to be covering gum Arabic, or Acacia gum is a common ingredient in processed foods these days. A lot of vegans run across the additive when scanning labels and want to know if it’s suitable for 100% plant-based eaters. Btw, it also goes by other names such as gum sudani, Senegal gum, and Indian gum, to name a few.1
Is it vegan? Yes, gum Arabic, or Acacia gum, is 100% vegan-friendly. It’s an all-natural gum composed of the hardened sap of several species of the Acacia tree. It’s a complex mixture of various substances (glycoproteins and polysaccharides, etc.) all of which are 100% plant-based.2
What we’ll do here is go over the various reasons gum Arabic is considered vegan, along with both vegan and non-vegan applications of the ingredient. Also, because they’re synonyms, we’ll be using Acacia gum and gum Arabic interchangeably.
Why Gum Arabic Is Considered Vegan
Gum Arabic is made up of numerous compounds, several of which can be found in both plants and animals. But, since it’s sourced from tree sap, it’s always plant-based and thus vegan.
It’s usually collected from Acacia species, mostly Vachellia (Acacia) seyal, and Acacia senega.3
Though occasionally “gum Arabic” can originate from Albizia, Combretum or some other genus.1
Commercially, the gum is harvested from wild trees, mostly (about 80% of the time) in Sudan and throughout from Senegal to Somalia, as well as Arabia and West Asia.
It is mostly made up of galactose, arabinose, and arabino-galactan-protein complex (AGP). Other compounds include glucuronic acid and rhamnose.4
Galacturonic acid is a sugar acid that contains galactose. So, there’s lots of galactose going on.
Galactose is a simple sugar that kind of gets a bad reputation in the vegan community because it is part of lactose, the simple sugar found in milk—lactose is composed of one glucose bound to one galactose (two monosaccharides).
Free galactose is rarely found in nature. It’s usually in milk bound to glucose or present as part of substances like pectin in fruits and vegetables.5
So, if you hear that gum Arabic contains galactose, don’t let it scare you.
Gum Arabic in Vegan Foods
Gum Arabic is just one of several gums derived from plants, with other examples being carob bean gum, algin, carrageenan, guar gum, locust bean, gum karaya, and gum tragacanth.6
Vegan Ice Cream and Other Desserts
These compounds have the ability to absorb water swelling up to a size that’s several times the original volume. This increases the viscosity of the foods they’re added to, which is just a fancy way of saying it makes food products thicker. I.e. if something has a high viscosity, it would pour out of a container slowly.
For this reason (among others), gum Arabic is a favorite additive for use in vegan ice creams. Another function, is that it help prevent ice crystal formation. It’s also used in non-vegan ice cream for the same reasons (more on that below).
Vegan-Friendly Candy (Coatings, Gum Drops, Etc.)
It doesn’t bother me that worms aren’t considered vegan, but I’d be disappointed if all gummy worms were off-limits. Luckily, this isn’t the case.
Gum Arabic is actually called a “gummy exudate” of Acacia plants.7
So, it’s no wonder that the substance is a favorite of the food industry for making gummy products.
It is a common thickener, so it makes for a good texturizer when making confections.7
This is great because it takes the place of common animal-derived ingredients like gelatin and egg albumin. So you know, gelatin is an animal-derived protein obtained by boiling and simmering animal tissues (from skin to bone and hooves) in water.
Thanks to food scientists, several plant-based ingredients have displaced some of the gelatin used in recent times.
Of course, it’s used in countless food products, but this will give you an idea.
Non-Vegan Applications of Gum Arabic
Just because a compound is vegan in itself, doesn’t mean that every application of the substance is suitable for 100% plant-based eaters.
Gum Arabic is one such substance. It’s a flavor stabilizer, emulsifier, film former, and a common additive in beverages (mostly to help improve mouthfeel).4
Because it has so many uses, you’ll encounter the ingredient on food labels for a wide range of products, both vegan and non-vegan.
It’s particularly common in candy coating, icing, ice creams (non-vegan), and beverages.4
If you’ve had homemade ice cream prior to becoming vegan, you probably notice that it has less body than store-bought ice cream. To get the extra body, manufacturers use gelatin, or plant-based gums like gum Acacia as well as CMC (cellulose gum), guar, carrageenan, agar agar, alginate, karaya, furcellaran, tragacanth, locust bean, and xanthan.8
Gelatin and plant gums contribute to body which helps the ice cream resist melting, and ice crystal formation.9
When ice cream is stored for long periods of time, the opening and shutting doors causes ice crystals to form due to temperature fluctuations. When gum Arabic is used, the newly melted water binds to the gum which keeps it from attaching to existing ice crystals preventing the growth of crystals over time.10
It also saves manufacturers costs in purchasing dairy creams, because it reduces the amount of cream needed to maintain a smooth body.11
That’s it for the vegan status of gum Arabic. Thanks for reading.
You may also want to check out the following related articles:
- Mortensen, et al. (2017). “Re‐evaluation of Acacia gum (E 414) as a food additive”. EFSA Journal. 15 (4). ISSN 1831-4732. https://efsa.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.2903/j.efsa.2017.4741
- Gum Arabic. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gum_arabic
- Acacia senegal (L.) Willd. Kew Science. http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:471439-1
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 45). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 40). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 271). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page F-2). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1
- Whistler RL, and JN BeMiller. Carbohydrate Chemistry for Food Scientists. Eagen Press, 1997.
- Martin DR, et al. Diffusion of aqueous sugar solutions as aff ected by locust bean gum studied by NMR. Journal of Food Science 64(1):46–69, 1999.
- Sutton RL, and J Wilcox. Recrystallization in model ice cream solutions as aff ected by stabilizer concentration. Journal of Food Science 63(1): 9–11, 1998.
- Understanding Food: Principles and Preparation (Page 540). Amy Brown – Wadsworth Cengage Learning – 2011. ISBN-10: 0-538-73498-1