Arabic gum, also known as gum arabic or acacia gum, is a natural gum obtained from acacia trees.
This ingredient has been used in cooking and food preparation for thousands of years.
Arabic gum is a versatile ingredient that can be used to thicken, stabilize, emulsify, and add shine to foods.
What is Arabic Gum?
Arabic gum, also referred to as gum arabic or acacia gum, is a natural gum obtained as a hardened sap from two species of the acacia tree - Acacia senegal and Acacia seyal. The acacia trees grow across semi-arid regions of Africa, particularly Sudan.
The sap is tapped from the bark of the trees by making incisions. The liquid sap seeps out and rapidly hardens upon contact with air. The hardened droplets are collected and sorted based on color and size.
Arabic gum is over 50% dietary fiber, most of which is soluble fiber. It also contains small amounts of protein and minerals like calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Unlike other common kitchen gums like xanthan and guar, Arabic gum is not made in a lab. It is simply the dried sap from acacia trees. This makes it very appealing for clean label and natural products.
Arabic gum has been extensively used as an ingredient in Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine. It also has many industrial food applications as an additive.
The key properties that make Arabic gum useful in cooking include:
- Solubility in hot and cold liquids
- Viscosity and thickening power
- Film-forming ability
- High sheen
Culinary Properties and Functions
Arabic gum is a very versatile ingredient in cooking and baking. Here are some of its main culinary properties and functions:
One of the primary uses of Arabic gum is as a thickening agent. It has powerful thickening capabilities owing to its high solubility and viscosity.
To use it as a thickener:
- Blend gum powder with any hot or cold liquid
- Hydration happens rapidly
- Results in increased viscosity and thickness
It can thicken and add body to liquids including:
- Drink mixes
A small amount of gum goes a long way. Use sparingly at 0.5-2% by weight in most recipes.
Key Takeaway: Arabic gum is an excellent natural thickener for sauces, gravies, syrups due to its solubility and viscosity. Use sparingly at 0.5-2%.
Emulsifier and Stabilizer
Another important function of Arabic gum is as an emulsifier and stabilizer.
It is able to encapsulate small fat droplets suspended within an aqueous medium. This prevents the fat and water from separating, allowing stable emulsions.
Examples where it functions as an emulsifier:
- Vinaigrettes: Allows mixing of oil and vinegar into a homogeneous emulsion
- Ice creams: Prevents fat globules from clustering together, allowing smooth texture
It also helps stabilize foams like whipped cream by strengthening bubble walls.
Key Takeaway: Arabic gum encapsulates fat droplets, preventing separation of oil/water mixes. It also stabilizes foams like whipped cream.
Adds Sheen and Gloss
An interesting property of Arabic gum is that it adds a beautiful glossy sheen and shine to foods.
It has traditionally been used when making gingerbread to give it a lovely gloss finish.
You can take advantage of this useful trait by:
- Glazing breads with a simple acacia gum wash before baking. Gives glossy crust.
- Adding it in frostings and fondants for shine.
- Use it to make simple fruit glazes - boil fruit juice with gum powder to thicken and glaze tarts or pies.
Spraying acacia gum solution directly onto food works best compared to mixing into batter.
Key Takeaway: Apply Arabic gum solutions as washes over breads, fruit, and baked goods before cooking for glossy, glazed finishes.
As a highly soluble film-former, Arabic gum solutions can be used as edible food glazes.
To make a glaze:
- Dissolve gum powder in water, juice or liquor like wine or brandy
- Heat solution until properly thickened
- Brush over food surface
- Allows glazing without adding sugar!
It can be used to glaze:
- Fruits like berries
- Baked goods
Thick acacia glazes also help retain moisture in baked goods after cooking.
How to Use in Baking
Arabic gum has several useful applications in baking recipes:
- Crisping agent: Its high solubility allows it to spread readily and evenly over dough surfaces. This gives better moisture distribution = more uniform, crisper crusts.
- Bread: Brush bread loaf with acacia gum wash before baking. Gives beautiful browned, crisp crust with shine.
- Pie crusts: Even color, tender crispness.
- Dough strengthener: It reinforces stretchy doughs like pizza and acts as a strength enhancer like gluten. Improves dough machinability and oven spring.
- Shelf life extender: Being hygroscopic (moisture-attracting), it retains softness in baked goods by preventing starch retrogradation. Extends shelf life.
- Emulsifier: It enables stable integration of fat into doughs and batters. Important for laminated doughs like croissant and danishes where butter layers must not separate.
- Flavor encapsulator: It helps trap and retain volatile aromatics like vanillin and lemon oils within batter through the baking process. Prevents loss.
- Foam stabilizer: It strengthens walls of air bubbles in foam-leavened items like sponge cakes and soufflés. Prevents early collapse.
How to Use in Sauces and Dressings
Arabic gum is commonly added as an ingredient in commercial sauces and dressings. Here is how it helps:
Emulsification: It enables mixing and suspension of oil droplets within water-based liquids for uniform consistency.
- Salad dressings: Allows smooth integration of oil and vinegar without separation
- Mayonnaise and aioli: Encourages emulsion, prevents breaking
Thickening: It rapidly dissolves in liquids imparting viscous thickness at low concentrations of 1-2% weight. Ideal natural thickener.
- Gravies and meat sauces: Better cling to food, opaque appearance
- Syrups: Viscosity for topping pancakes, waffles
Sheen and clarity: It has the ability to improve the glossy appearance and limpidity of liquids.
- Fruit syrups: crystal clear, glassy shine
- Soy/fish sauce: Improves sheen
So it helps make creamy dressings, lustrous syrups and thick, clinging gravies.
How to Make Edible Glitter
One fun application of Arabic gum is to make edible glitter to decorate cakes, cookies and candy.
Here is an easy edible glitter recipe using gum powder:
- 1 cup white granulated sugar
- 1 tbsp Arabic gum powder
- Food colors of choice
- Vodka or lemon extract
- Blend sugar and gum powder together. Break down any lumps in sugar.
- Divide mix into separate small bowls by color.
- Add a few drops alcohol/extract per bowl. Just enough for clumping.
- Rub mix between palms to evenly distribute colors.
- Spread mixes thinly over baking sheet.
- Leave in warm spot for 12-24 hours till completely dry.
- Fluff up dried sugar mix and store in jar.
The gum powder helps clump the fine sugar grains together so they reflect light better. This gives glittery sparkle!
The edible glitter can directly decorate frostings, candy and more!
How to Candy Flowers and Fruits
You can make beautifully sparkling sugared violets, roses and fruits using Arabic gum solutions.
Candy flower method:
- Beat 1 egg white till foamy
- Mix in 1 tsp gum powder
- Dip flower into mix, shake off excess
- Toss in superfine sugar to heavily coat
- Tap off extra sugar
- Set on wax paper till crystallized
The gum powder helps the sugar stick firmly and evenly to the delicate petals.
You can follow the same egg white + gum dip method to make gorgeous candied citrus slices and berries too.
Everyday Arabic Gum Uses
Here are some easy ways to incorporate Arabic gum powder into everyday cooking:
- Add to smoothies or lemonade for thickness
- Mix into meat marinades for better binding
- Make garlic oil emulsion sauces like aioli or bearnaise
- Brush over meat/chicken skin before roasting for crispness
- Glaze fruit tarts and pies with gum-thickened fruit juices
- Use in salad dressings to integrate oil into vinegar
- Replace gelatin for vegetarian applications like Turkish delight
- Mix into cookie dough for chewiness
- Add to melted chocolate for enrobing fruits or making clusters without crystallization
With its versatility, naturalness and ease of use, Arabic gum can be a handy kitchen ingredient for both everyday and gourmet cooking.
Is Arabic gum gluten-free?
Yes, Arabic gum is a plant-based gum, not a grain. So it is naturally gluten-free.
Is Arabic gum vegan?
Yes, Arabic gum is vegan as it is harvested from acacia tree sap. There are no animal-derived ingredients.
Is Arabic gum keto-friendly?
Yes, Arabic gum powder contains no digestible carbs, only indigestible soluble fiber. This makes it keto-friendly.
What does Arabic gum taste like?
On its own, Arabic gum powder is tasteless and odorless. It takes on flavors from foods it is mixed into without contributing any taste of its own.
Is Arabic gum better than corn starch for thickening?
Yes! Arabic gum gives shear-thinning viscosity that recovers after cooling. So you get thick sauces that smoothly pour over food without clumping. It also has a clean flavor.
What is the difference between Arabic gum and xanthan gum?
Xanthan gum is made by bacterial fermentation. Arabic gum is natural tree sap. They have slightly different properties - Arabic gum is a better emulsifier while xanthan provides more viscosity at lower concentrations.
Arabic gum is clearly a versatile and useful ingredient for cooking applications ranging from everyday meals to gourmet desserts.
With its ability to thicken, emulsify, stabilize, encapsulate, glaze and more - all without impacting taste or nutrition, Arabic gum deserves a spot in both professional and home kitchens.
Its natural origin from sustainably wild-harvested African acacia trees also means it offers a clean label advantage over synthetic stabilizer options.