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Acacia Gum – Nature’s Wondrous Gift

From edible glitter to anti-wrinkle creams – acacia gum can be found in all sorts of products. Even the ancient Egyptians used it as food, in medicines and in ink!


In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the many ways in which this valuable natural resource can be used.


Firstly, what exactly is acacia gum?


Acacia gum is a natural gum that comes from the hardened sap of acacia trees. It often goes by other names, like gum arabic, gum Sudani, Senegal gum and E414. It’s a fantastic source of soluble dietary fibre and is also often used as a thickener, emulsifier and binder. But more on that later.



How is acacia gum harvested?


Acacia gum is taken from the stems and branches of several different types of acacia trees. The best of these trees grow in Africa’s Sahel region, in countries like Chad, Senegal and Nigeria but mostly in Sudan. The local harvesting communities have developed all the knowledge and skills needed to extract gum from the acacia. The process is called Gumosis and starts with incisions being made in the branches or peel away the bark. A few weeks later, the gum then comes to the surface where it is collected. Acacia gum can only be harvested in the dry season (from November to May), as this is when the sap is released.

Once harvested, the gum is cleaned and sorted before being processed further such that it is available in different forms. Depending on how the end product will be used, the gum is either powdered or kibbled (broken down into small pieces).


Infographic of Acacia Gum Arabic harvest. Gummosis. Tapping and gum arabic extraction from acacia trees.

Gumosis - The tapping and harvest of acacia gum


So, what happens to acacia gum after it’s been processed?



The many uses of acacia gum


Acacia gum is unique in that it’s one of very few natural ingredients used in an incredibly wide range of industries. In fact, if you look around your home, you’ll probably find a whole bunch of products that contain it. Here are a few examples…


Food and drink

Open your fridge and cupboards, and there’s a high chance you’ve got something sitting on a shelf that contains acacia gum. It can be found in things like yoghurts and dairy products, sugar-free sweets, baked goods, soups, wines and sodas, including Coca-Cola.


Medicines

You might be surprised to learn that acacia gum is found in many everyday pharmaceutical products, like ibuprofen. Its versatility means it can act as an emulsifier, a tablet binder, or a stabilising agent.


Cosmetics

Acacia gum provides a lifting effect on the skin, making it a popular ingredient in anti-wrinkle creams. It’s also commonly used in makeup products, like lipsticks, eyeliners and mascaras, usually as a thickener or a stabiliser.


Arts and crafts

Watercolour paints and calligraphy inks often list acacia gum as a binding ingredient. In many cultures, the gum is also used in the creation of artwork, like Thangka – traditional painted silk – in China and Kinnala – wooden sculptures – in India.


Acacia Gum Arabic nodules and worker selecting raw gum lumps.

The sorting of raw acacia gum


The health benefits of acacia gum

Because of its high soluble fibre content, acacia gum comes with a whole host of health benefits. Let’s take a closer look at some of the key ones…

  • Improves heart health

Soluble fibre lowers cholesterol levels by reducing the absorption of cholesterol. This, in turn, reduces the risk of developing conditions such as heart disease.

  • Protects against diabetes

Fibre slows down the rate at which glucose is absorbed into the body. This leads to reduced insulin levels and lower levels of insulin resistance, which contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

  • Promotes gut health

Like any dietary fibre, acacia fibre is great for digestion – it adds bulk to your stool, which helps it to pass through your digestive system more easily. Not only that, but it also acts as fuel for the healthy bacteria that live in the gut, helping them to thrive. And gut health is really important for our overall health and well-being.


Perhaps one of the most significant and desired characteristics of acacia gum is that it is a slow fermenting indigestible fibre. This means it's less likely to cause the uncomfortable gas and bloating effects associated with other fibre sources.


This long list of health benefits – along with the fact that it’s tasteless and colourless when added to food and drinks – makes acacia gum a popular fibre supplement. In powder form, it can be easily stirred into things like soups and smoothies.


Dietary fibre deficiency is common and global problem. The best sources of fibre are foods where there is natural intrinsic fibre such as cereals, wholewheat and grains. However these are not on the top of all our favourite meals or the life style we follow. Fibre supplements and acacia gum in particular with its natural benefits is regarded as a favourite when it comes to bridging this fibre gap.

Infographic on the benefits of gum arabic as a dietary fibre source. Acacia gum arabic rich in fiber content to bridge the fibre gap.

Acacia gum and the promising potential to fill the fibre gap.



The future of acacia gum


In the last few years, global demand for acacia gum has increased massively as people look for natural ingredients in the foods, cosmetics and other products they buy. On top of that, it’s set to play a bigger part in the gluten-free, vegan and vegetarian food industries, as more and more consumers steer away from meat and animal-derived products.


Unlike many other natural resources, acacia gum is a sustainable product. Its production has significant economic benefits for the local communities in the Sahel region, and it also contributes to the planting of huge swathes of trees. If you’re interested in learning more, we’ve pulled together a separate article on the positive impact that acacia gum has on the environment.


There are a host of other factors that contribute to acacia gum’s growing popularity, too. It’s easy to handle and store, for starters. It also naturally has a long shelf life, some might argue that it does not expire if it is properly stored and sealed. Plus, it’s consistent in quality, making it a reliable ingredient.

As more and more investment goes into the production process, it’s anticipated that acacia gum will continue to go from strength to strength – and so should the communities that produce it.


Acacia Gum Arabic Acacia Senegal raw lumps in a palm

Acacia gum's beautiful amber nodules. A natural gift to your health, your food and more


The bottom line


Acacia gum has a long list of benefits – it’s good for our health, it’s versatile enough to be used in thousands of different products, and it’s entirely sustainable. All of this means it’s got a really bright future, so we can all expect to see and hear more about it in the years ahead.


By choosing products containing acacia gum, we can have a real positive impact on the communities that produce this vital natural resource. Lots of small choices can add up to a big change – we all have a part to play.


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