What Could Be Wrong With…Gum Arabic

December 26, 2004

Gum Arabic

Gum Arabic, otherwise known as gum acacia, is used as a natural stabilizer in baking toppings and beverages. In its crude form, it is collected from cuts in acacia trees. These trees are indigenous to Sudan and other areas of sub-Saharan climate. The crude “tears” of gum arabic, as they are known, are sorted and shipped to producers in Europe and America. The tears, prior to further processing, are inherently kosher and pareve.

Gum arabic is most often presented to industry in a spray-dried form. Spray-drying is a process where a liquid material such as milk or liquid eggs, or a concentrated aqueous (water) solution of a solid material, such as gum arabic, is heated and passed through a nozzle atop a heated chamber. As the liquid sprays out of the nozzle, it dries, as it falls, into a powder of particles of uniform and desired size.

Therefore, if processed gum arabic is to be kosher, the equipment upon which it is processed must be kosher as well. Since spray-dryers have not been specifically designed to process gum arabic alone, we must be concerned that it could have been spray-dried on equipment used to process non-kosher or dairy materials. This concern is lessened by the industry’s tendency to devote equipment to like or identical products. Hence, in America, there are at least two facilities that spray-dry nothing but gum arabic. In Europe, there are reports of dedicated facilities, and of those that process whey and other dairy products on the same equipment. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that gum arabic could be processed on equipment used to process non-kosher materials within the prior 24 hours, although that concern seems to be small.

Based on the above analysis, the Orthodox Union requires reliable certification for gum arabic and gum acacia. An American source is not a guarantee of pareve status or of being kosher. The reason for this is that much of the gum arabic is imported from unidentified European sources and there are also other spray-drying options within America besides the two dedicated facilities mentioned previously.

Fortunately, of all the natural gums, only gum arabic is soluble (can be dissolved) enough in water to make spray-drying an economical and desirous option. Since almost all the water is evaporated by the spray-drying process, it is senseless to dissolve a gum that is only soluble to one part in twenty; 95% of the energy and capacity could be wasted. Therefore, if other gums are powdered, they are powdered by pulverization, a process free of kosher concern in application. Hence, all gum besides arabic are free of spray-drying concerns and are acceptable without certification, pursuant to a few considerations noted in the next paragraph.

Unlike, gum arabic and other natural gums, xanathan gum is fermented (derived from bacteria growing on base materials and nutrients). As such, it is subject to our concerns about the kashrus of the raw materials used in its fermentation. Hence it requires reliable certification.

One must also be aware that gums are often blended with other gums or ingredients.

In addition, agglomeration is slowly gaining popularity as a way to process gums. Agglomeration is a process that adds moisture to a powder, giving it certain desirable characteristics. It also involves heat, and presents similar problems to spray-drying. At present, only xanthan gum is agglomerated. But any Kosher professional should be alert and aware that agglomeration is expected to become a popular means of processing natural gums as well.