Field of Science

Gumming up the works

There are lots of plant products that you have almost daily contact with of which you are largely unaware, and one of these is plant gums used mostly as thickeners and emulsifiers.  So unless you are the curious sort who reads all of those labels and wonders what some of those things are you probably don't know much about plant gums.  Now in this particular case the gums in question are not the elastic latexes that are, or were, the stuff of chewing gum.  One very interesting plant gum has gone from obscure to valuable, and if you had told the Phactor that guar gum (cluster bean) was suddenly a hot commodity and in high demand, the plant would have been familiar, but no clue why guar was suddenly important.  The reason is fracking.  Guar gum helps water flow and generates a precise viscosity, so a minor agricultural commodity is in demand by the fracking gas/oil industry.  Not much guar is grown in the USA, but it can grow in pretty hot, dry areas, so farmers in India are suddenly finding their crop worth more than ever before.  Good for them.  And this is one of those crazy connections between world events and some plant commodity that pop up every now and again pushing some obscure plant to the forefront, for awhile.  HT to the Agricultural Biodiversity blog.

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