Field of Science

Stuff you never think about - Gum Arabic

You've probably never ever thought about gum arabic, so it was quite a surprise to TPP, who teaches about plant products like gum arabic, to find such a good article on the subject (The Guardian).  It's a bark exudate of an Acacia tree.  Plant gums do many things; some are elastic and are chewed, but the more important ones are emulsifiers.  They have several functions: they help ingredients blend together and stay blended, the help preserve flavor, and they help things adhere to each other.  You encounter them daily in various uses.  Gum arabic helps the printers ink stick to the pages of your newspaper.  And gum arabic is used in the formulation of sodas, including the big two: Coke & Pepsi.  Here's the problem: where does gum arabic come from?  A lot or even the majority of the world's supply is harvested from wild plants in the Sudan, and on an international level this vital commodity could be financing terrorism, assisting international arms deals, and promoting civil wars.  Yes, companies try to stay away from such things, but they still need their gum arabic.  To avoid any issues of who, what, when, or where, Coca-Cola Inc. buys purified gum acacia from European sources without any regard for where it came.  The classic, "Hey, who knew?" approach to what may be happening a couple of steps down the supply line.  Such is the problem with international commodities today.  It's not a simple buyer-seller enterprise, and it's hard to know who you may be financing with your purchase.  So good to see an article about this. 

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