Locust bean gum plagued by low prices

By Jess Halliday

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Locust bean gum, Thickening agent

Low prices for locust bean gum could lead to future supply issues, says a hydrocolloids expert, as present returns on pods do not make the harvest worthwhile for growers.

Locust bean gum (LBG) – also known as carob gum – is derived from the plant seed of the ceratonia siligua​ tree. It is especially useful in certain processed foods, including bakery products, soups, pies and processed cheese, since it is insoluble up to a temperature of 82ºC, where its texturising and thickening properties kick in.

At the end of 2004 LBG prices were as high as $13 per lb (453g), due to low inventories and poor harvests; in 1995, they peaked higher still. But by the end of last year they were at $8.76 per lb, according to Dennis Seisun of IMR International – and he reckons they have now dropped to around $4.50-5.00 per lb.

“Prices are so low even the thieves aren't stealing the pods anymore,”​ Seisun told FoodNavigator.com at last week’s FiE trade show in Frankfurt. “The pricing has achieved what the police could not.”

The result is that it is not worthwhile for growers to harvest the pods, so stocks of the raw material are being diminished.

“At some point when demand picks up there will be a problem,”​ said Seisun, who is expecting “major price movement”.

Hydrocolloid pricing can lock buyers and sellers into a waiting game: the buyers are holding out for prices to drop, and the sellers for them to rise. Ultimately this battle of wills can drive a wedge between supply and demand, and create problems in the market later on.

Carrageenan, extracted from red seaweed, is another hydrocolloid Seisun is keeping a close eye on. Refined carrageenan prices have plummeted from over US$10 per lb (453g) at the end of 2008 but are now inching their way back up. Seisun says they are now hovering between $5.50 and $6 per lb, but although it is rising he is hopeful if will not reach sky-high levels.

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