Acacia gum, otherwise known as food additive E414 or gum arabic, is grown on trees in dry, arid areas along the gum belt in Africa.
The gum is used by food and beverage manufacturers as a natural emulsifier, stabiliser, and fibre. Both colourless and odourless, E414 can extend products’ shelf life and improve mouthfeel.
The gum is produced through a process known as ‘tapping’, which involves removing a strip of bark from the African acacia tree to expose it to the arid climate. The tree then exudes gum, to protect it against moisture loss.
“The tapping happens when the tree starts losing its leaves,” Asiyla Gum and Ferlo Gomme manager Ibrahima Ka told FoodNavigator when we visited the plantation earlier this year.
“This means that the tree is stressed. It is the only being in the world that is productive when stressed, that’s amazing!”
Once collected, the gum is dried, classed and exported to Alland & Robert’s facilities in Normandy, France.
“Alland & Robert was created in 1884 by my great-great grandfather, therefore I am the fifth generation of CEO and owner of this company,” Alland & Robert CEO Frédéric Alland told this publication.
“There are three main applications, the most critical is for the emulsion in soft drinks,” said Alland.
“Secondly, in confectionery, it is very well known as a sugar-free chewing gum coating. And in flavours. But there are new applications, like fibres. All the organic foodstuffs are asking for organic vegetable products, and gum acacia is a pretty good candidate for that.”
The family-run company audits its suppliers every year to ensure complete traceability from gum nodule to downstream applications.
“We have the perfect traceability, meaning we can go up to the tree: the age of the tree, the quality of the soil, and the exact timing of the picking of the gum,” said Alland.
Watch the video to take a more detailed look at the production of gum acacia in Senegal.