Fiber content and a number of processing benefits in a variety of applications make acacia gum a popular hydrocolloid in the processed food and beverage industries. An unstable market, however, may make sourcing acacia gum, or gum Arabic, a headache for formulators.
"Gum acacia has unique properties that make it well-suited for use as an emulsifier in flavor emulsions for beverages and as a flavor fixative in spray-drying applications," said Martha Llaneras, senior technical services manager, food additives, North America, for International Specialty Products (ISP). "However, issues with supply and pricing for acacia gum have forced the industry to look for alternatives."
Results are coming in the forms of research and blends. Corn fiber gum replaced acacia gum in beverages in research reported by the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"The U.S. beverage industry uses hundreds of tons of high quality emulsifiers each year for stabilizing citrus oil flavor in soft drinks," the A.R.S. said. "The most commonly used emulsifier, gum Arabic, is an imported gum that is expensive and is often in short supply due to political and environmental issues in the African countries of origin."
To find an alternative, researchers extracted and purified corn fiber gum from a byproduct of corn processing. Studies showed the corn fiber gum’s performance to be equal to or better than acacia gum’s performance when used as an emulsifier.
"The U.S. food industry needs a domestically produced food gum with a dependable supply and consistent quality, which can be used for preparing oil-in-water emulsions, such as citrus oil emulsions for beverages," the A.R.S. said.
ISP, Wayne, N.J., offers functional systems based on Kelcoloid propylene glycol alginates and starches to serve as acacia alternatives in some flavored soft drink concentrates, Ms. Llaneras said.
Researchers in other countries have sought their own acacia alternatives. Work at the University of Mumbai in India focused on finding wall material for spraying and encapsulation when using cumin oleoresin. Microencapsulation of flavors in carrier matrices may prevent loss of volatile flavors and enhance stability of the flavor core materials, according to the researchers.
"Cost, limited supply and quality variations have restricted the use of gum Arabic for encapsulation purposes," the researchers said.
A blend of acacia gum, maltodextrin and modified starch performed better than acacia as wall material for encapsulation of cumin oleoresin, according to the studies in India.
Acacia gums offer various benefits, according to Colloides Naturels, Inc., Bridgewater, N.J. They may be used as texturing properties in confectionery, as a way to protect fat migration into the center of coated products, and as a way to delay crystallization of polyols. CNI’s Fibregum made from acacia gum modulates the beneficial intestinal flora, allows nutritional claims and improves food processes, according to CNI. Involved in gum sourcing in Africa for more than 100 years, CNI said it seeks to keep adequate supply of acacia gum by sourcing from several African countries.