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Dietary Gums are edible, sticky exudates derived from various plants. Dietary gums to be discussed in this section are: alginates, carrageenan, gum arabic, gum tragacanth, locust bean gum, and pectins. In-depth discussions of two other gums can be found under guar gum supplements, guar gum plant, and xanthan gum.

Algin is a polysaccharide, composed of D-mannuronic acid and L-guluronic acid, found in all brown seaweeds that grow along rocky shores. The principle source of the world's supply of algin is the giant kelp, Macrocystis pyrifera, found along the shores of the Western hemisphere, New Zealand, Australia and Africa.

Algin is found in kelp's cell walls as an insoluble mixed salt of alginic acid rich in calcium, magnesium, sodium and potassium. Alginate is widely used in industry and food processing due to its ability to thicken, stabilize, emulsify, suspend, form films and produce useful gels. Alginate is used in frozen desserts, dairy products, bakery products, salad dressings, sauces, processed foods, beverages and dessert gels.

These uses can be very beneficial to humans. For example, a sodium alginate and calcium chloride coating can be applied to freshly caught fish prior to quick-freezing. This coating protects the fish's skin from being oxidized by air, resulting in a longer shelf life.

Carrageenan is a water-soluble gum derived from certain species of red seaweed belonging to several families, including Gigartinaceae, Hypneaceae, Soliceriaceae and Phyllophoraceae.

Carrageenan is primarily used to gel, thicken, or stabilize manufactured food products. Carrageenan is most often used in milk products, including milkshakes, instant breakfast powders, custards and cooked flans, puddings, pie fillings, ice cream, sherbet, chocolate syrups, skim milk, chocolate milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese, evaporated milk, cow's milk, soy milk infant formulas, whipping creams, yogurt, frozen whipped toppings and imitation milks made from sodium caseinate and/or soy products.

Non-milk related products using carrageenans include relishes, fish gels, tomato sauces, meats (as binders), frozen soups and food sauces.

Gum Arabic
This gum is a polysaccharide and comes from the exudate of the acacia tree. More than 500 species of acacias abound around the world. However, most commercial gum arabic comes from the Acacia senegal growing in the sub-Sahara desert or Sahel zone of Africa.

Gum arabic is used by food processors to add viscosity, body and texture to food preparations. When gum arabic is added to food as an emulsifier, the fat remains uniformly distributed throughout a product, and is prevented from rising to the surface where it would be oxidized. It functions as a foam stabilizer in beer, creating the "lace curtain" effect on the side of a beer glass.

Gum arabic is used extensively in the confectionary industry because it prevents the crystallization of sugar. Hence, gum arabic is found in candy glazes, chewing gum, cough drops, jujubes, pastilles and candy lozenges.

Gum drops originally were made from gum arabic. Gum arabic is used as a stabilizer in frozen products (ice cream, sherbets and ice mixes) and in baked goods (bun glazes and toppings).

Gum Tragacanth
Gum tragacanth is a vegetable gum exuded by shrubs belonging to the genus Astragalus, grown in Asia Minor, Syria, Iran and Turkey.

It is used in baked goods, especially in citrus oil emulsions, frozen pie fillings and meringues. Sizeable quantities are used regular and low-calorie dressings and sauces.

In the confectionery industry, it acts as a binder in cough drops, lozenges, gum drops, jujubes and pastilles. In beverages, this gum keeps insoluble fruit solids suspended in soft drinks, juices, nectar, papaya juice, apple drinks and fruit punches.

Locust Bean Gum
Locust bean gum comes from the seeds of the carob tree Ceratonia siliqua growing extensively throughout the Mediterranean region.

Locust bean gum controls the consistency and spreading of soft cheeses. When added to ice cream, this gum prevents the formation of ice crystals that might impart a grainy texture, while also retarding the rate at which the product would melt. It is also used in a limited number of salad dressings and sauces.

Pectins are polysaccharides which are extracted from plant cell compartments. Pectins are primarily used in foods as gelling agents for acidic foods, as thickeners and protective colloidals.

Most of the world's pectin is used in the production of marmalades, jellies and jams. Jams spread easily, without running, because of the pectin content. The confectionery industry uses pectin in its aerated products.

In the dairy industry, super-pasteurized (long-life) cow's milk, cultured-milk drinks and milk-fruit juice drinks depend on the high-methoxyl pectins to stabilize the milk proteins, although low-methoxyl pectins are also used in gelled sour milk products. The use of the high-methoxyl pectin allows pasteurization of acidic milk products without curdling due to pectins' protective colloid effect. In the beverage industry, pectins stabilize juices and control gel formation, while helping to maintain viscosity.

Method of Action


Guar Gum Plant
Guar Gum Supplements
Xanthan Gum

Therapeutic Approaches

Information about: glucomannan, guar gum and xanthan gum's therapeutic benefits are found under those respective topic titles.

Other types include: karaya and gum arabic. Some gums have shown little if any therapeutic benefits. Research is continuing to search for additional potential therapeutic benefits of dietary gums. If such information becomes available it will be added to this section in the future.

Toxicity Factors

All edible gums have received extensive scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration and WHO/FAO review committees. The applications permitted for gum are described in the Food Chemicals Codex.

Dietary gums have been used extensively for long periods of time with few reports of carcinogenicity, fetoxicity or acute toxicity.

When reports of possible toxicity are filed, as for carrageenan in the early 1970's, intensive toxicological studies immediately are conducted to confirm the observations.

Dietary Alginates
Including ammonium alginate, calcium alginate, potassium alginate and sodium alginate, are all listed as safe food stabilizers and are generally recognized as safe (GRAS) under 21 CFR 182 of the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA).

Propylene glycol alginate is also GRAS and approved as a food additive under 21 CFR 172.858 for use as a stabilizer, emulsifier and thickener. All these alginates are approved as food emulsifiers and stabilizers by the FAO/WHO Joint Expert Committee.

Listed as a GRAS by the FDA. However, in the early 1970's, reports that it induced cecal and colonic ulceration in guinea pigs and rabbits prompted intensive investigation into carrageenan's safety. By 1976, food-grade carrageenan had been re-established as safe. Any fear carrageenan is ulcerogenic is without foundation since food-grade carrageenan can not be absorbed. Further, it is not carcinogenic.

Gum arabic
Listed as GRAS by the FDA. It is not carcinogenic and no data is available on its acute toxicology. Studies of pregnant mice have found no fetotoxic effects. Susceptible persons may develop allergic reaction to gum arabic.

Gum tragacanth
Listed as GRAS by the FDA. It is not carcinogenic, and in fact, has been shown to inhibit ascites tumors in mice. Susceptible persons may develop an allergic reaction to gum tragacanth.

Locust bean gum
Listed as GRAS by the FDA. No data is available on carcinogenicity or fetotoxicity.

Listed as GRAS by the FDA. No data is available on carcinogenicity or fetotoxicity.


Bungenberg de Long, H.G., E.G. Hoskam & B. van den Brandhof-Schlaegen, German. Proc K Ned Akad Wet. 1941. 44; 1104.

Cottrell, I.W. & P. Kovacs. Alginates. Handbook of Water-soluble Gums and Resins. R.L. Davidson. ed. McGraw-Hill Books. 1980, p. 2-25.

Frohberg, H., H. Oettel & H. Zeller. On the mechanism of the fetotoxic effects of tragacanth. Arch Toxicol. 1969. 25; 268-295.


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