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The Acacia Tree's Gum Arabic

Acacia trees (Acacia senegal; Fabaceae) are found in semi-arid areas, including India, the Americas, and Australia; however, the largest concentration of the trees is in Africa.1 The trees provide vital nutrients to the soil, help keep the desert at bay, and are used as fuel and animal fodder. They also exude a gum (gum arabic) that has been in known use since 3000 BCE as a binder for pigments, inks, and cosmetics, paint adhesive, and as part of the flaxen wrappings in the mummification process. To produce the gum, trees are cut (tapped) causing the trees to produce a wound-healing, aqueous substance that helps the tree prevent infection and keeps it hydrated. The substance hardens when it contacts air and sun forming amber-like chunks. Contemporary uses of gum arabic include many of the ancient ones, as a binder in art supplies and cosmetics, as well as more modern uses such as an emulsifier in soft drinks and as a binder, adhesive, and emulsifier for the pharmaceutical industry.1 The gold industry also utilizes the gum to stabilize the metal's nanoparticles.2

While commercial gum arabic production is spread over several Africa countries, the majority and highest quality gum is produced in Sudan.1 The Multi-Donor Trust Fund-National has provided funding for over 12,000 people with the the Revitalizing the Sudan Gum Arabic Production and Marketing Project.3 The program was designed to help small scale gum arabic producers learn harvesting techniques, offers agroforestry training, and provides microloans. One-fourth of the beneficiaries have been women. The program has increased the quality of life by allowing villages to access more efficient water supplies and medical treatments.3

However, in May 2013, over 60 people were killed and several were injured in tribal territorial disputes in Sudan's Darfur region.4 Tribes have been smuggling the gum to Chad to be sold for hard currency. The Bani Halba tribe has been accused of trying to seize the land of the Gimir tribe which claims to have lived on the land for over 300 years. The Gamir tribe has also indicted the government as part of the attack.4

If traditional medicinal uses such as dental care,5 and possible benefits, which include anti-cancer and antioxidant properties, lower cholesterol, dietary fiber, and weight loss6 (See HC 021334-475) are and continue to be verified, demand for gum arabic may continue to increase.


1Verbeken D, Dierckx S,·Dewettinck K. Exudate gums: occurrence, production, and applications. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 2003 63:10-21.

2Kattumuri V, Katti K, Bhaskaran S, et al. Gum arabic as a phytochemical construct for the stabilization of gold nanoparticles: in vivo pharmacokinetics and X-ray-contrast-imaging studies. Small. 2007;3(2):333-341.

3World Bank. Gum Arabic: Sudan's Hot Commodity. The World Bank. April 4, 2013; Available at: Accessed June 18, 2013.

4Abdelaziz K. Darfur Tribes Clash over Gum Arabic Production, 64 Killed. Reuters. May 30, 2013. Available at: Accessed June 18, 2013.

5Conway P. Tree Medicine. A Comprehensive Guide to the Healing Power of Over 170 Trees. London: Piatkus; 2001.

6Babiker R, Merghani TH, Elmusharaf K, Badi RM, Lang F, Saeed AM. Effects of gum arabic ingestion on body mass index and body fat percentage in healthy adult females: two-arm randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial. Nutr J. 2012;11:111. Doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-11-111.

Lori Glenn,  Managing Editor