I don’t have a fanfic to post today, on Fanfic Friday, so instead I’m going to finally give you the second installment of Why Is That In There? – this time looking at gum arabic!
As a traditional nerd, I am quite fond of Mountain Dew, and one of the ingredients puzzled me for a while. Why is there gum arabic in it? Gum arabic is actually found in a lot of soft drinks — and even in some hard ones, specifically wine. It’s also found in a lot of candies and pastes and frostings. Less surprisingly, it’s also found in chewing gum.
I first was exposed to gum arabic as a thing through art class. It’s used in a lot of paints, and I know it’s a natural glue. So why is it in drinks?
Well, a little thought maybe could have given me the answer, but I went and googled it instead. Its gummy nature means it makes an excellent emulsifier and an excellent thickener. This is actually also what it’s doing in paint — it helps the pigment mix with the solvent, allowing it to spread evenly through the paint, which is particularly important with water-based paints. So in Mountain Dew and other soft drinks, it helps the pigment, the flavors, the caffeine, and the sugar remain evenly distributed without separation, which is why you don’t have to shake it before you drink it — which, since it’s also carbonated, is a very good thing. 😉 In wine, it serves as slightly different purpose — it tends to bond with the particles that would precipitate out of the wine to create an unpleasant sediment (which is mostly dead yeast) at the bottom of the bottle. If added to the barrel, it will help the sediments come out much more quickly, so they can be captured and removed when bottling the wine. It is less common today than it was in the past, as more consistent materials are now available. (Maybe one of these days I’ll write about isinglass, which is a rather surprising ingredient when you first learn what it is.)
Oh, and why is it called gum arabic, you might wonder? Well, it comes from the sap of a couple of species of acacia trees, mostly ones found in the Sahel, a semiarid region south of the Sahara, but they’re also cultivated widely in Saudi Arabia, which is where Europeans first encountered it. It’s a completely natural, biodegradable, and edible adhesive and emulsifier that has been used since ancient times.