Kenya Gum Arabic is a natural gum made up of the hardened sap of the acacia tree. The gum is harvested from wild acacia trees across the world but is native to Arabia and West Asia. The Arabic gum is a mixture of polysaccharides, mainly containing arabinose and galactose. It also contains glycoproteins.
The acacia tree is a small tree which grows up to 15 meters in height. The shortest variety of this tree grows to at least 7 meters. It is a low branching tree that is covered in prickles and has semi-thick stem whose diameter is about 1.3 meters. The amount of gum produced by each tree varies with season.
Gum Sudan generally has a rich array of uses; perhaps this is the reason why it is considered a highly lucrative plant. It is used in the making of fuel charcoal and ceramics among other uses which include;
Food: It is considered fit for human consumption and as such used in the food industry as a stabilizer. It is also used as a thickening agent in icings and fillings. It can also be used in the making of soft candy and chewing gum.
Pyrotechnics: the gum is also used in the making of fireworks. It is used as a water-soluble binder in the fireworks making process.
Art and painting: the gum is highly soluble in water and as such is used as a binder in paintings, especially watercolour painting. Water helps in transferring paint to the painting surface and also increases the luminosity of the paint film. The gum also slows down evaporation, thus allowing the painter more working time.
Photography: Acacia gum has been in use for a long time now. In the past, it was used in photography with ammonium and pigment to produce a coloured photographic emulsion.
The acacia trees, which produce the gum arabic, are highly resistant to drought and harsh climatic conditions. They are grown in the arid regions of Kenya and also grow naturally in the semi-arid areas. These trees produce most gum when it’s very dry.
During the dry season between June to October and December to March, these trees are in stress and therefore produce more gum than any other time of the year. Farmers in the areas benefit from selling the gum at this time, perhaps that’s why it is known as the desert gold.
Arabic gum in Kenya is sourced from two main varieties of the acacia tree. These are the acacia Senegal and the acacia seyal. The acacia Senegal produces the best quality gum in the world. About 90% of gum produced in Kenya and the world is from this tree.
Initially, no special processing and storage conditions were observed for this product. With its increased market value, specific processing, storage and packaging conditions have been put in place to make it market-ready. Gum is cleaned post-harvest to remove impurities such as bark and sand. It is then stored in clean containers with proper air circulation. It should also be kept away from heat.
Acacia gum is stored in waterproof paper bags with a polythene lining to prevent it from absorbing water and odour. The bags are then labelled with the country of origin, weight of product and manufacture and expiry dates.