E414: A Common Ingredient, an Uncommon Supply

The recent conflict in Sudan has highlighted an unusual and highly concentrated supply chain that could have far-reaching consequences for everyday products, from sweets and baking products to drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi.

From Coke to Ketch Up: The Unusual Supply Chain

Arabic Gum, also known as acacia gum, is a natural ingredient derived from the sap of the acacia tree. It is used as a stabilizer and thickening agent in a wide range of products, from confectionery to pharmaceuticals. Nearly 70% of the world’s supply of crude Arabic Gum comes from Sudan, making it a vital source of this essential ingredient.

Highly Concentrated Supply Chain

However, the market for Arabic Gum is highly concentrated, with just a handful of companies controlling the majority of the world’s supply. In fact, 50% of the world’s supply of crude Arabic Gum goes to just one company, Nexira, giving it an unparalleled level of control over the supply chain. This means that Nexira has more control over the supply of Acacia Gum than OPEC does over oil!

Moreover, the market is even more concentrated when it comes to processed Arabic Gum, with 75% of the world’s supply going to just two countries, France and India. This creates a highly vulnerable supply chain. The civil war in Sudan is now one of those factors.

The importance of Arabic Gum in everyday products cannot be overstated. Labelled as E414, it is present in thousands of products, from sweets and baking products to soft drinks like Coca-Cola and Pepsi. It helps to extend the shelf life of products and improves their texture and mouthfeel. Without Arabic Gum, many of these products simply would not be able to be produced.

The recent conflict in Sudan has highlighted the need for greater diversification in the supply chain for Arabic Gum. Companies that rely heavily on this ingredient may need to consider alternative sources or find ways to reduce their reliance on it. At the same time, efforts should be made to support sustainable and ethical production of Arabic Gum in Sudan and other parts of the world, to ensure a stable and reliable supply for years to come.

Alternative to Arabic Gum

As consumers, we may not give much thought to the ingredients that make up our favourite food and drinks. However, the issue in Sudan has highlighted the importance of exploring alternatives.

Luckily, there are several natural alternatives to Arabic Gum available, each with their own unique properties and advantages. Xanthan Gum, for example, is a popular alternative in the food industry, especially in gluten-free baking. It has excellent thickening and stabilizing properties, making it ideal for use in dressings, sauces, and dairy products.

Guar Gum is another natural alternative, derived from the endosperm of the guar bean. It is commonly used in bakery products, ice cream, and canned soups due to its excellent water-binding properties.

Carrageenan, a seaweed extract, is another option commonly used in dairy products to prevent separation and improve texture. Gellan Gum, a polysaccharide produced by the bacterium Sphingomonas elodea, is also a popular choice due to its excellent gelling and thickening properties.

Pectin, a natural polysaccharide found in fruits and vegetables, is another option commonly used as a gelling agent in jams, jellies, and fruit preparations.

Given  Sudan’s previous history this latest conflict may force supplies to look for alternatives and move away from Arabic Gum.  Sadly, this will impact the poorest the most and as farmers who depend on this for income will lose out.