Plant Gums


The term gum is commonly applied to water‐soluble, non‐starch polysaccharides of commerce. The plants from which plant gums are obtained are both higher land plants and red and brown marine algae/seaweeds. Those from higher land plants may be cell‐wall constituents, energy‐storing/carbon‐storing substances that can be extracted from plant tissues, or exudates from wounds in the bark. Plant and other gums are used in practical applications primarily to thicken or gel aqueous systems and to control water. They may also function as adhesives, crystallisation inhibitors, emulsifying agents, emulsion stabilisers, encapsulating agents, film formers, foam stabilisers, suspending agents, suspension stabilisers or syneresis inhibitors and impart other specific properties.

Key Concepts:

  • Water‐soluble, non‐starch polysaccharides from plants and other sources are generally referred to as gums when used commercially.

  • Certain hydrophobic substances, such as chicle and resinous saps, are also called gums.

  • Plant gums do not have common functional roles in the plants from which they are obtained.

  • Each of the multitude of plant gums is unique in terms of chemical structure and physical properties.

  • Some plant gums find applications in aqueous systems for a variety of purposes, among which are as thickening, gel‐forming and water‐holding agents and emulsion and suspension stabilisers.

Keywords: hydrocolloids; gums; polysaccharides

Figure 1.

Primary monomer unit of a pectin molecule.

Figure 2.

Monomer units of alginates: βManpA, β‐d‐mannopyranosyluronate unit; αLGulpA, α‐l‐gulopyranosyluronate unit.

Figure 3.

Idealised repeating disaccharide unit structures of κ‐ and ι‐type carrageenans and furcellaran. In λ‐type carrageenans, the right‐hand unit is an α‐d‐galactopyranosyl unit, that is, a unit without the 3,6‐anhydro ring.

Figure 4.

Idealised repeating trisaccharide unit structure of guaran. Guaran actually has a slightly higher d‐galactosyl side unit content and the branched units are randomly distributed. Tara gum has fewer branched units and locust bean gum even fewer.



Barlow FW (1989) Rubber, gutta, and chicle. In: Rowe JW (ed.) Natural Products of Woody Plants II, pp. 1048–1050. Berlin, Germany: Springer‐Verlag.

BeMiller JN (2007) Carbohydrate Chemistry for Food Scientists. St Paul, MN: AACC International.

Black WAP and Dewar ET (1973) Laminaran. In: Whistler RL and BeMiller JN (eds) Industrial Gums, 2nd edn, pp. 137–145. New York, NY: Academic Press.

Nussinovitch A (2009) Plant Gum Exudates of the World: Sources, Distribution, Properties, and Applications. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Phillips GO and Williams PA (eds) (2009) Handbook of Hydrocolloids, 2nd edn. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing.

Whistler RL and BeMiller JN (eds) (1993) Industrial Gums, 3rd edn. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Further Reading

BeMiller JN (1999) Structure–property correlations of non‐starch food polysaccharides. Macromolecular Symposia 140: 1–15.

BeMiller JN (2000) Classification, structure, and chemistry of polysaccharides in foods. In: Cho SS and Dreher M (eds) Handbook of Dietary Fiber and Functional Foods, pp. 603–611. New York, NY: Marcel Dekker.

Glicksman M (ed.) (1982, 1983, 1986) Food Hydrocolloids, vols 1, 2, 3. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.

Lewis JG, Stanley NF and Guist GG (1988) Commercial production and applications of algal hydrocolloids. In: Lembi CA and Walland JR (eds) Algae and Human Affairs, pp. 205–236. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Painter TJ (1983) Algal polysaccharides. In: Aspinall GO (ed.) The Polysaccharides, vol. 2, pp. 195–285. New York, NY: Academic Press.

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BeMiller, James N(Sep 2014) Plant Gums. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0000698.pub2]