FDA plans to approve gum arabic as dietary fiber

Dive Brief:

  • The FDA plans to approve acacia, or gum arabic, as a dietary fiber, the agency said in response to a citizen petition submitted by Nexira, Alland & Robert and Importers Service Corporation.
  • In announcing its intention to approve gum arabic, the FDA said the ingredient has positive effects on human health, such as the reduction of blood glucose and insulin levels, after it is eaten with a meal containing a carbohydrate that raises blood glucose levels. When FDA adds gum arabic to this list, the ingredient can be included in dietary fiber levels calculated on Nutrition Facts labels.
  • An earlier request from the same companies, which looked to obtain approval citing gum arabic’s positive effects on energy intake and satiety, was rejected in early 2020.

Dive Insight:

Food and beverage companies are increasingly using gum arabic for a host of uses, including as an emulsifier in plant-based beverages, to create a hard shell around candy or adding volume by mimicking the texture of sugar in a product when the sweetener is removed.

The ingredient also is natural, sustainable and allows CPGs to move closer to creating a clean label —  each of these trends that are playing a bigger role in food consumption. Food developers also enjoy working with gum arabic because it’s resistant to shifts in pH, can be used in a lot of different formulations and withstands changes in temperatures during processes like pasteurization.

“We are extremely satisfied that the FDA agrees with us that acacia gum is a fiber and can be labelled as such,” Frédéric Alland, CEO of France-based natural gum supplier Alland & Robert, said in a statement. He described it as “great news for the American consumers.”

The wide range of applications and benefits of gum arabic has rapidly increased its use in food products. These include brands such as M&M’s, Gatorade, Starburst jelly beans and chewing gum, with more applications on the way. Persistence Market Research estimates that by the end of 2025, more than 165 thousand tons of gum arabic will be consumed in the world, valued at $476.1 million.

“It’s really a workhorse,” Derek Holthaus, then-senior principal scientist at Ingredion, told Food Dive last year. “It does just about everything other than add viscosity.”

Now, the possibility of including gum arabic in the FDA’s definition of dietary fiber could give this versatile ingredient yet another positive attribute that would almost assuredly increase demand among consumers and food manufacturers. As shoppers place a growing importance on health and wellness, a trend that has picked up momentum during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, ingredients like this one are perfectly positioned to benefit.

Research shows dietary fiber can provide numerous health benefits, such as limiting blood glucose and potentially preventing Type 2 diabetes, colon cancer and heart disease. However, most consumers don’t get the minimum daily 28 grams recommended. Average consumption is about half that — 15 grams a day.

“Based on our consideration of the scientific evidence and other information submitted with the petition, and other pertinent scientific evidence and information, we conclude that the strength of the evidence shows that gum acacia has a physiological effect that is beneficial to human health,” the FDA said in its letter dated Dec. 17.

Gum arabic is found in Africa, predominantly in the countries of Chad, Senegal, Ethiopia and Sudan. The gum is extracted from the acacia tree by scoring its bark, which allows the substance to ooze out. Farmers then collect the exudates that have hardened on the outside of the tree.

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