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Acacia senegal (gum arabic)

Gum arabic has been used for at least 4,000 years in the preparation of food, in human and veterinary medicine, in crafts and as a cosmetic.
Acacia senegal

Prickly branches with leaves and brush-like inflorescences. Part of a plate from Guillemin, J.B.A: Icones lithographicae plantarum australasiae rariorum (1832)

Species information

Scientific name: 

Acacia senegal (L.) Willd.

Common name: 

gum arabic (more common names listed below)

Conservation status: 

None of the four varieties of this species are threatened. Least Concern according to IUCN Red List criteria.

Habitat: 

Dry savanna (grassland) and Sahel (desert edge), scattered, often in thickets, and sometimes in extensive pure stands.

Key Uses: 

Food, medicinal, crafts, cosmetics.

Known hazards: 

None. Acacia senegal produces the only acacia gum evaluated toxicologically as a safe food additive.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Rosanae
Order: 
Fabales
Family: 
Leguminosae/Fabaceae - Mimosoideae
Genus: Acacia

About this species

Gum arabic is harvested from Acacia senegal because it has superior properties over other 'acacias', and hence it is this gum that has dominated international trade. Currently the biggest markets for A. senegal gum are the European Union, North America (mainly the USA) and the Indian Subcontinent (mainly India). The UK imported 1,253 tonnes in 1998. Sudan, Nigeria and Chad are the three biggest sources of this gum.

Gum arabic is traded in large quantities, and is grouped into three grades. Grade 1 (the best) is in large, round or worm-shaped pieces and is white/pale or brownish yellow. Grade 2 gum is in rounded, worm-shaped or branched pieces, and is smaller in size and generally darker in colour than the top quality. The poorest grade gum (Grade 3) is in the form of small brown grains.

Synonym: 

Senegalia senegal

Genus: 
Acacia

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