Gum - Encyclopedia

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GUM (Fr. gomme, Lat. gommi, Gr. Koµ,uc, possibly a Coptic word; distinguish "gum," the fleshy covering of the base of a tooth, in 0. Eng. goma, palate, cf. Ger. Gaumen, roof of the mouth; the ultimate origin is probably the root gha, to open wide, seen in Gr. Xaivav, to gape, cf. "yawn"), the generic name given to a group of amorphous carbo-hydrates of the general formula (C6H1005)n, which exist in the juices of almost all plants, and also occur as exudations from stems, branches and fruits of plants. They are entirely soluble or soften in water, and form with it a thick glutinous liquid or mucilage. They yield mucic and oxalic acids when treated with nitric acid. In structure the gums are quite amorphous, being neither organized like starch nor crystallized like sugar. They are odourless and tasteless, and some yield clear aqueous solutions - the real gums - while others swell up and will not percolate filter paper - the vegetable mucilages. The acacias and the Rosaceae yield their gums most abundantly when sickly and in an abnormal state, caused by a fulness of sap in the young tissues, whereby the new cells are softened and finally disorganized; the cavities thus formed fill with liquid, which exudes, dries and constitutes the gum.

Gum arabic may be taken as the type of the gums entirely soluble in water. Another variety, obtained from the Prosopis dulcis, a leguminous plant, is called gum mesquite or mezquite; it comes from western Texas and Mexico, and is yellowish in colour, very brittle and quite soluble in water.

Gum arabic occurs in pieces of varying size, and some kinds are full of minute cracks. The specific gravity of Turkey picked gum (the purest variety) is 1.487, or, when dried at ioo° C., 1.525. It is soluble in water to an indefinite extent; boiled with dilute sulphuric acid it is converted into the sugar galactose. Moderately strong nitric acid changes it into mucic, saccharic, tartaric and oxalic acids. Under the influence of yeast it does not enter into the alcoholic fermentation, but M. P. E. Berthelot, by digesting with chalk and cheese, obtained from it 12% of its weight of alcohol, along with calcium lactate, but no appreciable quantity of sugar. Gum arabic may be regarded as a potassium and calcium salt of gummic or arabic acid. T. Graham (Chemical and Physical Researches) recommended dialysis as the best mode of preparing gummic acid, and stated that the power of gum to penetrate the parchment septum is 400 times less than that of sodium chloride, and, further, that by mixing the gum with substances of the crystalloid class the diffusibility is lowered, and may be even reduced to nothing. The mucilage must be acidulated with hydrochloric acid before dialysing, to set free the gummic acid. By adding alcohol to the solution, the acid is precipitated as a white amorphous mass, which becomes glassy at ioo°. Its formula is (C6H1005)2H20, and it forms compounds with nearly all bases which are easily soluble in water. Gummic acid reddens litmus, its reaction being about equal to carbonic acid. When solutions of gum arabic and gelatin are mixed, oily drops of a compound of the two are precipitated, which on standing form a nearly colourless jelly, melting at 25° C., or by the heat of the hand. This substance can be washed without decomposition. Gummic acid is soluble in water; when well dried at ioo° C., it becomes transformed into metagummic acid, which is insoluble, but swells up in water like gum tragacanth.

Gum arabic, when heated to 150° C. with two parts of acetic anhydride, swells up to a mass which, when washed with boiling water, and then with alcohol, gives a white amorphous insoluble powder called acetyl arabin C 6 H $ (C 2 H 3 O) 2 O 5. It is saponified by alkalies, with reproduction of soluble gum. Gum arabic is not precipitated from solution by alum, stannous chloride, sulphate or nitrate of copper, or neutral lead acetate; with basic lead acetate it forms a white jelly, with ferric chloride it yields a stiff clear gelatinoid mass, and its solutions are also precipitated by borax.

The finer varieties are used as an emollient and demulcent in medicine, and in the manufacture of confectionery; the commoner qualities are used as an adhesive paste, for giving lustre to crape, silk, &c., in cloth finishing to stiffen the fibres, and in calico-printing. For labels, &c., it is usual to mix sugar or glycerin with it to prevent it from cracking.

Gum senegal, a variety of gum arabic produced by Acacia Verek, occurs in pieces generally rounded, of the size of a pigeon's egg, and of a reddish or yellow colour, and specific gravity 1.436. It gives with water a somewhat stronger mucilage than gum arabic, from which it is distinguished by its clear interior, fewer cracks and greater toughness. is imported from the river Gambia, and from Senegal and Bathurst.

Chagual gum, a variety brought from Santiago, Chile, resembles gum senegal. About 75% is soluble in water. Its solution is not thickened by borax, and is precipitated by neutral lead acetate; and dilute sulphuric acid converts it into d-glucose.

Gum tragacanth, familiarly called gum dragon, exudes from the stem, the lower part especially, of the various species of Astragalus, especially A. gummifer, and is collected in Asia Minor, the chief port of shipment being Smyrna. Formerly only what exuded spontaneously was gathered; this was often of a brownish colour; but now the flow of the gum is aided by incisions cut near the root, and the product is the fine, white, flaky variety so much valued in commerce. The chief flow of gum takes place during the night, and hot and dry weather is the most favourable for its production.

In colour gum tragacanth is of a dull white; it occurs in horny, flexible and tough, thin, twisted flakes, translucent, and with peculiar wavy lines on the surface. When dried at temperatures under 100° C. it loses about 14% of water, and is then easily powdered. Its specific gravity is 1.384. With water it swells by absorption, and with even fifty times its weight of that liquid forms a thick mucilage. Part of it only is soluble in water, and that resembles gummic acid in being precipitated by alcohol and ammonium oxalate, but differs from it in giving a precipitate with neutral lead acetate and none with borax. The insoluble part of the gum is a calcium salt of bassorin (C12H20010), which is devoid of taste and smell, forms a gelatinoid mass with water, but by continued boiling is rendered soluble.

Gum tragacanth is used in calico-printing as a thickener of colours and mordants; in medicine as a demulcent and vehicle for insoluble powders, and as an excipient in pills; and feltsetting and mending beetles and other insect specimens. It is medicinally superior to gum acacia, as it does not undergo acetous fermentation. The best pharmacopeial preparation is the Mucilago Tragacanthae. The compound powder is a useless preparation, as the starch it contains is very liable to ferment.

Gum kuteera resembles in appearance gum tragacanth, for which the attempt has occasionally been made to substitute it. It is said to be the product of Sterculia urens, a plant of the natural order Sterculiaceae.

Cherry tree gum is an exudation from trees of the genera Prunus and Cerasus. It occurs in shiny reddish lumps, resembling the commoner kinds of gum arabic. With water, in which it is only partially soluble, it forms a thick mucilage. Sulphuric acid converts it into l-arabinose; and nitric acid oxidizes it to oxalic acid (without the intermediate formation of mucic acid as in the case of gum arable).

Gum of Bassora, from Bassora or Bussorah in Asia, is sometimes imported into the London market under the name of the hog tragacanth. It is insipid, crackles between the teeth, occurs in variable-sized pieces, is tough, of a yellowish-white colour, and opaque, and has properties similar to gum tragacanth. Its specific gravity is 136. It contains only 1% of soluble gum or arabin. Under the name of Caramania gum it is mixed with inferior kinds of gum tragacanth before exportation.


Very many seeds, roots, &c., when infused in boiling water, yield mucilages which, for the most part, consist of bassorin. Linseed, quince seed and marshmallow root yield it in large quantity. In their reactions the different kinds of mucilage present differences; e.g. quince seed yields only oxalic acid when treated with nitric acid, and with a solution of iodine in zinc iodide it gives, after some time, a beautiful red tint. Linseed does not give the latter reaction; by treatment with boiling nitric acid it yields mucic and oxalic acids.

Gum Resins

This term is applied to the inspissated milky juices of certain plants, which consist of gum soluble in water, resin and essential oil soluble in alcohol, other vegetable matter and a small amount of mineral matter. They are generally opaque and solid, and often brittle. When finely powdered and rubbed down with water they form emulsions, the undissolved resin being suspended in the gum solution. Their chief uses are in medicine. Examples are ammoniacum, asafetida, bdellium, euphorbium, gamboge, myrrh, sagapanum and scammony.

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