How To Make Gum Syrup (Gomme Syrup).
Gum syrup is straightforward to make. It just takes a little time to reconstitute the dried gum arabic powder. To begin with, mix dried gum acacia powder with equal parts of water. Mix the two until there are only a few clumps left, then let it sit for a couple of hours. The lumps will dissolve after a couple of hours. Once the gum is fully dissolved you will have a good working liquid gum arabic. The typical amount of liquid gum arabic to add is 20% of the volume you are adding it to. So if you plan to make 2 cups (480 mLs) of syrup, then you would add 80 mLs of liquid gum arabic to 400 mLs of simple syrup, which will result in desired 480 mLs of syrup. Also, know that gum arabic and gum acacia are the same thing. Gum arabic is just the older name for it.
The next thing to prepare is your syrup. The most common sugar to water syrup ratios are 1:1, 3:2, and 2:1. 1:1 is equal part of sugar and water. It’s a bit thin, doesn’t last as long from mold as the others, and offers less sweetening potential. I don’t care for 1:1, and it’s usually just made this way because it’s fast, doesn’t need to be heated, and is cheap. The next one is 3:2. so 3 parts sugar to 2 parts water. This is perhaps the best ratio as it offers a similar sweetening potential as 2:1 without any of the issues 2:1 has. This syrup ratio does need to be heated to dissolve the sugar fully, but once it is dissolved, the sugar will not recrystallize. Most of the classic late 1800s and early 1900s syrups were 3:2. The last ratio is 2:1. This syrup ratio needs to be heated to dissolve the sugar fully. Unfortunately, it’s so concentrated that once it cools, the sugar crystals can reform into hard clumps of sugar crystals in your syrup. 2:1 syrups’ best feature is their very long shelf life. There is a high enough concentration of sugar that most bacteria are killed, and mold won’t form for a few weeks.
Once you have made the syrup ratio you want, combine the syrup and liquid gum arabic in a blender and blend for 1 minute. Transfer to a container, and that is it.
Gum Syrup vs. Simple Syrup.
The only difference between gum syrup and standard simple syrup is the addition of gum arabic. Gum arabic, or gum acacia, is the dried sap of the acacia tree and is a thick, insoluble fiber. It adds no significant flavor to the syrup but it adds a more viscous mouthfeel to cocktails. If you are downing the cocktail, the mouthfeel can be hard to notice, but it’s equatable to a red wine mouth feel vs. a white wine mouthfeel. When comparing wines, people usually talk about a thick or thin body. What they are really talking about malolactic acid vs. malic acid (gum syrup does not have malolactic or malic acid, I’m just using this as an example). Malic acid is more commonly associated with white wine, has a thin body, and feels like holding a sip of apple juice in your mouth. Malolactic acid is most associated with red wines, has a thicker body, and feels like holding a sip of milk in your mouth. So if you make a cocktail with gum syrup, that is the mouth feel to look for. Hold a sip in your mouth and notice if it feels like milk or apple juice. The mouth feel gum syrup adds is the same as red wines mouthfeel, and standard syrup without a gum is the same as white wines mouthfeel.
Gum Arabic has a high acidity (4-4.5), so it offers preservative properties I will mention below. Still, outside a small change to mouthfeel/body, it’s not that different from the standard simple syrup. The two can easily be substituted for the other with almost no noticeable difference.
Does Xanthan Gum Work For Making Gum Syrup?
Long story short. Not really. The idea is appealing, though. Xanthan gum is cheap, mixes very quickly, and you need much less xanthan gum to get similar results to gum in Arabic. Both xanthan gum and gum Arabic are stabilizers that prevent the merging of oil and water molecules. Still, they behave differently once diluted beyond their effective range and even do a few unexpected things. I’ll explain how this relates to making cocktails.
Stabilizers such as starches, gums, pectin, and gelatins work by separating smaller oil and water molecules and preventing them from reforming together. Which makes them looked mix. These large stabilizer molecules don’t change the surface tension of water or oil, they just stop the water and oil molecules from having any space to coalesce. This is also why they are used as thickeners for foods. Because they work by separating oil and water, they must constitute a certain percentage of the volume of the final mixture. Gum Arabic is an effective stabilizer between 10% and 20% of a mixture’s volume. So if you have 400 grams of water and oil you are trying to emulsify; you would need to add 40 – 80 grams of gum arabic. Xanthan gum is effective at 0.01% and 0.02%. Xanthan gum is used in tiny amounts. So using the above example, you would only need around half a gram to 1 gram of xanthan gum for 400 grams of water and oil. Again these stabilizers work great until they are under, or over, their effective range. Like how a cocktail mixed with 1 oz of 20% gum syrup, 2 oz gin, and 1 oz lemon juice will have a final percentage of gum arabic of 3%. Well below the 10% minimum. I did a few experiments on this with gum arabic, xanthan gum, and a control syrup with no gum, and here is what I found.
Even with the low gum arabic percentage, cocktails with particulate, like from the juice of a lemon, stayed in a decent suspension longer than my controlled standard simple syrup and gum syrup with xanthan gum. The xanthan gum syrup would sometimes clarify the cocktail. I couldn’t get it to do this consistently or even understand why this happened, but some drinks clarified. I made hot buttered rum to test the syrups in a warm fat rich drink, and soon after mixing, all the butter and spices bonded together and solidified at the top. This happened with other cocktails too, but not all the time, or in a way, I could find a pattern. There was also no mouthfeel with the xanthan gum the same way there was with gum acacia.
All in all, xanthan gum syrup performed worse than my control simple syrup without gums. Every cocktail I made with gum arabic performed very well. The hot buttered rum’s oil stayed emulsified for a long time, with less fat settling at the top than the control simple syrup. Foams that formed on top from shaking lasted longer too with gum acerbic syrup. I also did an experiment where I mixed pure cinnamon oil in gum arabic and xanthan gum. I then added a large amount of water to see how each handled the mixing of oil and water. The gum arabic oil mixture stayed perfectly emulsified even after several hours while the xanthan gum oil mixture instantly separated, and the oil all floated to the top.
All in all, gum arabic simple syrup improved the emulsification and looked of every drink I used it in. I love xanthan gum for cooking and think it’s one of the best gums available. Still, specifically to cocktails, it is detrimental to the quality of the drink.
TLDR is gum arabic made every cocktail better while xanthan gum somehow made them worse. No gum was better than using xanthan gum in a mixed drink. When the xanthan gum was diluted to a level far lower than its effective percentage of 0.01 or 0.02, it behaved oddly and even clarified some drinks. Don’t use xanthan gum for gum syrup.
The Purpose Of Adding Gum Arabic to Simple Syrup.
People often talk about the mouthfeel gum syrup adds, but it also works as a preservative. Gum syrup isn’t as common as it was in the past, and refrigeration is the main reason for that. Commercial refrigeration was invented in the 1850s, but it didn’t become scaled-down and more common till much later. Preservation of food was more difficult, and syrups would spoil very quickly. one way to preserve a syrup while not changing the quality of it too much was to add gum arabic to it. Gum arabic has an acidic PH of around 4 to 4.5, enough to kill most germs. Another method to lengthen the life of syrups was to add tartaric acid (cream of tartar) and lower the PH even more. By combining gum syrup with tartaric acid, the syrup PH could be lowered to that ideal 4.5 PH range and it would keep for quite some time without refrigeration.
Gum arabic also modified the mouthfeel of cocktails and gave a desirable full-body texture similar to red wine. The easiest way to describe it is gum syrup gives a red wine mouthfeel, while standard simple syrup gives a white wine mouthfeel. The red wine’s full body mouthfeel is compared to the mouthfeel of milk, while the white wine’s thinner mouthfeel is compared to the mouthfeel of apple juice. So if you ever want to experience that texture, hold a sip of a cocktail in your mouth and notice if it feels like milk or apple juice.