The additive with catchy name of gum tragacanth has been around for thousands of years. It has been used in candy making since at least the 1600s.

Derived from the bark of the astralagus gummifer, a plant native to Turkey, Syria, Iran, and other parts of the Middle East, it is a water-soluble, odorless, sticky substance that is used as an emulsifier, thickener, and stabilizer in many foods, including jellies, sherbets and ices, salad dressings, and confections.

Outside of industrial food production, gum tragacanth is most often used in the making of gum paste and pastillage, where is absorbs as much as 20 times its weight in water, and makes the sugar pastes pliable, until they dry to a brittle hardness.

Gum tragacanth is one of a broad category of gums, including gum arabic, guar gum, locust bean gum, gum karaya, gum furcellaran, and gum ghatti, which are all natural substances used to thicken foods, create and strengthen gels, keep emulsified foods from separating, and retain moisture. Each comes from a different source and has differing properties, but serves similar functions.

Gum tragacanth can be found in cake decorating stores, from food service vendors, and online.

one point, gum tragacanth was called gum dragon, which is surely a more interesting – dare we say sexier? – name. We would support a grass-roots effort to bring back the old name.