Tragacanth: The Natural Gum

Tragacanth, known as “gond katira” around the Indian subcontinent, is a naturally occurring gum with great culinary and industrial importance. Read on to learn more about tragacanth and its surprising culinary uses. 

What is tragacanth gum?

Tragacanth, the edible gum from the Indian subcontinent, is the dried sap obtained from various plants of the genus Astragalus. Other names for this edible gum are gum dragon, Shiraz gum, and gum elect. The sap from the roots of tragacanth plants are dribbled into long ribbons or flakes which are harvested during the summer season. These white ribbons are processed into tragacanth crystals or powder, which are easily available in grocery stores, Asian specialty stores, and online. 

When these gum crystals are soaked in water, they form a jelly-like consistency. Tragacanth gum is a pharmaceutically important ingredient and has been used in ayurvedic medicine for a long time due to its cough-suppressant and antidiarrheal properties. Even today, it’s an integral component of the Fisherman’s Friend lozenges. Tragacanth gum is also a natural food thickener, emulsifier, stabilizer, and texturant.

Image Credit: Flickr user Dinesh Valke ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Taste and Texture of Tragacanth

Tragacanth gum is available in the form of several stone-like, transparent to light-yellow crystals that are odorless and flavorless. Their high water solubility makes them an excellent thickening agent in the food, medical, and cosmetic industry. Since they don’t have any taste on their own, they perfectly take on the flavor of ingredients they’re cooked with. 

What is Tragacanth Gum Used For?

Tragacanth gum is widely used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine, notably in sweet dishes, snacks, and drinks. It’s crushed and roasted when intended to be used in dry and crumbly sweet dishes or soaked in water to transform it into a jelly, which is then used in puddings, custards, and smoothies. 

Image Credit: Here and now from Pixabay 

Tragacanth pairs well with almonds, pecans, cashews, fox nuts, raisins, and dried fruits, hence, it’s widely used in Indian energy snacks like katira gond laddu (round energy bites of tragacanth, nuts, and sugar), pinni (an Indian dessert of roasted wheat, nuts, and jaggery), and panjiri (muesli-like mix of fried nuts, seeds, and jaggery). You can toss a handful of crushed roasted tragacanth gum into our recipes for Nutty Oat Bars and Butterscotch Bars for more crunch and texture.

Fried tragacanth gum is used in a popular Jammu and Kashmir dish, sundh, which is a mix of nuts, seeds, dates, and raisins that are roasted in desi ghee, and seasoned with caster sugar, and ginger powder much like Candied nuts. Intriguingly, it’s a common belief among the Indians that tragacanth has a cooling effect on the body, hence this gum is soaked in water, and added to a number of summer drinks to fight off the extreme summer heat, especially around the tropical regions of South Asia.

Image Credit: Veerendra Tikhe from Pixabay 

Tragacanth is a commercially recognized ingredient owing to its binding, stabilizing, gelatinizing, and solidifying properties. The most credible feature of tragacanth gum lies in its very long shelf life, and high acid and heat resistance, which in turn, protects food from deterioration. It’s used in many food products that we use in our daily routine. To name a few, fruit syrups, sauces, dressings, jellies, ice creams, candies, popsicles, liqueurs, dairy drinks, broth & soups, and mayonnaise are among the most common ones.

Feature Image: GOKALP ISCAN from Pixabay 

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