soft drinks

Gum arabic: the secret emulsifier behind soft drinks


Dr. Alessandro Ippolito – Quality Manager

Over the past few decades, we have seen a growing interest in a variety of beverages, including flavored teas, flavored waters, and fortified drinks. The common feature of these drinks is the use of flavorings obtained from essential oils extracted from the peel of fruits such as orange and lemon. However, these essential oils are known not to mix easily with water, making it problematic to prepare beverages by simply mixing the oils with water and other components.

Two main approaches exist to overcome this challenge:

  • the first involves extraction and subsequent distillation to separate the water-soluble part of the essential oil.
  • the second approach involves converting the oil into a water-dispersed emulsion, known as a “beverage emulsion“, specially designed for beverages.

Beverage emulsions represent a unique category of emulsions. In fact, unlike other beverage emulsions, they are consumed highly diluted rather than in their original concentrated form. These emulsions are initially concentrated and then diluted in a sugar solution until the finished beverage, whether carbonated or not, is obtained.

The role of hydrocolloids

To create and maintain these emulsions, it is essential to stabilize them to prevent separation of the two phases. This is accomplished through the use of substances called hydrocolloids, which exploit mechanisms such as increased viscosity, film formation, steric clumping, and electrostatic interaction to ensure the long-term stability of the emulsion.

One of the best known substances for this purpose is gum arabic, which is characterized by a hydrophilic-lipophilic balance (HLB) between 8 and 11, making it an efficient emulsifier for oil-water emulsions.
This gum reduces the interfacial tension between oil and water, facilitating the formation of small oil droplets in the emulsion and forming an adsorbed film at the oil-water interface. This film has a surface viscoelasticity that remains essentially unchanged even after dilution in the aqueous environment.

In addition, it has been observed that it is the proteins contained in the gum matrix that adhere to the oil-water interface, and are most likely primarily responsible for the emulsifying and stabilizing properties of the gum.

A study on the functionality of fractionated gum arabic showed that the fraction with high protein content and high molecular weight is able to produce the best emulsions. However, all but the lowest molecular weight fractions (about 5% of the total) are able to produce good quality emulsions and perform well in creating a stable matrix.

In conclusion, it is evident that gum arabic plays a crucial role in beverage and food production.
With its innovative applications, this remarkable compound certainly deserves a prominent place in the world of beverages and foods.

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