Regulatory / Specifications (Regulatory / Specifications)


Regulatory and Safety

The Gum Arabic Specification
Codex Alimentarius and the Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA)

There have been unreasonable and contradictory changes made by JECFA to the Specification over the past 20 years. For full details see the publication, which is available:

The Regulatory Journey of Gum Arabic Gontran Dondain and Glyn O. Phillips Food and Food Ingredients Journal of Japan, No 179 (1999), 39 – 56.

After many years of uncertainty, for the first time gum arabic, after 2000 years of use, the JECFA was accepted as a Codex Advisory Specification at the meeting of Codex Alimentarius in Rome in June 1999. The decision is recorded in the current Specification [Food and Nutrition paper 52, Addendum 7, page 49]:

Synonyms: Gum Arabic (Acacia Senegal) and gum Arabic (Acacia seyal), Acacia gum, Arabic gum, INS No 414
Definition: Gum Arabic is the dried exudates obtained form the stems and branches of Acacia Senegal ( L.,) Willdenow or Acacia seyal (fam.Leguminosae)

The Specification adds that :
Gum from A. senegal: aqueous solutions are levorotatory
Gum from A. seyal: aqueous solution are dextrorotatory

European Community

The ground rules for food additives harmonisation were set out in the form of a framework Directive, 89/107/EEC adopted in 1988 (and amended by the European Parliament and Council Directive 94/34/EC). It instructs the Council to adopt in subsequent follow-up Directives:

  1. a list of additives to be authorised
  2. a list of foods to which the additives may be added and the levels of use, which gives delegated powers to the Commission to adopt
  3. specifications for each additive
  4. where necessary, methods of analysis and procedures for sampling

A number of general criteria for the use of additives in food are also set out. According to the criteria, food additives may be authorised only if :

  1. a reasonable technological need can be demonstrated
  2. they present no hazard to health at the levels proposed
  3. they do not mislead the consumer

Evidence of the need for an additive, which incidentally plays no part in approvals in the USA, must be provided by the user of the additive, that is the food manufacturer, not the supplier nor manufacturer of the additive. The criteria also stipulate that all food additives must be kept under "continuous observation and re-evaluated whenever necessary in the light of changing conditions of use and new scientific observation".

Progress on these measures were painfully slow and the long standing Directive for Gum Arabic set out in 1978 (78/663/EEC) was not finally revised and accepted until 1998. Various drafts, consultations, and meetings of Commission Working Groups, etc, etc led to a very confused situation. Finally at the end of 1997 the Draft Specification contained in III/534/96 were accepted by the Standing Committee For Foodstuffs (III / 5019 / 97). As is normal for all EC matters it will be a long time again before the official final text is received for final scrutiny. This is now becoming clear for another Draft III/5019/rev 1( dated 7-1-98) was further discussed , and the meeting recommended that the specification for Gum Arabic should be scrutinised by the European Scientific Committee for Food. Yet another Draft (III/5106/98 EN) was discussed in April 1998 and the suggestion which came from that meeting is that final resolution would have to await the final decision of JECFA, However, to this time no requirement for specific rotation has been included. The saga continues!

The EC process acknowledges the JECFA system and in the almost unintelligible legal language adopted by the Commission adds the following :

Whereas Directive 78/663/EEC should be repealed accordingly:

Whereas it is necessary to take into account the specification and analytical techniques for food additives as et out in the Codex Alimentarius as drafted by JECFA:

Whereas food additives, if prepared by production methods or starting materials significantly different from those included in the evaluation of the Scientific Committee for Food, or if different from those mentioned in this Directive, should be submitted for evaluation by the Scientific Committee for Food for the purposes of a full evaluation with emphasis on the purity criteria.

Current EC Gum Arabic Specification (E 414)


Thus despite contrary proposals in various drafts, the EC has followed JECFA and not introduced specific optical rotation limits ( which were not present in the previous 1978 Specification either ) In an unexpected and quite inexplicable innovation the Directive has introduced a molecular weight clause - indicating that Gum Arabic should have a molecular weight of ca. 350,000. How this was conceived or what is the reason for this value is not known. In such a diverse molecular aggregate as Gum Arabic with molecular components varying in molecular weight from 1.5 million to 50,000, it is without real meaning to specify a value of approximately 350,000. No method for measurement are suggested. Yet it is well known scientifically that the published values for the molecular weight of Gum Arabic vary considerably according to the method used. No doubt we will get some explanation from the EC in due course. The addition does, however, draw attention to the need for measurement of the molecular weight of Acacia gums with greater accuracy than in the past using recently developed multi-angle light scattering methods.

United States Food Chemical Codex

The Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) is an activity of the Food and Nutrition Board of the Institute of Medicine that is sponsored by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The current Specification of Gum Arabic is to be found in the Fourth Edition (1996) :

Description:(INS 414) A dried gummy exudation obtained from the stems and branches of Acacia senegal (L) or of related species of Acacia (Fam. Leguminosae). Unground acacia occurs as white or yellowish white spheroidal tears of varying size or in angular fragments. It is also available commercially in the form of white to yellowish white flakes, granules or powder. One gram dissolves in 2ml of water, forming a solution that flows readily and is acid to litmus. It is insoluble in alcohol.

Note: In the current Edition the previous requirement"A 1 in 10 solution is slightly laevorotatory" has been removed. There is now no specific rotation requirement.

United States Pharmacopeia (USP) and the National Formulary (NF)


Acacia is the dried gummy exudate from the stems and branches of Acacia senegal (Linne) or of other related African species of Acacia (Fam Leguminosae).

This definition was as printed in USP 21st Revision, January 1, 1985 NF XV1 ed Official monographs for USP XX1 p 1538. It remains the same in the current Official Monograph for NF 18 ( USP 2) 1996.

In the 22nd Revision, published officially November 15, 1991, the 5th Supplement introduced the following: Add the following to Specific Rotation: between -25o and -35o, calculated on the anhydrous basis, determined on a 1.0% w/v solution, However, a subsequent supplement (7 USP XX11 - NF XV11) dated November 15, 1992 removed the specific rotation requirement. This remains the current position. USP and NF, therefore, fall now into line with both EC and JECFA current Specifications

European Pharmacopeia (EP)


Acaciae Gummi (Acacia): Acacia is the air-hardened, gummy exudate flowing naturally from or obtained by incision of the trunk and branches of Acacia senegal (L) Willdenow and other species of Acacia of African origin.

The Specification has retained "A 10 % m/v solution is laevorotatory". Implicitly, therefore, the definition acknowledges the acceptablility of A. seyal within commercial Gum Arabic.