Gum is any of many sticky substances that have a number of uses in industry. Most gums are obtained from plants. Manufacturers prepare gum for use by dissolving it in water or other liquids. This process forms a mixture generally called mucilage. This mixture is used to glue or thicken products or to preserve their form.
The ancient Egyptians used gum as an adhesive coating for the linen in which they wrapped mummies. Today, gum is a popular glue for stamps and labels. It also binds the color into paint and cosmetics. Gum has many uses in foods. It keeps whipping cream fluffy and beer foamy by holding in the air bubbles. Gum also thickens and adds smoothness to ice cream, pudding, baked goods, and drugs. It also preserves the shape of candy by preventing sugar crystals from bunching together. Gum is used in paper production to keep wood fibers separated. A gumlike substance called chicle was once widely used as a base for chewing gum.
The best-known natural gum is gum arabic, which comes from acacia trees in Africa. Workers make slashes in the bark and collect the lumps of sap that form four to six weeks later. Some gums are processed from the seeds of certain plants, including flax, guar, locust, psyllium, and quince. Other sources of natural gum include brown and red seaweeds. Gum is also manufactured artificially. Some types of gum are made from chemicals. Manufacturers also change such natural substances as cellulose and starch into gum by means of chemical processes.