Gumme and dragant

Gum tragacanth, also known as gumma dragantis and gum dragon, is a sticky extrude of a family of plants belonging to the genus Astragalus. This plant family grows in the Middle East. By the 1300s, gum tragacanth was an article of commerce in Europe. Just as with sugar imports, gum tragacanth’s main entry point into the rest of Europe was via Italy. [1] It is also one of the ingredients that the Grocers had the power to garble and examine.

The type of plant from which the gum is harvested dictates the type and usage of tragacanth. The sweeter, whiter ribbon tragacanth or “maftuli,” was employed in pharmaceutical mixtures and confections. The bitter, less clear flake tragacanth or “kharmony, ” was employed in textiles, leather working, paper making and gilding. The point in the harvest cycle when the gum is collected generally determines the grade.

The terms ribbon and flake refer to the way the gum looks during the extrusion process. Gum production begins through a cut in the tap root. As the gum is harvested, the quality of the ribbon degrades. It is a seasonal product. Much of the harvesting occurs in June and runs through the start of Autumn. It is viscous, odorless, tasteless and water-soluble. These are the qualities which make it an excellent binder.

[1] Gentry, Howard. “Gum Tragacanth in Iran.” Economic Botany 11.1 (1957): 40-63. JSTORE. Web.

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