While developing a cocktail recently, I decided I wanted to try gum (or gomme, if you prefer the old-fashioned style) syrup. Even in our nation’s best cocktail bars, it’s still a rarity to find this once-common ingredient. I’ve read many praises of the mouthfeel it imparts to cocktails and wanted to give it a shot myself.
Everyone on the internet describes gum syrup as difficult to make, and blames that for its disappearance, but after a little digging it didn’t seem hard at all for someone who has used hydrocolloids a little. You’ll read a lot about people having clumping problems on the internet, which seems to be because they don’t know how to properly disperse it. I had that problem when I first started working with hydrocolloids too. Had anyone bothered to ask a modernist chef they’d probably have found it was much easier to make than they thought. Luckily I’m a modern cuisine hobbyist, and even though I’m far from a professional I was up to this task.
Gum syrup is really just rich simple syrup with gum arabic mixed in. Gum arabic is a hydrocolloid, which is basically a substance that forms a matrix when dissolved in water. You’re probably familiar with a few other hydrocolloids. Gelatin, pectin, and xanthan gum are all common ones. You’ve probably unknowingly eaten locust bean gum in commercial ice creams, and agar-agar in vegetarian desserts or Asian cuisine.
The first step in using a hydrocolloid is to hydrate it. This means getting it to do it’s magic in water. With some hydrocolloids (like gelatin) this takes heat. According to the Cooking Issues Hydrocolloids Primer, gum arabic hydrates under shear, meaning force is required. This actually makes it easier to work with, as hydrocolloids that require heat can often run into problems like premature gelling. When it comes to shear, your blender becomes your best friend.
So I started looking into recipes. My first thought was to turn to Jerry Thomas’s Bartender’s Guide, but the recipe there is really just 2:1 simple. Maybe gum syrup was largely gone by that point already. In David Wondrich’s Imbibe, (a fantastic book by the way, I just got the newly-revised edition linked here and love it) he quotes the Gentleman’s Table Guide as such:
Dissolve 1 lb. of the best white gum Arabic in 1 ½ pints water, nearly boiling; 3 lb. of white sugar or candy; melt and clarify it with half pint cold water, add the gum solution, and boil all together for two minutes.
The technique here is bad, but the ratio is what I wanted. Unfortunately this uses imperial measurements and switches from weight to volumetric and back and forth again, so I thought I’d modernize it. Luckily for us, a pint of water weighs a pound, so it’s easy. I’ll decrease the recipe, changing a pound (or a pint) to 100 grams and convert to metric and we have:
100 grams gum Arabic
150 grams water, nearly boiling
300 grams sugar
50 grams water
Essentially this is a 3:2 simple syrup with gum Arabic equal to 1/3 of the weight of the sugar. Most of the modern stuff I’ve seen uses a little more sugar (more like 2:1 than 3:2) and a little less gum.
In Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s Bar Book, he instead recommends a 2:1 simple with gum Arabic equal to 1/6th the weight of the sugar. He leaves the gum to soak in water for a couple days to hydrate, but according to the primer it’s shear that hydrates it so I’m not sure why this even works but I’ll take his word for it that it does. Maybe Brownian motion provides enough shear force over two days. He does this because with a blender alone he got the familiar clumping one will experience when adding a hydrocolloid to water, but modernist chefs long ago discovered a cheap, quick and easy way to help mitigate that.
So I came up with my own method for making gum syrup. This makes about 2 cups by volume. You probably don’t want to go below this as I’m not sure you’d get enough of a vortex in your blender to disperse the gum, but you could probably double or triple this with no problems.
100g gum arabic
I decided on a 4:1 scaling of sugar to gum arabic, figuring I’d lose some to the sides of the blender or floating off into my kitchen. It probably comes out a little gummier than Morgenthaler’s.
1. Hydrate the gum Arabic. Pour the water into the blender and run as fast as you can without it flying out of the top. In my Vitamix that’s about level 3.
Disperse the gum Arabic through a sugar/flour shaker into it. Gum arabic hydrates via shear, so most people who have problems are probably trying to whisk by hand, or are just pouring it in. You want each individual grain of the gum to be as far apart as possible from other grains to prevent clumping, and the shaker does this well. Just hold the shaker upside-down above the running blender and tap on it repeatedly until it all comes out. You can do this pretty quickly. Run the blender on high (now that it’s gummy it won’t splash much) for a couple minutes. You’ll see a thick syrup that looks like this:
(I believe you could skip this step entirely by using a pre-hydrated gum Arabic and just dump it into the next step. )
2. Put your sugar in a heavy-bottomed 1 qt. sauce pan. (Use a bigger one if you’re scaling up or you’re going to napalm yourself and burn your house down.) Heat over high heat, stirring and scraping the bottom, until it boils and foams rapidly and looks like this:
(Mine is brown because I used demerara sugar here.)
3. Stir the foam down and then pour into a container to cool.
(These will also be great “before” pictures after I remodel my kitchen.)
4. At the end a layer of scum will form over top. Skim it off, and you’re left with a beautiful gum syrup.
You can tell pretty quickly that this isn’t just simple syrup. For comparison, I made a little 2:1 demerara simple. Here’s a gif showing their viscosities (gum on the left):
As you can see, the gum syrup is cloudier and significantly more viscous than a 2:1 simple.
So there you have it. Fast and easy gum syrup. No waiting two days, no clumping, and no straining.
Stumbled on this searching for a gum syrup recipe, and also am a modernist dabbler, so I’d love to try this recipe.
However, I’ve read it a dozen times and am still not sure where to add the blended gum water in the process?
Do I add the blended gum water to the sugar and heat it all to boiling, or do I add it at some point during/after I’ve heated the sugar by itself to a melted boil?
Any clarity you could provide would be met with gratitude. Thanks again, looks like some other great things to try out here as well. Looking forward to making your recipe!
I didn’t write that well! Put it in with the sugar in step 2. That’s why it looked all napalmy.
Also, after letting it cool and sit for a bit, I’d halve the gum next time. It was just too thick to handle, and when it went into a cold cocktail it just formed a sludge at the bottom of the shaker.
Thanks for the quick and clarity! Funny thing, I flipped a coin and added it when I should have it turns out, and my end result was EXACTLY what happened when I made a whiskey sour! :). It ended up being the most delicious whiskey sour I’ve ever had, bar none!
I dumped the drink into, ice and all, scooping the cold gel goo from the bottom of the glass, into a Boston shaker. Shook it like mad for 15+ seconds, strained into glass, let the rest of the ice into the glass, and it broke up real nice. The end result was a silky and elegant drink which was the most delicious and perfect whisky sour I’ve ever had. Balanced, bold but smooth and refreshing
I will halve the gum as well the next time, but I must say, in a Boston shaker with the ingredients, some ice, and a brisk 15-20 seconds I made paradise with exactly what we made using your recipe. A real winner for sure!
Thank you again for sharing your recipe and data getting there. It was a fun interesting read, worthwhile endeavor beyond a doubt, and a great jumping off point to look deeper into this gomme syrup thing (Pismo Fizz, etc).
I love it, stepped up my cocktail game about 6 levels with this, and will be happy to share my results with you here, it’s the least I can do. 🙂
Yeah I loved the result too when I got it to dissolve! I think part of the problem I had may have been storing it in my fridge. Had I kept it at room temp, as it was when I first used it, it probably would have been better.
Let me know if you halve it and try. Curious to see if you get a comparable mouthfeel with greater ease of use!
By the way it occurs to me, you might be able to make this without cooking at all by just dispersing the gum and sugar into the water in the blender. Even 2:1 simple can be done without heat if you just shake and wait, shake and wait. Time to try this!!!!
Your idea works perfectly. I just made a 3:2 gomme syrup with turbinado sugar using this method. I have a couple of comments:
(1) I mixed the dry arabic powder and sugar together first, to help keep the gum powder dispersed.
(2) With the sugar and gum mixed, it worked fine to add the mixture to the vortex by gently shaking the mixture out of a spoon using a side to side hand motion.
(3) I ran the blender (a Vitamix clone) until the syrup was noticeably warm. At that point the sugar was completely dissolved. The sugar might have dissolved a lot earlier, though!
(4) Even though the mixture was dissolved, it was quite viscous and the air bubbles were taking a long time to separate. I ended up heating it in a water bath up to about 85° C and keeping it there until the foam had separated out. I had the stuff in a loosely capped bottle at that point, which was a mistake since there was no way to get at the foam. I ended up transferring it to a measuring cup, skimming, and then back into the bottle. Using a mixing glass from the start might have worked better.
(5) Another advantage of heating up the mixture is that it sterilizes it, which (I’ve heard) lets it keep longer in the fridge. I didn’t go through a full canning process, so it wouldn’t be safe to keep it for a long time at room temperature.
Thanks for this article!
Here are the exact measurements (by weight) that I used:
300g turbinado sugar
50g gum arabic powder
I tried this and the ingredients combine beautifully. I used a 3-2 instead of a 2-1 sugar ratio. I didn’t read about using half the gum until I’d actually made the stuff, so I diluted some of mine with a 3-2 simple syrup. The diluted version is definitely easier to work with, but the full strength version works fine as long as you treat it like sugar in an old fashioned instead of “simple syrup”. Just add it to a small amount of liquid and stir util mixed. The thicker gomme syrup adds a lovely, silky, feel to the drinks.