I recently learned about Gum Arabic, an archaic and exotic-sounding cocktail ingredient, something I expected to find in an art supply shop, not a whiskey sour. A powdery substance derived from the hardened sap of the acacia tree, Gum Arabic is grown in Northern Africa and the Middle East, with most of the world’s supply harvested in Sudan. Gum Arabic was transformed into gum syrup (gomme) and used in place of simple syrups in many of the cocktails of yesteryear. Perhaps it’s trickier to find on store shelves now than it was during Prohibition, but gomme has resurfaced among upscale bars and cocktail connoisseurs for its reputation of imparting silky mouth texture to booze-laden beverages. In Switzerland I once tasted an ice cream sundae with the silky smoothest gruyere creme drizzled on top, and it made my mouth felt amazing. I was hoping that gomme might bring me some state-side x-rated salivary action and put me in touch with the cocktails of my forebears.
Though it may be tricky to find food grade gum Arabic in your grocery store, I easily bought a pound of it from a wholesale spice shop online. With my huge sack of white powder, I probably have enough gum Arabic to last the rest of my booze-swilling life. That’s not such a bad thing, though, once you taste a gomme cocktail.
First off, you need to transform the powder to liquid. I hunted around the internet and picked one of the simpler recipes. This one also made a reasonably devour-able portion of gomme that I can store in my refrigerator.
Gomme (Gum Syrup) Recipe:
Mix one tablespoon + one teaspoon gum Arabic (food grade, not art supply store gum) with one ounce of filtered water in a sealed container. Shake it well to combine, and shake it again after about 30 minutes. Let the solution sit for 12 hours or more to ensure complete gum particle hydration.
Next, heat 1/2c filtered water in a small saucepan. Slowly whisk in one cup of sugar. Keep whisking until the sugar particles are dissolved and the solution is clear, do not boil. Off heat whisk in your gum solution, and stir for about two minutes. Pour into a clean, resealable container until cooled to room temperature, and then store in your refrigerator.
The finished gomme has a slightly lemony hue to it and appears quite a bit more viscous than my competing batch of sugar-only simple syrup. Next came the hard part, testing it in some cocktails to see if it lived up to it’s reputation.
I lifted my first gomme cocktail recipe off the PouredPure website. I modified slightly their Lemon Basil Martini, deciding at 5pm I might be better off with 1-1/2 ounces of vodka instead of the recommended three. I followed the recipe otherwise, muddling 2 wedges of lemon, 3 basil leaves, a spoonful of gomme and a splash of bitters in a shaker. I added ice and 1-1/2 ounces of organic Vodka 14 and shook vigorously. Served in a low ball glass over ice, I’m tempted to rechristen this the Lemon Basil Gimlet, though there’s probably an expert cocktail name for the lemon version of a lime gimlet. Whatever, you want to call it, I call it delicious. So refreshing and summery, and yes, quite smooth on the kisser.
Next up I picked a gin cocktail. We’re currently enjoying a heat wave here in Vermont, so what better aperitif than a Royal Hawaiian. In a shaker I combined 1-1/2 ounces of organic Juniper Green Gin, 1-1/2 ounces of fresh lemon juice, 1 ounce of pineapple juice, and a quarter ounce of gomme. Shaken over ice and strained into a martini glass, this was equally mouth-melting.
Last up, I rounded out the experiment with a classic Scotch cocktail, the Flying Scotsman. Combine 1-1/2 ounces Highland Harvest Scotch, 1-1/2 ounces sweet Vermouth, a dash or two of bitters and a spoonful of gomme. Shake with ice and strain into a chilled glass. This one really showed off the gomme at its finest. It mellowed the alcoholic kick of the Scotch and coated the mouth with a satiny finish.
Overall, the difference between the gomme cocktails and those made with regular simple syrup is subtle, but noticeable. The texture of the gomme versions is smoother and has a decided lubricious texture. The gomme also seemed to subdue the hard liquor bite more effectively than simple syrup alone. I think this pound of gum is going to serve me well for years to come.