Carob or Locust Bean Gum

The carob pod or locust bean pod. Image by Pixabay
The carob pod or locust bean pod. Image by Pixabay

Chocolate is Man’s unquestioned favorite sweet treat. At one time, the wisdom of eating chocolate was in question. Carob was proffered as a suitable replacement, though it never truly caught on. Despite that, carob is of commercial importance. In fact, a derivative of the carob seed or carob bean is probably familiar to you—locust bean gum. What is locust bean gum?

What It Is

Locust bean gum is a food additive—a thickener—derived from the carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua), prevalent in the region of the Mediterranean. The elongated pods of C. siliqua are coarsely ground, then separated as two fractions, pulp and seed. Locust bean gum, or LBG, is derived from the seed fraction.

Seed Processing

Seeds first have their skins removed by acid treatment or by roasting and mechanical removal. Then the seeds are split and milled. The rugged yellowish endosperm portion is collected and fine-ground into “flour.” This flour can be used to form a sol—or—it can be modified to form a gel, by combining with carageenan. Although LBG is not very soluble in water at ambient temperatures, it is dissolved by hot water.

Chemistry and Structure

The chemical structure of locust bean gum consists of linked sugar units—specifically two hexose sugars (sugars containing six carbon atoms), mannose and galactose, in a ratio of about 4 to 1. The mannose units are bonded linearly—end to end—with galactose units attached at the side. The LBG structure is immense, with a molecular weight of from fifty thousand to two million!

LBG in Food Use

Although it can be employed in a number of other applications, the most familiar use of carob bean gum or locust bean gum is for food. Dairy products, sauces, and salad dressings contain locust bean gum. Meat products, breads and breakfast cereals may contain it, as well. LBG can be used to replace fat, and lower cholesterol—it has even been associated with decreased diarrhea in infants.

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9 Comments

  • Christine Reply

    Where does “locust” come from in “locust bean gum”?

  • Vincent Summers Reply

    It is simply another name for the tree. We often have a number of names for a single plant. To name one, the Yucca filamentosa is variably called Yucca, Adam’s Needle, Bear-grass, Spanish Bayonet, etc.

  • Gerry Waldron Reply

    Thank you for this informative article. I was wondering what form of LBG they are using in nut milk. The bad press that carrageenan has received over the years has seen a change with some alternative milk providers using LBG instead; you mention the combining of LBG with carrageenan to form a gel, I was wondering if providers are using this form and whether, if not used in large quantities they are required to list it in ingredients.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      Gerry, I believe this URL should answer your question. I can’t speak about government labeling with authority… Take special note of the difference between degraded and undegraded carageenan in the article.

      • Gerry Waldron Reply

        Thank you for the link. There seems to be some confusion on whether carageenan in a degraded or undegraded state is safe at all. I also read that undegraded becomes degraded inside the body. I think I will stick to making my own nut milk without additives. Thank you again.

  • Melanie Martin Reply

    You mention that the beans have their skins removed by ‘acid treatment’, i am wondering what this ‘acid’ is, if this acid leaves any residue and is it safe for human consumption?? The thought of being roasted seems healthier!

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      The acid used is warmed sulfuric acid, which may affect the appearance, but should not affect the safety outcome of the product. It’s funny, though, how sometimes a word can sway our sympathies.

  • Tim Liao Reply

    Whether it is Locust Bean Gum or Guar Gum, it is disgusting. I can taste the difference in my once favorite dairy products like Breyers Ice Cream and Brown Cow Yogurt that have added it to their mixture recently. It’s obviously a financial decision so they can thicken their product using cheaper ingredients than the creamy fat that comes naturally. I can taste the difference right away. The gums add a sterile faint medicinal taste to the product. Shame on the food manufacturers.

  • Barbara Reply

    Hi,

    Thank you for posting this article. Just wanted to mention that the Oikos yogurt contains locust bean gum (so says the label in Canada). Anyway–I bought it from Costco. As you may know it has a “rich” texture, very palatable though. Now I know where it is coming from. The carob gum is E410 coded and approved under the European Safety Food Agency, however I have my reservations… It does not taste like “real” yogurt made from “real” cows’ milk. I guess I’ll stick with my kefir.

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