The Great Gomme Adventure

There are lots of different ways you can sweeten a drink, from using liqueurs to plain sugar to more exotic sweeteners like agave syrup or cane juice. But one once-ubiquitous sweetener (when I say “once,” I’m talking handlebar-mustache-and-spats times) is almost never seen anymore (and that “almost” is pretty generous): gomme syrup.

Hold on–sure, there’s lots of simple sugar syrup used in drinks, way too much many bartenders would agree–but that’s not true gomme. Way back before Prohibition, gomme syrup meant sugar syrup that had gum arabic added as an emulsifier. It wasn’t fancy–just something to keep the sugar from crystallizing, but it had the added benefit of lending a luxurious texture to a cocktail, making it slide down your throat like a skein of silk.

I first read about gomme around two years ago, and have been meaning to make it ever since. Problem is, food-grade gum arabic isn’t something you just pick up at Safeway. After a long search, I finally found suspicious-looking little baggies of the white powder at a home baking store here in Seattle, and brought some home while I figured out how to use it. After digging around, and posting a note on the Drinkboy forum, I felt prepared to make my own gomme. Here’s how it worked:

The recipe I had (I think I originally got it from David Wondrich’s Esquire Drinks, and Mr. Wondrich himself was kind enough to respond to my Drinkboy post) called for a pound of the gum powder–I had around two ounces. After doing the math, I mixed the following:

  • 2 ounces powdered gum arabic
  • 2 ounces water

To prevent distractions, I found it best to run down the batteries on my digital camera first, so I could focus on stirring–and stirring–and stirring–the sticky glutinous mess this combination made, instead of documenting it for bored web-surfers and cocktail geeks.

After letting the gluey mess rest for a day (which gave me time to pick up new batteries), I mixed a 2:1 sugar syrup on the stove, using 8 ounces of superfine sugar and 4 ounces of water. Once the sugar had dissolved and the mix came to a boil, I added the dissolved gum powder. Did I mention how gluey and generally unappetizing it looked at this point? Gah–

Once this boiled and started to foam up, I removed the pan from the heat and skimmed off the foamy scum. Scum now removed, I let the mixture cool, then strained it through cheesecloth and bottled it.

Did it work? Only one way to tell. In his Drinkboy response, Mr. Wondrich suggested trying it in some of the old-school booze-rich drinks, such as the Gin Cocktail, the Sazerac or the Brandy Crusta. So to give the gomme a test-drive, I pulled out my Van Winkle Family Reserve Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey, along with my Pernod (sorry, no real absinthe in the house) and my Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters, and mixed up a Sazerac with my new batch of gomme.

Verdict: Good God. OK, granted, a trained ape could make an incredible Sazerac just by introducing the Van Winkle rye into the mix, but the gomme lent it just the right texture, so it slipped down my throat as easy as you please. I think I mixed my drink somewhat on the dry side, so I didn’t get the full effect of the gomme, but there was a notable difference in the drink’s texture, versus one made with simple syrup.

To truly assess the grace of gomme, though, further experimentation is needed.
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17 Responses to The Great Gomme Adventure

  1. Followed the link over from the Drinkboy forum. Very helpful blog if I do say so myself. Makes me want to give it a try… if a can find gum arabic in smaller quantities than one pound.
    I read your previous blogs as well and have bookmarked the page for your upcoming… well, blogs. I look forward to reading about your future concoctions.

    Best of luck from the land of applejack, Rich

  2. The local health food store here in Norman, Oklahoma, carries bulk spices & herbs. Among the available items is gum arabic powder, sold by weight in any qty. one desires. You might try your local organic or health food store, or, failing that, a gourmet food store or a chemist.

    –cz

  3. Thanks for the note. I expected to find gum arabic pretty easily here in Seattle, where you can’t throw a rock without hitting a natural food store, but the search led to little but frustration. Fortunately, while buying stuff to make holiday cookies, I found this little, out-of-the-way baking store, and asked on a whim if they had gum arabic.

    “How much would you like?”

    Satisfaction at last.

  4. I can’t find Gum Arabic in Honolulu either … but I found Guar Gum at the helath food store. It’s a polysaccharide and a cold-water thickener – we’ll see if it has the same effect!

  5. On your measurments: gum, water and sugar, are these weights or volumes? I regularly use my kitchen scale and prefer weight to volume whenever possible.

  6. You can find gum arabic on eBay, in packages of various sizes (if you can put up with the strange association that this stuff seems to have with people who like to wear black… meh).

  7. Yesterday i received my ebay order, a kilo of gum arab. :D
    Yes, it is pretty much, but the total costs were just slightly more than the costs of the 50…100g packages, so why shouldnt i go for a higher goal. ;) And i’m pretty sure i will use the stuff for other purposes in cooking as well.

    I just tried to reproduce the above recipe, and it seems that (to answer Perrys question) the measurements are in parts.

    For the measurements I used an espresso cup that was just in reach, which takes around 80-85ml (2.7-2.9 ounces).
    So i took 1 cup of gum-poweder and a cup of water, stirred it carefully to avoid lumps, heated the mixture until it boiled.
    At the same time i took 4 cups of sugar and 2 cups of water and heated that mixture in a secod pot.

    After the sugar was completely diluted, i poured the gum into the pot with sugarwater, and back into the gum pot again to avoid too much of the gum mix being wasted in the process.

    The thick liquid is quite foamy, but it settles quite fast, and using a tabespoon, you can shove the foam to a kind of gluey lump that reminds me precisely of Marshmellow cream (looks like it and tastes like it as well).
    Underneath this foamy stuff, you will then find about 1.5 liters (33.8 ounces) of gomme syrup.

    It tastes quite great, sugary of course, but not as strong as regular sugar syrup (simple syrup) and with an interesting slight side-note of hmmm corn? Can’t distinguish it precisely though. And the texture is indeed significantly thicker than simple syrup. Plus it is quite a bit gluey when you taste it undiluted.

    I am very curious how the precious drinks will taste, when i give it a try tomorrow! :)

    Thanx for the recipe!
    Maybe i’ll experiment with different mixtures.

  8. correction:

    i produced 0.5 liters of course!
    sorry, it was a bit late that evening, i calculated the amount from the dimensions of the pot (14cm diameter -> 0.7*0.7*pi) and i forgot to multiply with the 3cm height of the liquid inside!

    so please correct the above resulting amount to
    0.5 liters (11.2 ounces)

    mea culpa!

  9. Ok, I’m on the gomme wagon, or at least the wanting-to-make-gomme-syrup wagon..

    on somebody’s post somewhere, I read that it was often available at “indian grocery stores.” I tried one here and what I got was a little baggy of rocks of gum arabica. I’m pretty sure it’s not crack, but not entirely. Anyway, point being, these are “rocks.” the wonderful Wondrich recipe specs powder.. anybody have any experience with rocks of gum arabica?

  10. I’m in Seattle. Can you tell us in what baking store, exactly, did you find this? Thanks a lot!

  11. I found a 7oz. bag of gum arabic in the spice section of my local asian market for only $1.29. Asian markets seem to be the best place to find hard to find ingredients at insanely low prices.

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