While gum arabic is now produced throughout the African Sahel, it is still harvested and used in the Middle East.
For example, Arab populations use the natural gum to make a chilled, sweetened, and flavored gelato-like dessert.
Gum arabic allows more subtle control over washes, because it facilitates the dispersion of the pigment particles.
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Producers harvest the gum commercially from wild trees, mostly in Sudan (80%) and throughout the Sahel, from Senegal to Somalia—though it is historically cultivated in Arabia and West Asia.
Gum arabic is a complex mixture of glycoproteins and polysaccharides.
The etching process creates a gum adsorb layer within the matrix that attracts water, ensuring that the oil based ink does not stick to those areas.
Gum is also essential to what is sometimes called paper lithography, printing from an image created by a laser printer or photocopier.
More recently, particularly in commercial manufacturing, gum arabic is often replaced by more refined and consistent alternatives, such as carboxymethyl cellulose (CMC).