Sad, but true.

Gum arabic is essentially the hardened sap of Acacia Senegal trees. And by 'essentially', I mean 'precisely'. It ain't Bubble Yum, folks.

Sudan appears to be the primary exporter of gum arabic. The Gum Arabic Company, Ltd. has exclusive export rights in Sudan for, you guessed it, gum arabic. They claim to maintain 15,000 metric tons (or "tonnes") of gum arabic ready to ship out from Port Sudan, on the Red Sea, at all times.

P.L. Thomas and Co., Inc. is the exclusive agent of the Gum Arabic Company in North America, so contact them if you want to get your hands on some.

Along with xanthan gum, gum arabic is primarily used as an emulsifying agent in processed foods.

"Come again?"

"I said, 'you cannot blow bubbles with gum arabic.' What part of that didn't you...."

"I understood your words perfectly, nimrod," I snapped as I cut him off. My brother had always been a smartass. I cut him off with my grocery cart as I rounded the corner to the juice aisle. "But it hardly answers my question. Why don't you try eating something healthy for a change?"

He ran up beside my cart again, reading the back of a package of Cheez-Its before tossing it in my cart. "I'll pay you back for those. Look, do you even know what gum arabic is?"

"Only in passing. I've seen it on an ingredients label or two...."

"No, you've seen it on dozens. Mountain Dew. Ice cream. Kool-Aid. Ramen noodles. Gummy bears. Frozen pies. Tylenol caplets. They use it in processed foods everywhere these days, but you can't chew it. It's not gum, it's just junk, like high fructose corn syrup which, by the way, isn't really syrup either."

I picked up a bottle of apple juice and added it under the cart. "You've yet to make a point."

"The point is that those ingredient labels you're always inspecting are useless. The names on there don't really mean anything. Truth in labeling is just a myth. The nutritional information is useless because they don't tell you about the stuff you don't want to eat, and they can just fake the numbers by adding some ascorbic acid for vitamin C or something. And those are just guidelines, anyways--everybody's body is different, like diabetics who need to regulate their blood sugar or pregnant ladies who need more folic acid than anybody else."

"Did you take a class on this, or are just just making stuff up as you go along?"

He ignored me. "Look, you're a product of Western civilization. You eat packaged food day in and day out because you practically have to. But if you think you're going to get a healthy diet from reading the boxes, you're wasting your time. They're just words, words, words. A few months ago I realized that, and I figured, Hey! People eat this stuff all the time without dying the next morning, so it can't be all that bad. I just eat what I like, when I like it, and so far I'm doing okay. Better, even."

"Uh-huh. Whatever."

"Suit yourself. Just don't put back my Cheez-Its, okay?"

He jogged around the corner to the liquor section. Turning back to the juice aisle, a small bottle caught my eye. Mr. Pure had redesigned its label to keep up with the competition from Fruitopia and the like. The word "PURE" dominated the front of the label with a bright, colorful black cherry behind it. I picked up the bottle and turned it to the side. "18% real juice" was written discreetly in plain letters.

I put it back. Then I realized I had a long-denied hankering for Coca-Cola, and went back down the other side of the aisle to grab a 24-pack.

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