On the surface, this is an amusing story, at least it seemed that way when I saw the headline, “Food Industry Blames Fracking for Guar Gum Bubble.” Economically, it is serious and a great demonstration of agriculture’s dual purposes producing crops for both food and non-food use. Currently, the food industry is having issues with the oil industry over a limited supply of guar gum, a substance made from a legume called the guar bean.
Guar gum is used by food and beverage processors for a variety of things. According to Wikipedia, these include:
- In baked goods, it increases dough yield, gives greater resiliency, and improves texture and shelf life; in pastry fillings, it prevents “weeping” (syneresis) of the water in the filling, keeping the pastry crust crisp.
- In dairy products, it thickens milk, yogurt, kefir, and liquid cheese products, and helps maintain homogeneity and texture of ice creams and sherbets.
- For meat, it functions as a binder.
- In condiments, it improves the stability and appearance of salad dressings, barbecue sauces, relishes, ketchups and others.
- It is also used in dry soups, instant oatmeal, sweet desserts, canned fish in sauce, frozen food items and animal feed.
Personally, I probably won’t even be affected if the food industry never gets any guar
gum. This is a processed food ingredient and I stay away from processed foods with rare exceptions.
Guar gum is also used in the oil shale extraction industry and the oil industry has really upped its use of it since the explosion in horizontal oil shale drilling to get at previously unobtainable deposits. They can pay top dollar for the gum and the limited supply has driven up prices that are hurting the food industry, as well as not leaving enough for both industries.
If I were a farmer, I would be looking at planting this crop, it could double as a green manure. Currently, most of the supply comes from India and Pakistan, mainly India.