Thomas Worm, senior product manager for carrageenan, locust bean gum, and Simplesse (a branded microparticulated whey protein concentrate ingredient) at CP Kelco was speaking to FoodNavigator-USA as the price of locust bean gum – a widely-used clean-label thickener and stabilizer from carob seeds – reached record highs, with some commentators reporting prices topping $60/kilo.
Worm said: “We can suggest short-term contingency options. However, even the option of using crude locust bean gum instead of refined does not affect pricing that much anymore.
“We have heard from some customers that they are tired of the flux and ready to discontinue products where locust bean gum is used. Others are reaching out and asking about alternatives.
“Since locust bean gum is used in a range of products as diverse as baked goods, pet food, dairy products and plant-based dairy alternatives, knowing the application is key to understanding whether suitable alternatives already exist, or if further R&D is needed to find a clean label-friendly alternative that delivers similar functionality.”
Replacing locust bean gum
Neil Morrison, head of global sales technical service at CP Kelco added: “For example, NUTRAVA Citrus Fiber can help formulators attain stability, body and texture in cream cheese and even its plant-based dairy alternative variations.
“KELCOGEL DF Gellan Gum is also an excellent, dual function ingredient for dairy and plant-based dairy alternative milks. It provides long-term suspension and can replace the body and mouthfeel traditionally provided by LBG.
“Supply is not an issue for either ingredient, pricing is stable, and both can help formulators meet clean label goals. We know there is also interest in replacing locust bean gum in brownie mixes and icings. CP Kelco believes KELCOGEL Gellan Gum can play a role here as well. GENU Carrageenan is another good, nature-based option. CP Kelco also has expertise optimizing LBG/carrageenan blends in water gel dessert applications.”
‘The price is on a steep, almost exponential increase’
Speaking to us last week, Dennis Seisun, founder of hydrocolloid market research and consulting firm IMR International and publisher of the Quarterly Review of Food Hydrocolloids, said the problem has been building for some time given the peculiarities of the carob supply chain (it takes years for trees to become productive, while attempts to establish new plantations have delivered mixed results) and a steady depletion of inventory, meaning there’s “virtually no carryover feedstock from one year to the next.”
He added: “Prices are now well over US$60/kg, if one can find it. Quotations, if you can get them, are valid for 24 hours or less. Some sellers actually expect an answer right there and then.”
A recent surge in demand from plant-based beverages - where locust bean gum is frequently used with gellan gum to stabilize products and improve mouthfeel - has also compounded the problem, he added.
“Locust bean gum has been through drastic cycles several times in the past. The closest to this drastic [situation] was in 1994 but this is much worse. The [latest] crop will not be in until later this year, but indications are average so are unlikely to change the current tight situation by much, if at all.”
Nesha Zalesny, technical consultant at IMR International, added: “Last year the price was less than half of the current price, and five years ago it was a fifth of the current price. The price is on a steep, almost exponential increase.”
What is locust bean gum?
Locust bean gum - also known as carob bean gum - is extracted from the seeds of the carob tree, with producers concentrated in Spain (5 producers), Portugal (2), Morocco (2), and Italy (1), according to IFF.
Used in everything from Planet Oat oatmilk to Philadelphia cream cheese, locust bean gum is popular with formulators because of its technical properties, clean flavor, and consumer-friendly name.
In Label Insight’s US product database of about 430,000 food and beverage products, 11,688 products contain the ingredient 'Locust Bean Gum' and 384 products contain the ingredient 'Carob Gum.'
The majority of the products can be found in the frozen foods (ice cream and frozen desserts), dairy (cottage cheese, Greek yogurt), and bakery aisles.