Gum paste sugar flowers are made from a sugar paste that includes an ingredient that makes it flexible. You can then roll and stretch the paste to make life-like flowers and leaves that, after a few hours, will dry to a porcelain-like hardness.
There are three gums available for making sugar gum paste. Two are natural gum products, and the other is a chemical substitute.
Which gum should you use? The answer to this is that it is usually a personal preference depending on whether you want to use a natural product or a chemical product. It will also depend on which one makes a gum paste you like to work with or what is available for you to buy.
Gum Tragacanth is a natural ingredient and makes a gumpaste that rolls and stretches very well.
GumTex is also a natural ingredient but the gum paste made with it is not pure white so it is better for making a colored paste. Also, the finished flowers won’t dry as hard as a paste made with the other two.
CMC is a chemical gum and works in a similar way to gum tragacanth.
Let’s look at exactly what each of the gums are…
Gum Tragacanth – is a natural gum made from the dried sap of a plant found in the Middle East but because trading conditions are not always ideal the price of Gum Tragacanth can be quite high.
It does have a slight taste and smell, but it usually disappears when mixed with other ingredients.
GumTex – is made from Karaya gum which is a natural gum made from the sap of trees that grow in tropical countries such as India.
I have not used GumTex myself, but I have read reports that say the smell and taste are not very good.
Because it is not as strong as CMC or Gum Tragacanth, more is required to make gum paste, the finished product is not so white, and anything made with it doesn’t dry very hard.
CMC (Carboxymethyl cellulose) – is a chemical substitute which is commonly called Tylose or Tylo powder which are the trade names of CMC manufacturers.
In my personal opinion, I don’t think the finished gum paste is as good as gum tragacanth. However, if you can’t get natural gum, it is certainly a good substitute and because it is a man-made chemical it is quite a bit cheaper.
I have always used natural Gum Tragacanth not only because of the good results it gives me but because I am not keen on using chemicals in my cake decorating – at least no more than I have to.
All three gums more or less do the same job and because CMC acts much faster you can usually use the gum paste very soon after you have made it. However, gumpaste made with Gum Tragacanth should be left for at least 4 hours or preferably overnight before using it.
False gum paste
I know some people make “gumpaste” for flower making by adding either Gum Tragacanth or CMC to rolling fondant – I teaspoon kneaded into every 250g of fondant.
The main purpose of rolling fondant is to cover a cake and is made with ingredients that let the fondant dry to a certain extent but the cake can still be cut easily.
Because these ingredients prevent the fondant from getting hard, flowers made from this paste don’t dry to the porcelain-like hardness as flowers made from real gum paste made from scratch or purchased ready-made.
So, because they don’t dry as hard, they tend to break easily, especially if the finished cake is transported to a venue. Also, the flowers tend to soften in humid conditions, so that is why it’s best to use genuine gum paste for flower making.
Which sugar is best to use with the gum?
I always try to use icing/confectioner’s sugar made from sugar cane to make gum paste. I find that icing/confectioners’ sugar, made from sugar beet, does not produce such a good quality gum paste.
Whatever sugar you use, different brands of sugar tend to differ considerably, and it may be the amount of cornstarch the manufacturer has added to keep their product flowing.
You can find out about the pros and cons of making gum paste with beet sugar or cane sugar in an article on my blog if you click this link.
Let’s cheat a bit…
Because different brands of sugar vary so much, you may find that the amount of gum stated in the recipe is just right or the gum paste may be too stiff or not stiff enough. This is where you may need to cheat a little, and this also applies to paste you have bought from a supplier.
If the paste is too stiff then slightly warm it and add a little bit of rolling fondant to it so that it is easier to use and you don’t waste it.
Don’t add more than pea-sized ball of fondant at a time and knead it until it is easy to use. Remember if you add too much, it will cease to be gum paste and will not dry hard enough.
If the gum paste is not stiff enough then add a little gum to the dough no more than a pinch at a time remembering CMC will work quite quickly and Gum Tragacanth will take longer to work.
If you would like to make gum paste I have written an article in my blog giving the ingredients and instructions that you can see by clicking the following link.
Can you cover a cake with gum paste?
In days gone by Royal icing was used to cover celebrations cakes and if a softening ingredient wasn’t added, such as glycerine, it dried rock hard and was almost impossible to cut.
Years ago, someone told me a story about one of those rock-hard cakes. When it was time to cut the cake at a wedding reception, the bride and groom couldn’t get the knife through the icing, so they pretended to cut it.
It was taken away to be cut up, but no one could find anything that would break through the icing. In the end, the bride’s father got a tire iron from the boot of his car and smashed the Royal icing so they could reach the cake to slice it up.
Well, if you cover a cake with gum paste the same thing could happen because it will dry just as hard and it will be impossible to cut the cake properly, and no one would be able to eat it.
Use fondant, buttercream, ganache, or any reasonably easy to cut coating to cover your cakes. Make any decorations that are going to be cut and eaten with the cake out of fondant or piped Royal icing that has some glycerine added
Just use gum paste to make your flower arrangements or ornaments which are usually kept as souvenirs of the occasion and not eaten.
Are the gums safe?
The FDA approves gum Tragacanth as being a safe ingredient used in food and medicines, and because it is free from animal products it can be used for vegans and vegetarians.
The FDA also approves Gum-tex (Karaya gum) for food use and is used in many products such as frozen dairy desserts, milk products, soft candy, and other foodstuffs.
The FDA also approves CMC (Carboxymethyl cellulose), and even though it is a synthetic version of gum, it is deemed to be safe for food use and use in medicines.
Has this helped you decide which you should use?
I think it is down to personal choice as to which gum you will use. The best way would be to get some of each and try them to see which one works for you, but that is not going to be very economical.
I think that the best choice would be between gum tragacanth that needs a little time before you can use any paste made from it but gives excellent results or CMC which you can use as soon as you have made the paste.
You may prefer a natural ingredient, but if you can’t get it where you live, then try the CMC. I know it is a chemical, but it’s harmless, and if your flowers or decorations are not eaten, then it won’t matter.
I’ve looked for reviews of GumTex online, and not many people seem to like working with it so if you get on well with the other two then don’t bother trying it.