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 is that it is usually a personal preference depending on whether you want to use a natural or a chemical product. It will also depend on which one makes a gum paste you like to work with or what is available 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 that works similarly to gum tragacanth.
Let’s look at exactly what each of the gums is…
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 pretty high.
It does have a slight taste and smell, but it usually disappears when mixed with other ingredients.
GumTex – is made from Karaya gum, a natural gum made from the sap of trees that grow in tropical countries such as India.
I have not used GumTex, but I have read reports that 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 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 human-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
Some people make “gumpaste” for flower making by adding Gum Tragacanth or CMC to rolling fondant – I teaspoon kneaded into every 250g of fondant.
The primary 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, they tend to break easily because they don’t dry as hard, mainly if the finished cake is transported to a venue. Also, the flowers tend to soften in humid conditions, so 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 sugar brands tend to differ considerably, which may be the amount of cornstarch the manufacturer has added to keep their product flowing.
You can find out 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 sugar brands 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 it’s easier to use and you don’t waste it.
Please don’t add more than a 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 not dry hard enough.
If the gum paste is not stiff enough, add a little gum to the dough no more than a pinch at a time, remembering CMC will work relatively quickly and Gum Tragacanth will take longer.
If you want to make gum paste, I have written an article in my blog giving the ingredients and instructions 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 celebration 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.
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 will be able to eat it.
Use fondant, buttercream, ganache, or any reasonably easy-to-cut coating to cover your cakes. Make any decorations cut and eaten with the cake out of fondant or piped Royal icing with some glycerine added.
Just use gum paste to make your flower arrangements or ornaments, usually kept as souvenirs of the occasion and not eaten.
Are the gums safe?
The FDA approves gum Tragacanth as a safe ingredient used in food and medicines, and because it is free from animal products, it can be used by 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 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 will not be very economical.
The best choice would be between gum tragacanth, which 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, 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, don’t try it.