You’ve likely sat on it, brushed your teeth with it or put a touch of it behind each ear. You might have eaten it or used it as a tincture. And you’ve undoubtedly swallowed it.
The byproducts of Acacia.
It’s one of the largest genus of trees and shrubs known to botanists — more than 1,300 species thus far identified worldwide. To many of us in the U.S., it’s just an oversized weed with leaves that curl when touched. The attractive fuzzy pink or yellow blooms are among the smells of summer in the South. We know our version as the Silk Tree.
The Acacia that grows on the African continent offers quite a bit more value to those who grow and sell its byproduct. In fact, the Acacia senegal is the life blood for farmers, armies and politicians in Sudan — more than 5 million of them.
And it’s all about the gum arabic.
Gum arabic: The straight skinny
Have you ever wondered why the syrup in your soda never settles in the bottom of the bottle? Or why your jelly beans always have a smooth color and flavor flow?
It’s the gum arabic — the thick sticky sap harvested from the Acacia senegal tree.
Quite simply, gum arabic is a stabilizer — sort of like prepared gelatin — that keeps a mixture mixed. It’s used in candies, processed frostings, soft drinks, shampoos, toothpastes … just about every product that doesn’t say ‘shake well’ on the container. It’s also used in perfumes.
When the tree has been exhausted of its sap, or gum, the wood is often used to make high-end furniture.
The rest of the story
Gum arabic is one of the few items allowed for export from Sudan, where genocide has claimed at least 300,000 lives in the past 10 years in the Darfur region alone.
How important is the sap from the Acacia senegal? Well, the Sudanese ambassador to the U.S. once threatened to cut off about 70 percent of world’s supply (grown in his country) in the wake of economic sanctions over human rights violations.
But our flow of soft drinks and confections have continued. Uninterrupted.
Did you know? Osama bin Laden had significant holdings in Sudanese gum arabic production until 1996, when he was thrown out of Sudan.
Before you glance down at the menu title, I want to make sure you know that I’m not trying to sell you a bill of goods. Our friends in the Far East don’t eat this for two simple reasons: beef isn’t exactly easy to find or affordable for many Chinese people; and the stuff we know as broccoli is pretty much non-existent over there. — This is a quick, cheap and easy weeknight meal for anyone jonesing for good Chinese takeout. I like to make it more fun by adding those tiny ears of corn and a handful of mushrooms.
Chinese-style Beef & Broccoli
1 – egg white
1 ½ tsp – toasted sesame oil
1 TB – Soy sauce
4 TB – Cornstarch
1 lb – Lean beef, thinly sliced into 1 – 1 ½-inch strips
1/4 cup oyster sauce
1 TB – Dry Sherry
2 TB Soy sauce
1/2 cup beef stock
3 cups – Broccoli florets
1 Garlic clove, minced
1 cup Cut baby corn (optional)
1/2 cup – Mushrooms, sliced (optional)
Whisk all batter ingredients in a medium bowl. Add beef strips and toss to coat well. Set aside for about 10 minutes (or in refrigerator for 20-30 minutes).
In another small bowl (or large measuring cup), mix oyster sauce, dry Sherry, soy sauce and beef stock.
Preheating to high about a half-inch of vegetable oil in a deep frying pan. -or- Preheat your deep fryer to a high setting. Add coated beef strips. Don’t overcrowd pan. Cook about 3-4 minutes, turning as necessary, until golden brown. Drain on paper plates.
Meanwhile, heat about 1 TB of vegetable oil (medium high-to-high) in a skillet or saucepan and add garlic and broccoli (and baby corn & mushrooms, if using). Stir fry until broccoli is bright green and crisp tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add beef strips and sauce to vegetables. The sauce will begin to thicken immediately and should be completed within about 2 minutes of cooking.
Serve with steamed white or fried rice. If you really want to best the Chinese joint down the street, serve Beef & Broccoli with a side of The World’s Best Eggrolls.
This recipe serves about 4 people.