What is cellulose gum?

Written by natasha gilani
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What is cellulose gum?
Cellulose gum is found in tobacco. (tobacco image by FJ Medrano from Fotolia.com)

Cellulose gum (carboxymethyl cellulose or CMC) is a versatile, cost-effective and easy-to-use thickening agent that has numerous industrial applications. It is found in a range of products, including tobacco, paper and yoghurt. Cellulose gum stabilises proteins, adds texture and mouthfeel, forms oil-resistant film and retains moisture in industrial and processed food products.

Other Names

Cellulose gum is also referred to as cellulose sodium glycolate, purified CMC and sodium carboxymethyl cellulose.


Cellulose gum dissolves easily in both cold and hot water. It appears as a fibrous, grainy, white powder that has good thermal stability enzyme resistance, emulsification and stickiness.

Cellulose gum is registered by the Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) of the American Chemical Society. Its CAS number is 9004-32-4. Its chemical formula is C6H7O2(OH)2OCH2COONa.

Manufacture and Types

Cellulose gum is extracted from wood pulp and purified cotton cellulose. According to R. Sinha in the book "Outlines of Polymer Technology: Manufacture of Polymers," cellulose gum was first produced in 1917 and commercially manufactured in the 1930s.

Several types and grades of cellulose gum are commercially manufactured, including technical-grade cellulose gum (or crude CMC, with purity generally falling below 80 per cent), semi-pure grade of cellulose gum (purity ranges from 80 per cent to 95 per cent) and purified cellulose gum (with purity exceeding 99.5 per cent). Only purified cellulose gum is safe for human consumption.


Cellulose gum is primarily a stabiliser and thickening agent and used extensively in the food industry to thicken diary products (milk drinks, yoghurt and ice cream) and stabilise pet foods, baked goods, syrups and beverages.

According to Alan Imeson in the book "Food Stabilisers, Thickeners and Gelling Agents," cellulose gum is helpful in stabilising the pH of protein beverages. It is also used to maintain the sweetness of high-sugar food substances such as fondants, frostings and syrups. Cellulose gum controls the growth of ice crystals in frozen desserts and ice cream.

Cellulose gum is used in oilfield drilling liquids and personal care products (toothpaste, hair gel, shampoo, lotions and ointments).

The textile industry uses cellulose gum in the production of ceramics and paper. Crude cellulose gum is used on a smaller scale in laundry detergents.

Price and Purchase Information

Different grades of cellulose gum are priced differently. It can be purchased from online chemical retailers and suppliers in different quantities. As of June 2010, EMD Chemicals Inc., a North American subsidiary of Merck KGaA, which is headquartered in Darmstadt, Germany, provides a 1-kilogram bag of low-viscosity cellulose gum for £77.

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