Always Coca-Cola? Why Sudan unrest might affect soda supply

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Ever since cola soft drinks became a household favorite across the world, one question has transcended generations: What goes in a can of Coke?

But cola beans and fizz aside, we now know the ingredient behind the “glue” that holds all the ingredients together.

Gum arabica, the hardened sap of a specific species of Acacia tree which is mostly grown in Sudan, is used in the soft drink as an “edible emulsifier,” a type of edible glue.

“Sudan exports somewhere between 40 percent and 70 percent of the world’s gum arabica, most of which comes from, or through, the small, dusty town of el-Obaid in the North Kordofan province,” explains Simon Alison in The Guardian.

Although Darfur’s Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), which is part of a rebel coalition, has occasionally operated just over the Darfur border in the western part of North Kordofan, this week saw their first strike into the east of the state.

With unrest sweeping Sudan’s North Kordofan province and rebel advances targeting towns such as Umm Rawaba, which is a center for cultivating gum arabica, soft drink companies may be worried that the fighting will endanger their global supply chains.

Fizzy drink powerhouses Pepsi and Coca-Cola are believed to be largest recipients of Sudan's gum arabica exports, explains Alison, adding: “Neither company will reveal where they source their emulsifiers, probably because of the negative publicity that might come from being associated too closely with Sudan.”

Sudan is the world’s biggest producer of gum arabica.

“There are other places that produce gum arabica, but they tend to be just as unstable (Chad, for example, and Eritrea) and the quality is not as high,” states Alison.