19 December 2018
So, you start cake decorating and all of a sudden you start hearing about all these white powders that everyone describes as "amazing" and "indispensible" and you wonder what the heck they are all talking about right?
You hear the names Gum Tragacanth, Tylose and CMC and you hear some cakers mention Gum Trag and others CMC and others Tylose and just when you thought you had got it all sorted, you are then trying to work out what the difference is between all these magical white powders.
Here is my run down of the key differences between these magical white powders (big clue - you will end up using one of them!)
Inside the Pretty Witty Academy, there are over 830 different cake tutorials including almost every style imaginable for cake making. Tutorials range from cupcakes to wedding cake recipes to business tutorials and everything in between.
Gum Tragacanth is a substance which is derived from the sap of a plant in the Middle East. The sap is drained from the root of the plant and then dried.
This forms a powder which doesn’t taste of anything, smells horrible but is ideal for thickening up fondant (also known as sugar paste as described in this blog post here).
The powder is a light cream colour and very fine so you would not want to breathe in too much when smelling it or it can cause you to cough as it enters your lungs.
As Gum Tragacanth is a natural product, I regard it as the “real thing” and I use this in all my modelling work as you will see on the videos in Pretty Witty Academy and in my book. See below for usage.
CMC stands for or Carboxymethyl cellulose. In short, it is the chemical version of Gum Tragacanth. It looks exactly the same.
CMC tends to work a little bit faster than Gum Tragacanth and is also a little bit cheaper as it is a chemical version of the real thing. As it does not need to be imported like Gum Trag, it tends to be cheaper.
This is a brand name for CMC so is effectively the same thing as CMC. It works in the same way and is again a chemical version. It is usually again cheaper than Gum Tragacanth due to its chemical nature. Just as with CMC, as it does not need to be imported like Gum Trag it is cheaper.
In essence, they all do the same job. They can be added to fondant in order to make it easier to model with. They also make it dry more quickly.
Gum Tragacanth is said to take longer to start working but I find you can usually use it within 30 minutes of adding it to the fondant in quantities less than 250grams. Some people advise leaving it up to 12 hours but I find it too hard to work with if in small quantities of less than 250 grams because it becomes hard and you need to re-kneed it.
Note that some people state that it is worth adding to fondant to help roll it out more thinly (and I have done this before). However, many fondants these days are designed to be rolled thinner than 10 years ago so you don't usually need to add it to fondant that you are using to cover a cake. Its primary use is fondant that you will be modelling with.
I work with Gum Tragacanth and add 1 teaspoon to every 250 grams (a small packet) of fondant. You can add the same proportions to CMC and Tylose powder. If you want your fondant to be softer and not dry so quickly, you can add less powder (i.e. 1 teaspoon per 500 grams CMC).
You will get used to doing this buy eye so you recognise the right amount visually and by feeling the fondant.
I always add the Gum Tragacanth (or CMC/Tylose) right at the beginning prior to adding any colour paste to the fondant. Some people advice doing it 30 mins in advance of using but I don't find it makes that much difference.
Some do! It depends on the fondant. On the whole though, when fondant is packaged it does not contain Gum Tragacanth (or CMC/Tylose) as it would dry out too quickly in the packet. You therefore need to add it yourself.
Do not add Gum Tragacanth or CMC/Tylose to all your fondant as it will make it dry and it won’t last as long as untouched fondant. Just add it to the piece you need.
Once Gum Tragacanth or CMC/Tylose has been added to the fondant, the fondant will become drier. You therefore need to store it properly in a clear sealed bag (like a sandwich bag). This will seal it and preventing it drying out and cracking.
It should work well for a good 2 to 3 weeks before it dries out too much. However, if you go to use it after 12 or more hours or a week or so, it will feel dry to touch. You will therefore need to re-knead it and perhaps add some vegetable fat (Trex, Crisco) to it to soften it a little.
You should be able to keep it for a fairly long time (months). Never keep it for longer than the original sell by date on the fondant package so make a note of this.
If this happens, it means you have added to much Gum Tragacanth or CMC/Tylose. To fix this, add some more fondant (without Gum Tragacanth or CMC/Tylose in it) to dilute the quantities. You will know if it is too stiff as it will feel like you are bending an iron bar when you try and bend it!
There are certain things you should never really do with fondant which has Gum Tragacanth in it:
Any good cake supplies shop will sell all three. You can also buy in Amazon.
Quick tip - you can buy in large 1kg or more bags that last a long time and then separate into smaller bags or pots your end. This is much cheaper.
You can actually use for these powders are to make edible glue. I find Tylose works best for this and Gum Trag is not as good.
To make edible glue, you mix one part powder to 30 parts water. It will be lumpy so stir it. You then need to leave it over night so it can thicken. It then works as edible glue (and is much cheaper than buying glue).
If you find you make it too thick, you can always add a splash of water to thin it.
There is a tutorial inside the Academy on how to make your own edible glue here.
Personally, I use Gum Trag as I find it the nicest to work with. Does that mean it is the best? Not necessarily (and many people are fans of CMC and Tylose). The only way to find out is to try them out and decide for yourself.