C. spinosa is in the Caesalpinaceae, Leguminosae or Fabaceae family, depending on the classification system, the Caesalpinioideae subfamily, and Caesalpinieae tribe.
Generally resistant to most pathogens and pests, it will grow between 0 and 3,000 meters above sea level, tolerates dry climates and poor soils including those high in sand and rocks. To propagate, seeds must be scarified (pre-treated to break physical dormancy)and young plants should be transplanted to the field at 40cm in height; trees begin to produce after 4-5 years. Mature pods are usually harvested by hand and typically sun dried before processing. If well irrigated, trees can continue to produce for another 80 years, though their highest production is between 15 and 65 years of age.
Tara gum is a white or beige nearly odorless powder that is produced by separating and grinding the endosperm of C. spinosa seeds. The major component of the gum is a galactomannan polymer similar to the main components of guar and locust bean gums that are used widely in the food industry. Tara gum has been deemed safe for human consumption as a food additive. Tara gum is used as a thickening agent and stabilizer in a number of food applications. A solution of tara gum is less viscous than a guar gum solution of the same concentration, but more viscous than a solution of locust bean gum. Blends of tara with modified and unmodified starches can be produced which have enhanced stabilization and emulsification properties, and these are used in the preparation of convenience foods, such as ice cream.
Medicinal uses in Peru include gargling infusions of the pods for inflamed tonsils or washing wounds; it is also used for fevers, colds and stomach aches. The tree can also be a source of lumber and firewood, and as a live fence. Water from boiled dried pods is also used to kill fleas and other insects. The seeds can be used to produce black dye while dark blue dye can be obtained from the roots.
2. USDA, ARS, National Genetic Resources Program. Germplasm Resources Information Network - (GRIN) [Online Database]. National Germplasm Resources Laboratory, Beltsville, Maryland. URL: http://www.ars-grin.gov/cgi-bin/npgs/html/taxon.pl?8311 (27 May 2008)
3. E. McClintock (1996). Caesalpinia. In: J.C. Hickman (ed.) The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press.
4. P. De la Cruz Lapa (2004). An integral and rational utility of tara (Caesalpinia spinosa - caesalpinia tinctoria) Rev. Inst. investig. Fac. minas metal cienc. geogr. [online]. jul./dic. 2004, vol.7, no.14 [citado 27 Mayo 2008], p.64-73.
5. J.M. Garro Galvez1, B. Riedl1 and A. H. Conner (1997). Analytical Studies on Tara Tannins. Holzforschung 51: 235-243.
6. J.F. Borzelleca, B.N. Ladu, F.R. Senti, and J.L. Egle, Jr. (1993). Evaluation of the Safety of Tara Gum as a Food Ingredient: A Review of the Literature. Journal of the American College of Toxicology 12: 81-89.