Tara spinosa

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Tara spinosa
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Eudicots
Clade: Rosids
Order: Fabales
Family: Fabaceae
Subfamily: Caesalpinioideae
Genus: Tara
T. spinosa
Binomial name
Tara spinosa
(Feuillée ex Molina) Britton & Rose
  • Caesalpinia pectinata Cav.
  • Caesalpinia spinosa (Feuillée ex Molina) Kuntze
  • Caesalpinia tara Ruiz & Pav.
  • Caesalpinia tinctoria Dombey ex DC.
  • Caesalpinia tinctoria (Kunth) Benth. ex Reiche
  • Coulteria tinctoria Kunth
  • Poinciana spinosa Feuillée ex Molina
  • Tara tinctoria Molina

Tara spinosa, commonly known as tara (Quechua),[1] also known as Peruvian carob[2] or spiny holdback,[2] is a small leguminous tree or thorny shrub native to Peru.[3] T. spinosa is cultivated as a source of tannins based on a galloylated quinic acid structure.[4] This chemical structure has been confirmed also by LC–MS.[5] It is also grown as an ornamental plant because of its large colorful flowers and pods.

Names and taxonomy[edit]

Its common names include spiny holdback, tara, taya, and algarroba tanino (Peru).

Tara spinosa is placed in the family Fabaceae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae, and tribe Caesalpinieae.[6]


Tara spinosa typically grows 2–5 m (6.6–16.4 ft) tall; its bark is dark gray with scattered prickles and hairy twigs. Leaves are alternate, evergreen, lacking stipules, bipinnate, and lacking petiolar and rachis glands. Leaves consist of three to ten pairs of primary leaflets under 8 cm (3.1 in) in length, and five to seven pairs of subsessile elliptic secondary leaflets, each about 1.5–4 cm (0.6–2 in) long. Inflorescences are 15–20 cm (5.9–7.9 in) long terminal racemes, many flowered and covered in tiny hairs. Flowers are yellow to orange with 6- to 7-mm petals; the lowest sepal is boat-shaped with many long marginal teeth; stamens are yellow, irregular in length and barely protruding. The fruit is a flat, oblong indehiscent pod, about 6–12 cm (2.4–4.7 in) long and 2.5 cm (0.98 in) wide, containing four to seven round black seeds, which redden when mature.[7]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Tara spinosa is native to Peru and can be found growing throughout northern, western, and southern South America, from Venezuela to Argentina. It has been introduced in drier parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa and has become naturalized in California. T. spinosa grows in the nearly rainless lomas or fog oases of the Peruvian coastal desert.[8]

Generally resistant to most pathogens and pests, it grows at elevations between 0 and 3,000 m (9,800 ft) above sea level, and tolerates dry climates and poor soils, including those high in sand and rocks. To propagate, seeds must be scarified (treated to break physical dormancy), and young plants should be transplanted to the field at 40 cm (16 in) 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.[9]



Tara spinosa pods are an excellent source of tannins (tara tannins) most commonly used in the manufacture of automotive and furniture leathers.[10] This growing industry is developing around their production in Peru. Some producers have their own plantations to guarantee constant quality.

Tara tannin derivatives are being proposed as antifouling against marine organisms that can grow on ship hulls.[11] Those tannins are of the hydrolysable type. Gallic acid is the main constituent of tara tannins (53%) and can be easily isolated by alkaline hydrolysis of the plant extract.[12]

Quinic acid is also a constituent of the tara tannins.[13] Its tannins are colourless or light making them suitable a premordant in the dyeing of cotton and other cellulose fibres.[14]

The tree can also be a source of lumber and firewood, and as a live fence.

The seeds can be used to produce black dye, while dark blue dye can be obtained from the roots.

Food additive[edit]

Tara gum is a white or beige, nearly odorless powder that is produced by separating and grinding the endosperm of T. spinosa seeds.[2] Tara gum consists of a linear main chain of (1-4)-β-D-mannopyranose units attached by (1–6) linkages with α-D-galactopyranose units.[15] 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. The ratio of mannose to galactose in tara gum is 3:1.[16] Tara gum has been deemed safe for human consumption as a food additive.[17]

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. Furthermore, tara gum shows an intermediate acid stability between locust bean gum and guar gum. It resists the depolymerisation effect of organic acids down to a pH of 3.5. This gum is also stable to high-temperature treatment, up to 145 °C in a continuous process plant. 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. One example is the American ice cream brand Breyers.

The European food additive number for tara gum is E417. Tara gum is listed on the Canadian List of Permitted Emulsifying, Gelling, Stabilizing or Thickening Agents (Lists of Permitted Food Additives) as item T.2B.[18]

Tara flour health concerns[edit]

On July 19, 2022, the food company Daily Harvest identified tara flour, which is derived from the seeds of Tara spinosa,[19] as the ingredient that had sickened hundreds of its customers.[20] A handful of lawsuits have been filed against the company.[21] The chemical compound hypothesized to be responsible is baikiain.[22]


  1. ^ Diccionario Quechua - Español - Quechua, Academía Mayor de la Lengua Quechua, Gobierno Regional Cusco, Cusco 2005 (Quechua-Spanish dictionary)
  2. ^ a b c "Market Survey - Tara" (PDF). Biocomercio Peru. 2011-07-25. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2021-07-08.
  3. ^ All information in article taken from: A. Brack Egg (1999). Diccionario Enciclopédico de Plantas Utiles del Perú Cusco, Peru: CBC.
  4. ^ Analytical Studies on Tara Tannins. J.M. Garro Galvez, B. Riedl and A. H. Conner, Holzforschung, 51(1997) 235-243 Archived 2011-09-28 at the Wayback Machine.
  5. ^ M. N. Clifford, S. Stoupi and N. Kuhnert. Profiling and Characterization by LC-MSn of the Galloylquinic Acids of Green Tea, Tara Tannin, and Tannic Acid. J. Agric. Food Chem., 2007, 55 (8), pp. 2797-2807. DOI: 10.1021/jf063533l. Publication Date (Web): March 24, 2007.
  6. ^ "Tara spinosa". Germplasm Resources Information Network. Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Retrieved 17 December 2017.
  7. ^ E. McClintock (1996). Caesalpinia. In: J.C. Hickman (ed.) The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California. University of California Press.
  8. ^ Zaro, Gregory (2007), "Diversity Specialists: Coastal Resource Management and Historical Contingency in the Osmore Desert of Southern Peru," Latin American Antiquity, Vol. 18, No. 2, pp. 165–174
  9. ^ 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. <"Revista del Instituto de Investigación de la Facultad de Ingeniería Geológica, Minera, Metalurgica y Geográfica - Aprovechamiento integral y racional de la tara Caesalpinia spinosa - caesalpinia tinctoria". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2008-05-27.>.
  10. ^ J. C. Castell Escuer TARA (Caesalpinia spinosa): the sustainable source of tannins for innovative tanning processes. Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC). Barcelona, January 2012.
  11. ^ N. Bellotti, B. Del Amo, R. Romagnoli. Caesalpinia spinosa tannin derivatives for antifouling formulations. Procedia Materials Science, Volume 1, 2012, pp. 259-265. 11th International Congress on Metallurgy & Materials SAM/CONAMET 2011.
  12. ^ J.M. Garro Galvez, B. Riedl and A. H. Conner (1997). Analytical Studies on Tara Tannins. Holzforschung 51: 235-243.
  13. ^ S. Giovando, A. Pizzi, H. Pasch and N. Pretorius. Structure and Oligomers Distribution of Commercial Tara (Caesalpina spinosa) Hydrolysable Tannin. PRO LIGNO Vol. 9 N° 1 2013, pp. 22-31, ISSN-L 1841-4737, ONLINE ISSN 2069-7430.
  14. ^ Donna Brown, Diane de Souza, and Catharine Ellis: Mordanting Cotton and Cellulose—Successful Methods, Turkey Red Journal 19:1 (2014).
  15. ^ TARA GUM. Prepared at the 30th JECFA (1986), published in FNP 37 (1986) and in FNP 52 (1992). Metals and arsenic specifications revised at the 57th JECFA (2001).
  16. ^ W. Sittikijyothin, D. Torres, M.P. Gonçalves. Modelling the rheological behaviour of galactomannan aqueous solutions. Carbohydrate Polymers, Volume 59, Issue 3, pp 339–350, 18 February 2005.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ "List of Permitted Emulsifying, Gelling, Stabilizing or Thickening Agents (Lists of Permitted Food Additives)". 2006-11-27. Retrieved 10 July 2019.
  19. ^ "For Now, Skip Eating Products That Contain Tara Flour, CR's Food Experts Say". Consumer Reports. 22 July 2022.
  20. ^ Demetrakakes, Pan (20 July 2022). "Regulatory Compliance - Tara Flour Behind Mysterious Illness". Food Processing. Endeavor Business Media. Retrieved 20 July 2022.
  21. ^ Cornwell, Paige (28 Nov 2022). "WA lawyer leads lawsuits in outbreak linked to Daily Harvest crumbles". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 28 November 2022.
  22. ^ Chittiboyina, Amar G.; Ali, Zulfiqar; Avula, Bharathi; Khan, Shabana I.; Mir, Tahir M.; Zhang, Jin; Aydoğan, Fadime; Zulfiqar, Fazila; Techen, Natascha; Parveen, Iffat; Pandey, Pankaj; Adams, Sebastian J.; Wang, Yan-Hong; Zhao, Jianping; Marshall, Gailen D.; Pugh, Nirmal D.; Khan, Ikhlas A. (2023). "Is Baikiain in Tara Flour a Causative Agent for the Adverse Events Associated with the Recalled Frozen French Lentil & Leek Crumbles Food Product? - A Working Hypothesis". Chemical Research in Toxicology. doi:10.1021/acs.chemrestox.3c00100. PMC 10283043. PMID 37255213. S2CID 258988288.