Benzoin gum is the dried resin that is obtained from the benzoin tree, which is found throughout Asia. Although benzoin gum is prized for its use in incense and natural cosmetics because of its vanilla-like scent, it can also be used to flavor foods and beverages.
Benzoin is a shrubby deciduous tree, belonging to the Styraceae family. The tree has gray bark, simple leaves, and short racemes of small, fragrant, bell-shaped white flowers. Benzoin tree produces a yellowish, balsamic resin, called benzoin or gum benjamin.
Benzoin is used on the skin for ulcers, bedsores (pressure ulcers), cracked skin, and many other conditions, but there is no good scientific evidence to support these uses.
Benzoin is used in small quantities in foods as a flavoring.
Several varieties are known, but the Siam and Sumatra Benzoins is the most revered. Siam Benzoin has obtained from wounds on the Styrax tonkinensis species—outside its color appears reddish yellow, while inside it is a milky white. Its odor is a sweet-balsamic odor with a distinct vanilla note. It contains benzoic acid but not cinnamic acid.
Sumatra Benzoin is obtained from wounds on the Styrax benzoin species and is always in blocks of a dull reddish or grayish-brown color. Fine qualities have a strong storax-like odor, marking a distinct difference from the sweet vanilla odor of the Siamese variety. Additionally, Sumatra Benzoin contains cinnamic acid.