Have you heard of xanthan gum, one of the 30 most popular ingredients used in food products? You’ll find it in salad dressings, sauces, ice cream and also gluten free foods. What is xanthan gum, and why is it such a popular ingredient?
What you need to know:
1. Xanthan Gum is made by fermenting corn sugar with a bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris. It’s the same bacteria that creates black spots on broccoli and cauliflower. The result is a slimy goo that is then dried up and ground into a fine white powder.
2. Xanthan gum is an emulsifier. It helps ingredients blend more effectively and stay blended while waiting on a shelf. For example – water and oil mixtures, as well as bits of spice in a salad dressing.
3. Xanthan gum is also used as a thickener. Add a bit to water and it becomes more viscous. Many fat free salad dressing maintain and oily visosity by using thickeners such as xanthan gum. In pastry fillings, it prevents the water seeping out and soaking the dough, thus protecting the crispness of the crust.
4. Xanthan gum is used in ice creams as well to prevent the formation of ice crystals and keep the product “smooth”.
5. Xanthan gum has become popular in the gluten free circles. It helps give the dough a sticky consistency.
6. Only a small amount of xanthan gum is necessary to achieve the desired result, usually less than 0.5% of the food product weight.
7. When mixed with guar gum or locust bean gum, the viscosity is more than when either one is used alone, so less of each can be used.
8. Nutritionally, xanthan gum is a carbohydrate with 7 grams of fiber per tablespoon. This may cause bloating in some people.
9. Xanthan gum may be derived from a variety of sources such as corn, wheat, or soy. People with an allergy to one of the above, need to avoid foods with xanthan gum, or to ascertain the source.
10. Xanthan Gum was “discovered” by a team of USDA researchers in the 1960′s. In 1968 it was approved for use as a food additive in the US and Europe.
What to do at the supermarket:
So is Xanthan Gum safe to consume or not? It’s perfectly safe to consume if you don’t have any allergy issues as mentioned above. However, most people wouldn’t prepare a salad dressing at home with xanthan gum, nor add it to a pastry filling. When you see xanthan gum labeled on products at the supermarket, you realize that you are buying an industrial processed product. In this case the health/nutrition consequences are minimal, but check what other, more sinister additives are lurking in the product as well.