What is Xanthan Gum?
If you’ve been reading labels, you’ve definitely seen xanthan gum in the ingredients list of certain foods. Be it gluten-free bread, baby formula, cottage cheese or beef jerky, xanthan gum is found in many of our favourite food products. But what is xanthan gum? And is it good for you? Here is everything that you need to know.
What is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum is a powdered food additive that is used as a thickening agent or emulsifier. Xanthan gum is named after Xanthomonas campestris; a bacteria that is used in the fermentation process of certain carbohydrates. The fermentation process of the sugar using the bacteria creates a gel-like substance that is dried and milled into a powder substance known as xanthan gum. (1)(2)
Xanthan gum was first discovered by scientists in the 1960s and is approved as a safe food additive in the USA, Canada, European countries and many others. Although it is made in a laboratory, xanthan gum is a form of polysaccharide and soluble fibre; a type of fibre that dissolves in water and forms a gel-like substance in your digestive system, which has been shown to help balance blood sugar levels as it slows the absorption of sugar to the bloodstream. (3)
What Is Xanthan Gum Used For?
Xanthan gum can be used in a number of different ways; as an emulsifier, as a thickener or to create a creamy texture. Xanthan gum is able to suspend particles in a liquid or encourage liquids that don’t typically mix together to stay together, making it a great addition to salad dressings or sauces. (4) When added to liquid it dissolves to create a viscous solution, which can be used to increase the thickness of batters or improve texture and mouthfeel.
Is Xanthan Gum Bad for You?
Overall, there is very little evidence that xanthan gum could be harmful to you. The FDA and Health Canada, as well as many other countries around the world currently approve xanthan gum for use. (5)(6) Although xanthan gum is a laboratory-made food additive, it is important to understand that not all food additives are harmful or unhealthy. Aside from potentially triggering digestive issues or food allergies in a small number of people, xanthan gum is generally regarded as safe for consumption. (7)
Where is Xanthan Gum Found?
In the world of gluten-free baking, xanthan gum plays a particularly important role. Gluten in flour helps to add a natural elasticity and viscosity to the dough, which allows for air bubbles to form in bread, baked foods to rise and create shape and hold cookies together. Gluten-free flours and flour alternatives do not allow for this elasticity and texture to form, so xanthan gum helps to replicate these properties.
In addition to baked foods, xanthan gum can be found in numerous prepared food products that line our grocery stores shelves. Although the exact approved uses of xanthan gum will vary from one country to the next, xanthan gum can commonly be found in:
- Beef Jerky
- Cottage Cheese
- Creamed Cheese
- Fish Roe
- Gluten-Free Baked Goods
- Ice Cream
- Infant Formula
- Salad Dressing
- Sour Cream
- Whipping Cream
In addition to food products, xanthan gum is also used in lotions, creams, toothpaste and shampoo.
Xanthan gum is a powdered food additive that can be used as a thickening agent, stabilizer or emulsifier in food production. It is commonly found in gluten-free baked goods, as well as dressings, sauces and cheese products. Currently, there is little evidence to suggest that xanthan gum is harmful for consumption and it is approved for use in food and personal products in the USA, Canada, European countries and many others.