Have you heard of Xanthum Gum? If you are gluten free, have Celiac disease or are a strict vegan, then you probably have! The rest of us may have heard it on a popular ice cream commercial. It’s the one where the cute kids are trying to read the list of ingredients and have to pronounce all the strange chemical names.
Xanthum gum is not a strange name, but is a food additive that is found in almost anything that needs a preservative or stabilizer, think of the interior of your local grocery store!
It was discovered in 1960, and by 1968 the FDA had approved it for human consumption.
It is a polysaccharide made from either glucose, sucrose or lactose.
Xanthomonas campestris is the naturally occurring bacteria that is used to make Xanthum gum. If you are a gardener then you have seen this bacteria many times (I know I have!) See the black rot on this cauliflower leaf? That’s Xanthomonas campestris
How Xanthum gum is made
Xanthomonas campestris is a bacteria that will use glucose, sucrose or lactose as a food source. Xanthum gum is produced when one of these sugars is fermented by the bacteria, and then precipitated with isopropyl alcohol. The precipitate is then dried and ground into a powder which can be added to a liquid to form a “gum”.
The result is the white powder that you can buy at the store. It is often used in vegan and gluten free baking.
What is it used for specifically?
The applications for this gel like substance are almost endless. It is inert, meaning is has no flavor of its own and does not interact, chemically, to its surroundings. It is therefore useful in lowering the friction point of metals. In an industrial setting it can act as a lubricant for pistons and cylinders. It is used as a cheap and effective substance in drilling operations, particularly in fresh and salt water operations.
It is also found in cosmetics, lotions and medicines. Even your toothpaste has xanthum gum!
Sounds tasty huh? But, remember is has no taste!
Why is it in our food supply?
People often site the fact that xanthum gum is used for large scale industrial purposes as a reason for it to be unhealthy for human consumption. It bother folks that this product can be used for other applications. The truth is that this is a natural product, produced by a bacterium, and has unique properties that make is useful in food preparation.
Like chia seeds, the xanthum gum will swell when added to liquids.
Its consistency acts as a thickening agent when added to soups or stews. Most of us use butter and flour as a thickening agent, but if you are gluten or dairy free, that is not an option for you.
Xanthum can be used as a gluten subsitute in baking by acting as a binding agent, taking the place of eggs and/or flour.
It is also found in commercially prepared salad dressings, where it is utilized as an emulsifier, to keep oil and water mixed. As well as commercially prepared pastry fillings to keep water from soaking into the pastry dough.
It is found in ice cream to prevent ice crystals from forming and helps to maintain the smoothness of the final product.
Since xanthum gum swells when it contacts liquids, it will do that in your intestines as well. Therefore it acts like a laxative in the intestines and stimulates the digetstive tract to push stool through the colon. The more xanthum gum one ingests the more laxative effect! Many popular bulk laxatives use xanthum gum to help people deal with constipation.
Is it safe to eat?
Yes! The World Health Organization (WHO) determined that it is safe to consume 15 grams/day. As a reference point, most protein powders use less than half a gram per serving, mainly for texture, so 15 grams in a single day would be considered a huge amount.
Are you afraid to drinking beer of wine, consider it is dangerous? Both liquids are a products of bacterial or fungal fermentation. As is yogurt and cheese! One of my favs 😊
Studies have been conducted on the effects of xanthum gum and found that it can lower both overall sugars and cholesterol in diabetics. Additionally, it can act as a saliva substitute in people who suffer from dry mouth.
Of course, people can be sensitive to this, like they can be sensitivite to any food additive. If you suspect that you have a sensitivity to xanthum gum, it is not easily avoided due to its prevalence in so many products, food or otherwise. However, when you make salad dressings, or ice cream at home, you do not add xanthum gum specifically.
Home cooked is still always best 😉
Hopefully this demystifies xanthum gum for you, at least a little bit. 🙏😊