Nutrition Basics

WTF is Xanthan Gum? And why is it in so many packaged foods?

By April 22, 2018April 26th, 2018No Comments

X anthan gum is SUCH a hot topic right now. Just kidding you guys. While it’s not a super trendy subject, I find this ingredient is in a lot of packaged foods I buy and wanted to know just WTF it is. The first place I turn to when looking up a specific food is a giant book that’s included in my school’s curriculum, The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. This is basically a food bible and it is legit. Xanthan gum wasn’t featured in the index, which lead me to believe that it’s not a real food. From here I did what any modern-day Nancy Drew would do, I Googled!

This popular food additive is grown from the protective coating of a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. That bacteria actually causes several diseases in the plant world, the most prominent one I found being “black rot” in the brassica family (aka cruciferous veggies like cauliflower and broccoli). I don’t know who in their right mind figured out that you can take that bacteria and manipulate it into something humans can ingest, but they did it! The process of making xanthan gum is pretty complex, and from what I found involves pairing with a few other solutions, one of them being isopropyl alcohol. That’s RUBBING ALCOHOL! I could go into a deep rabbit hole here – but maybe I’ll save that for another post? FYI, there are other methods of making xanthan gum that don’t require isopropyl alcohol. Some versions of xanthan gum are GMO’s, others aren’t. But whether or not we can call the finished product ‘natural’ is murky. Sure, it’s derived from a natural source – bacteria. But you can’t go on a walk in the woods and go, “here’s some lavender, there’s a few mushrooms, there’s a big patch of xanthan gum!”

This additive is frequently used as a food stabilizer and thickening agent. 

This additive is frequently used as a food stabilizer and thickening agent. It’s often found in gluten-free baked goods (check out the YouTube video below), cosmetics and supplements. An article I found on Dr. Axe’s website also lists xanthan gum as an agent in “industrial uses” as well (huh?), and the Food and Drug Administration’s website lists it as an optional ingredient in animal feeds. As you can see, there’s a lot of confusing information out there. It’s not harmful, but I couldn’t find many long-term human studies on it, and it may cause some discomfort to those with food allergies or a sensitive digestive system. Most recipes that include it only require very little of it – we’re talking teaspoons. Bob’s Red Mill offers a ½ lb bag of ‘premium’ xanthan gum and depending on how frequently you use it, can last about six months or more.

Should you panic over products with xanthan gum? Probably not. If you stick to a diet that’s mostly whole foods like fruits, veggies, and whole grains, you don’t have anything to worry about! For more info on xanthan gum, visit a few articles I found below. Have any other resources I should read? Send them my way!

Alexa Brynne

Author Alexa Brynne

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