Label Decoder: Xanthan Gum

by in Label Decoder, November 5, 2009

Xanthan gum is not hard to find when you’re checking labels. Candy, bread dough, ice cream, even cottage cheese — it’s all over grocery store shelves. Although it’s not the easiest word to pronounce, xanthan gum is one additive that you can chew on without worry.

What Is It?
“Gum” additives (e.g. xanthan gum or guar gum) are used to thicken foods such as ice cream, frozen pudding, salad dressing, dough and cottage cheese. Xanthan gum is used to mimic the flavor of fatty ingredients that were removed from low-fat products. It can also replace egg yolks as a thickener.

Manufacturers add xanthan gum to candy to prevent sugar crystals from forming and to frozen foods to give them a smooth texture and mouth feel. Sometimes called “corn sugar gum,” it’s a natural carbohydrate that isn’t absorbed by the body. The additive is produced by the fermentation of the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris.

Home cooks can buy packaged xanthan gum to add thickness and viscosity to their breads and other baked goods. Because it’s free of gluten, eggs, dairy and soy, it’s the preferred thickener for those with food allergies who like to bake their own goodies.

Is It Safe?
Xanthan gum is considered safe — though it hasn’t been widely tested. Some folks with sensitivities to corn might be allergic — reported symptoms include headaches, diarrhea and stomach pain. If you think you’re allergic, check out one of the other “gums” on the market instead. Substitutes such as guar gum, gum Arabic, locust bean gum or carrageenan might be a better choice.

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Comments (4)

  1. Krikri says:

    I believe that foods that contain xanthan gum should be so labeled so consumers can know the options they are making. Actually, side effects are not much known but like you noted, people should try safer alternatives as they await a comprehensive appraisal.

  2. Fawn says:

    Um…kriki…if you check the ingredients list that counts as a label, if it contains xanthum gum, guar gum, or corn sugar gum that tells you it’s in the product. Secondly, it can be a safer alternative for individuals sensitive to corn products, or who have fears or concerns about cross-contamination with gluten, soy, eggs, or dairy. Sure try other alternatives, but don’t expect labels to change automatically (that takes years if not decades with strong legislation pushing it)and comoprehensive appraisals take decades, not mere years. So you have time to try stuff out!

  3. Fawn says:

    sorry that should say comprehensive appraisals, I should edit my postings.

  4. vitamin b1 says:

    Thanks for this information! Does anyone know how to replace xanthan gum in gluten free recipes?

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