Many people question if xanthan gum is safe. After all, xanthan gum is found in vegan ice creams, milk alternatives, sauces, syrups, and gluten-free baked goods.
With Xanthan gum found on so many ingredient labels and with it called for in so many gluten-free baking recipes, many people wonder, is xanthan gum safe? Let’s talk about it.
Xanthan gum is a coating grown from bacteria. Now before you freak out, remember that probiotics are bacteria that we eat, so bacteria doesn’t always equal bad or scary.
Essentially, xanthan gum is grown as an outer protective layer by bacteria. To make it grow in large quantities for harvesting, companies feed this bacteria glucose (from corn, soy or wheat). So in short: xanthan gum is made from bacteria-fed glucose.
The next question for my celiac reader is, does xanthan gum contain gluten? As discussed, the bacteria that grows xanthan gum is fed glucose syrup potentially derived from wheat.
However, remember in my gluten-free Haribo gummy bears post, where I talked about the safety of glucose from wheat? Glucose derived from wheat is so processed and refined, removing all proteins and leaving just sugars, that it’s considered celiac-safe.
Not to mention, this glucose is being fed to bacteria to make xanthan gum. If there were gluten leftover in the glucose syrup (which is highly unlikely), the bacteria would not use it in building xanthan gum.
So rest assured, xanthan gum is gluten-free, even if the bacteria were fed glucose derived from wheat.
But if you want to make sure you’re getting xanthan gum not fed glucose derived from wheat, check out Bob’s Red Mills. They feed their bacteria glucose derived from non-GMO corn.
Xanthan gum is used as a thickener and emulsifier in food. For gluten-free baking, xanthan gum is used to replicate the gluten protein.
Xanthan gum is used as a thickener in salad dressings, sauces, syrups, soups, and even vegan ice cream. This thickening action also is good for gluten-free baking as it helps hold baked goods together.
Additionally, Xanthan gum is used as an emulsifier. Emulsifiers help suspend liquids into others, preventing separation. This is why you often see xanthan gum used in milk alternatives, salad dressings, vegan icecreams and more.
And diving back into gluten-free baking, adding xanthan gum to gluten-free flour can help add structure and rise in baked goods. This works as xanthan gum mimics the action of gluten by trapping air bubbles generated by leaveners.
Recently, there has been a lot of discussions around if xanthan gum is bad for you. The short answer is that xanthan gum can be a gastro trigger for some, but in general, it’s safe (sounds like most foods…).
In 2017, The Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources added to Food (ANS) re-evaluated the use of xanthan gum as a food additive. In this evaluation, they analyzed consumption of xanthan gum at general and high doses and found that even doses up to 214mg per kilogram of body weight were well tolerated (though some had abdominal discomfort). They determined that for the general public there is no safety concern.
This follows the European Unions and the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives findings.
But what does this mean about the safety of xanthan gum for people with celiac, IBS, and overall concern for gut health?
In that same evaluation of safety done by the ANS, they did confirm that at higher doses, xanthan gum can cause gas and act as a laxative. This is because it binds easily with water which helps add bulk to the stools.
It was also noted that xanthan gum, a polysaccharide, was unlikely to be absorbed by the body intact. Instead, it is expected to be partially fermented by intestinal bacteria. In part, even feeding your gut microbiome.
So where does that leave us? Knowing xanthan gum can have these actions, and knowing there are many anecdotal reports of intolerance, xanthan gum suitability for some populations may need to be evaluated per individual.
If you’re worried about the suitability of xanthan gum in your diet, a celiac registered dietitian can help you find answers.
Xanthan gum safety and use out of the way, let’s talk about gluten-free baking with xanthan gum. How can you effectively use xanthan gum in your gluten-free flour blends?
As mentioned previously, xanthan gum can improve the texture, binding, structure, and airiness of your baked good. That said, too much or too little xanthan gum can make your baked good crumbly, dense, or rubbery.
And if you don’t mix xanthan gum correctly into your dough, it can also poorly impact your baked good. So when mixing your own flours, think about the chewiness of the product. The denser and chewier, the more xanthan gum.
For example, when developing this gluten-free Brazilian Cheese Bread recipe, only a little bit of xanthan gum was used to keep it light and airy.
And if you’re looking to avoid xanthan gum when baking, nothing perfectly replicates it but psyllium husk comes close. Here’s a recipe for gluten-free bread without xanthan gum if you need it. It uses psyllium husk instead.
Xanthan gum has gotten a bad reputation but in general, xanthan gum is safe (Yes, even if the bacteria that makes it is fed glucose derived from wheat).
Which is good news for people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance, as xanthan gum is great for replicating gluten in gluten-free baking.
That said, it can be a common GI irritant and tolerance may need to be assessed per individual.
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