Xanthan Gum, I’m Not So Sure About You.

chemical structure of xanthan gum
Ever since I gave up gluten five months ago I have noticed that a word, an ingredient, (or is it a product?) has been scrolling past my eyes… xanthan gumxanthan gumxanthan gum. It is an emulsifier, or stabilizer, that is in everything from pharmaceuticals, cosmetics/beauty supplies to prepared foods like salad dressings, ice cream and gluten-free foods. It is processed either using ethanol or isopropanol (a neurotoxin), both which are petroleum products. The FDA describes the process best:
“Ingredients Solutions describes its methods for the production of xanthan gum (ethanol precipitate). Fermentation occurs in a suitable culture medium and requires agitation and temperatures of approximately 30 degrees C for several days. The production of gum in the mature culture diminishes the effects of agitation and decreases mass transfer within the fermentation vat. Patented mixing equipment is used to maintain aeration, which promotes continued production of xanthan gum. Following fermentation, the medium is thermally treated to inactivate the organism. The gum is then isolated from the bulk medium by precipitation with ethanol. The precipitate is centrifuged and the xanthan gum is dried, milled, sieved, and packaged. Ingredients Solutions discusses critical control points that are incorporated into the manufacturing process and address receipt of raw materials, mixing, sterilization, fermentation, precipitation, milling, sieving and packaging.” (2.)

 

In other words, xanthan gum is an industrial processed product—  It is a polysaccharide produced by a biotechnological fermentation process—a chemical.

Many biotechnology companies claim to be the biggest manufacturers of xanthan gum in the world; most of it is produced in factories in China.  Cargill (the largest private company in the world) makes it. In fact, and here’s a bonus—it’s even made in the same factories as Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). —I hope you read my sarcasm there. It doesn’t take a lot to figure out the math there.

 

There is nothing natural about xanthan gum.

I guess it has been around for years and I am only just noticing the prevalence of it since going gluten-free. Xanthan gum is the new it ingredient in restaurants because it thickens and keeps food from separating without changing the flavor of the dish. All of a sudden, xanthan gum is adding up to be a major minor-ingredient in my diet.

 

With my quest to make more homemade foods only being held back by my lack of time management skills and lack of desire to spend  more time in the kitchen, I find iffy ingredients like xanthan gum sticking to my sides (literally and figuratively), and I don’t want it. Perhaps there are better ways of producing xanthan gum but for the most part it is made in a laboratory using corn, wheat, soy or milk, all allergens; and petroleum products— ethyl (ethanol) or isopropyl alcohol. Unless you know the source, you should also keep in mind that most corn and soy are genetically modified. Why is it in so many gluten-free foods if it’s a possible allergen?

 

Let’s not be fooled here, it’s hidden in all sorts of things like animal feed, medications and cosmetics where there is no obligation to disclose it.

 

According to Webmd.com up to 15 grams is safe, which is about one tablespoon— but avoid having more than that if you are pregnant or nursing since not enough is known about its effects (3). However, according to the FDA GRAS listing, consumption from conventional foods would be “approximately 0.7 grams per person per day (g/p/d) at the mean and approximately 1.3 g/p/d at the 90th percentile.”(2.) That is a lot less than the first figure.

 

Why am I even wasting my time with this one? I will just avoid it as much as possible. Before I scare you off there must be a more ethical way of making xanthan gum. After all, Bob’s Red Mill claims it is a “natural carbohydrate.” (4.) Maybe the one they make is.

 

It feels like every time I notice an ingredient it turns out to be bad for you.
It really is getting to be too much. I keep telling myself if I can’t imagine what  the plant or animal looked like originally, it’s best to avoid it. I can see that the Universe is pushing me to cook more things from scratch. Well… my husband likes when I make an effort in the kitchen… so if I do spend more time making homemade meals then I don’t even have to get into it with him about why I’m avoiding, yet another thing.

 

Xanthan gum, you have officially made the list.

Sources:

22 thoughts on “Xanthan Gum, I’m Not So Sure About You.

  1. I think the universe is telling you to leave processed food behind! I’m glad someone has finally written something on this disgusting substance…thank you once again for doing the research for all of us. I see so many otherwise health-conscious people being fooled by this stuff, feeding massive amounts of it to their gluten-intolerant kids. Yuch! There are all kinds of healthy ways to bake gluten-free, etc., without it.

    • I know, it really is gross when you think about it- freeze-dried slime! I think cooking at home is easy to avoid it; it’s when you buy something in the store or splurge and go out to a restaurant, which is seeming less and less a treat considering everything I keep reading, that you have to be so wary. Thanks for reading and commenting, Elena, I love the feedback!

  2. I’m so glad your wrote this article because I am in the middle of canning my little heart out. My enchilada sauce and spaghetti sauce are runny. I was just telling my husband perhaps I should throw in some xanthum gum to thicken it up. Guess I’ll be looking for a more natural thickener!

    • Hi Foy,

      I’m so glad my article helped! Can you not just cook them down more? I did that with my tomato sauce, although I seemed to have lost a lot of volume.:-( You could add tomato paste. I was prompted to research this substance once I saw it in bulk at my local co-op.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • I would try a little Arrowroot to thicken up different sauces. It comes from a natural plant found in many parts of South America. It is basically the pulp of the root, which, when dried, forms a white silky powder. It may contain the same molecular structure as corn starch, however, since it is not widely known or a government subsidized crop, I doubt it is filled with pesticides, and it’s certainly a much simpler process than breaking down corn to form a starch. Hope it works out well for you.
        Thanks,
        Craig

  3. I agree! I avoid xanthan gum. I am pretty radical though, If it is not something I can easily identify, I don’t eat it. People think that just because something is labeled “gluten free” that is is good for you, but there is a lot of gluten free junk out there!

    Thanks so much for sharing on Natural Living Monday. I cant wait to see what you have to say this week!

    • I just found an old container of corn starch that I had used for an arts and crafts project that I hid away before my husband would find it and add it to a sauce to thicken it. it says gluten-free but it’s 100% GMO. I’m with you, I’m certainly on my way to no strange additives. I’m glad I found your site!

  4. XG is one of those things with a BIG ????? for me. If it seems like it is not real food, I stay away from it. Also, just the fact that it is usually derived from corn makes me suspicious. If gluten was a problem for me, I’d veer more towards Grain Free than Gluten free (which I do on occasion with my sweets). Some of those gluten free recipes have questionable ingredients from what I’ve seen. Lately, I question every new trendy food – agave, xanthan gum, those weird sugar alcohols, etc.

    • I agree, it’s marketed as natural, but…

      Yeah, grain-free seems to be the better way to go,it’s much easier to find good recipes that way.

      Agave is highly processed and has more fructose than HFCS, so it’s best to stay away form that one. AS far as sweeteners go, I try to stay with raw honey and some stevia. I don’t want highly processed sugars either.

  5. This past month I’ve been trying to stick to an anti-inflammatory diet and gluten is one of the things to avoid. I love home made bread so I went searching for gluten free bread recipes and I’ve discovered they all contain xanthan gum. With a background in chemistry that is definitely an ingredient I don’t intend to buy. I have read that sourdough bread contains less gluten due to the fermentation process. Perhaps I’ll have to go with a reduced gluten diet. I was drawn to the anti-inflammatory diet because of some joint pain I have. When I eat A.I. my joints don’t hurt. I think that is pretty good for being a massage therapist for a decade who now totes around a 30 lb toddler. The difficulty is feeling like I have to learn to cook all over again. (No dairy, eggs, gluten, nightshade family, and of course nothing processed.) I’m happy I found this article on Pinterest : )

    • Hi Jennifer,

      I’m glad you found my article too, thanks for saying so! Yes, I stopped buying gluten-free breads because the ingredient list didn’t feel very nutritious to me. Sourdough is supposed to be easier to digest than regular bread. There are also sprouted wheat breads in the freezer section (Ezekiel is one brand).

      I’m trying to cut out grains so I definitely feel like I have to learn how to cook all over again. Also, I have to learn to eat foods that I have never eaten before like certain types of meat. I looked at an anti-inflammatory diet but if I remember correctly it recommends a lot of soy, which I am avoiding because of autoimmune thyroid disorder/disease. I hope the diet works for you, I’d have a hard time with anything restricting dairy for any prolonged period of time. I think everything else is debatable for me. If your body feels better then it’s definitely a good sign.

      Thanks for commenting and good luck.

  6. I am gluten sensitive and was eating some of the organic gluten-free breads and other things available on the market. I noticed that I would have sinus problems after eating these and I wondered why since when I cooked using the same flours at home (always omitting the xantham gum because it was one thing I really didn’t want to buy) I didn’t have any problem. Then one evening I ate a non-grain packaged curry sauce made with xantham gum, I woke up in the middle of the night with horrible stomach cramps and pain in my sinuses. I realized then it was xantham gum. I read on wikipedia, which rarely is a source of any reliability, that:

    “On May 20, 2011 the FDA issued a press release about SimplyThick, a food-thickening additive containing xanthan gum as the active ingredient, warning “parents, caregivers and health care providers not to feed SimplyThick, a thickening product, to premature infants.”[8] The concern is that the product may cause necrotizing enterocolitis (i.e., NEC). As of July 10, 2012 the FDA has not established the causal link between SimplyThick and NEC.”

    If xantham gum might cause necrotizing enterocolitis, which can be deadly to premature infants, just think what it can do to an adult? The verdict is still out, but why let the food manufacturers use you as their guinea pig until they get the situation figured out? My own body’s reaction is enough for me to let me know that the stuff is not and should not be considered a food. I’m not touching the stuff ever again. Unlike the people who claim you absolutely have to have it, I have found that you don’t. It just requires more experimentation or living with the slightly inferior results. I don’t care if my breads have cracks in them. Having crack-free bread is too high a price to pay for having a damaged body. Besides if you have to have all the special effects there are apparently other safer substitutes.

    • Hi Carole,

      Thanks for the information you shared. I would like to think as time goes on more evidence will come out, but in the meantime we have to listen to our bodies and our instincts.

      I haven’t found any gluten-free breads on the market that seem like real food, from strange flour combinations to unknown binders it’s best to avoid them I think.

      I don’t really miss bread, which is surprising, and I’m finding myself going toward a more old school traditional diet.

      Thanks for your comments!

  7. I was diagnosed a few years ago with Celiac’s disease and have enjoyed the somewhat challenging journey of gluten free cooking. I only recently discovered Xantham Gum (I use Bob’s Red Mill) and how it greatly improves textures and consistencies of baked goods. So I was very curious and a little concerned when I read this article at first. But I researched a little on my own, after I read some stuff that didn’t quite ring entirely true in my brain.
    Isopropanol is rubbing alcohol, evaporates rapidly and is relatively non-toxic- unless you decide to just take a swig of it or submerse yourself in it (it is toxic that way, that much is true). It is used to disinfect many things every day and is in those antibacterial hand gels everyone uses ( not advocating eating those either). Ethanol is drinking alcohol (not sure why the author claimed that it is a petroleum product) it is made by fermenting various grains, or by feeding yeast sugars. It is used in fuel products now, but even that is derived from corn. (Yes, probably GMO corn.) Ethanol is in wine, hard liquors, beer, hard ciders, you name the alcoholic beverage and it contains ethanol. I could argue that ethanol, and by default, even wine is neurotoxin (excessive consumption is fatal). I checked WebMD’s info and it appears to me that the list of side effects is actually a list of side effects you will find for most laxatives (which it can be used as) or even a high dietary fiber intake. Most recipes call for very little Xantham gum, compared to the 15g/1T per day reference value. I read Bob’s Red Mill’s information about their Xantham Gum (the brand I use for many of my GF needs) and they do not feed theirs corn or soy. http://www.bobsredmill.com/blog/gluten-free/guar-gum-vs-xanthan-gum/ As for causing Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) in premature infants, well duh (kinda). I am a nursing student and we were taught that inappropriately mixed (which means not prepared in a sterile environment with sterile equipment) baby formula given to premature infants can cause NEC- just think what baby formula could do to adults if they drank it! (While it is not known exactly what cause NEC, several factors contribute in the premature infant, largely a poorly vascularized, immature small intestine that is not really ready to receive nutrients and has no natural defenses because their gut has not been colonized with normal bacteria, and some fairly common organisms may actually be implicated.) Lastly, you can of course, be allergic to this substance, just like any other substance. (I would argue this is probably what was occurring to the individual who experienced nasal congestion and abdominal pain.) Lastly, Xantham gum is pretty much as natural as champagne or nearly any fermented food. We use a microorganism to produce a chemical (in champagne/sparkling wine, the yeast produces CO2 and alcohol) that we want. If you are allergic to or shy of using this product, then don’t. But if you want to and were scared by this article, I encourage you to do a little more of your own research as I found a some of the posts and of the original article to be, at best, misleading.

    • HI Andrace, thanks for taking the time to read my post, research it on your own and come back with your findings. My research found that the two alcohols are petroleum products (many more than we realize are). Here is an article explaining the difference between bio-ethanol and petroleum ethanol http://www.ethanolproducer.com/articles/2077/distinguishing-between-%91bio-ethanol'-and-petroleum-ethanol/ . Here’s another article that talks about petroleum products http://www.oil150.com/essays/2008/04/products-from-petroleum— isopropyl alcohol was the first petroleum product created (by Exxon in 1920), I believe.

      Buying it from Bob’s Red Mill is a responsible way to buy it— it’s manufactured in Europe and I believe that the company has integrity so I would take their word for something, but that does not mean that xanthan gum manufactured in biotechnology factories in China is the same as that— and it’s in many, many products.

      You’re absolutely right that excess alcohol consumption is bad for your health, and I’m sure drinking it every day for years would ultimately deteriorate your health (perhaps using xanthan gum daily would too).

      I pointed out in my article that the amount that the FDA GRAS found safe was 0.7 grams— a lot less than what WebMD says and FDA GRAS isn’t definitive, but certainly a much smaller amount than WebMD, which also isn’t definitive.

      Absolutely, if people want to go on using it, they can, but like I said unless you know the source (and at this point I would recommend Bob’s Red Mill) then you should be cautious. I stand behind what I have said in my post. I think for any topic there is numerous conflicting information out there and I believe people should do their own research before making their own decisions.

      I’m sorry you found my article to be, at best, misleading. I try to thoroughly research my articles and put my opinion in. My research found that it was an industrial processed product.

      Personally, I will still try to avoid it as much as possible.

  8. Thanks for posting! Gluten-free products starting slipping into my diet when I was dating someone who was gluten-sensitive. It took me a full year to figure out why I was having bouts of intense stomach and intestinal cramping. Turns out it was xanthan gum. Guar gum can cause it, too. I am an acupuncturist and have seen this reaction in patients as well, so it’s nice to let gluten-free folks know it is something to watch out for!

    • Thanks for your input, Ash. I see it in so many things now, it’s just another thing to try to avoid. It’s good to hear that about Guar gum too, I’m always weary of those gums.

    • If you are having intense stomach pains/cramping, you might also consider whether it’s caused by nuts and nut flours. A chiropractor who is caring for my ADHD son through a program called Brain Balance told me to be careful with almond flour, etc. It apparently causes irritation in a certain muscle in your intestines (can’t remember the name of it). He is a specialist in gluten sensitivity (he recently diagnosed my son as having Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity using a very new blood test that’s only been available for 2-3 years) and has many colleagues who are up on the very latest research on the subject. I have found his warning to ring true.

      This is not to negate the discussion about Xanthan Gum. I was trying to decide whether the substance is safe enough for me to justify buying some online. Thank you to all of you for adding to the discussion and providing more “food for thought,” no pun intended. ☺

  9. Am i glad I finally looked this issue up and found your research. I was using it in homemade stuff! Can’t believe how easy it is to do the wrong things for the right reasons when you just assume the “health” food industry has your best interests at heart. THANKS!

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