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 gum… xanthan gum… xanthan 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.