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The Unappetizing Truth About Xanthan Gum

Chances are that if you are into gluten-free baking, then you will have come across xanthan gum. But the use of this seemingly innocuous ingredient stretches far beyond the realm of gluten-free baking and it is widely used within the food industry. But could it actually be harming our health?

What is Xanthan Gum?

A common food additive, xanthan gum is used as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier. It is created through the fermentation of sugar by the bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris. Once it has been fermented, it’s then purified, dried, and turned into a fine, white powder.

Xanthan gum helps to create a smooth and creamy texture, prevents ingredients from separating, and makes it easier to achieve the desired consistency. It’s in everything from ice cream to salad dressing and is a staple ingredient of gluten-free baked goods, where it is used to mimic the texture of gluten.

Despite its natural-sounding name, xanthan gum is not extracted from a tree deep in the jungle but is a laboratory-produced additive. In fact, many ‘natural’ additives are produced in a laboratory and the label ‘natural’ comes from the method of production, not the actual source.

Common Uses of Xanthan Gum

You are as likely to find xanthan gum in the kitchen cupboard as you are in the food manufacturing plant or food science lab. Home cooks are encouraged to use it in gluten-free baking, and are even led to believe that success depends upon it. Found alongside the baking powder and gelatine in the home baking aisle, it is also a favourite amongst pastry cooks and patissiere; gluten-free or otherwise.

But the commercial use of xanthan gum is not limited to the food industry. It can be found in cosmetic and personal care products, where it provides a smooth, creamy texture without being sticky or greasy. So, whether you are cooking up a storm or looking for a new moisturizer, chances are that xanthan gum is playing a role in the products you use every day.

One of the reasons it is so ubiquitous is due to its binding properties; it helps hold ingredients together in a way that few other agents can. It is also incredibly easy to use and adds no discernible flavour to food. But is this seemingly magical ingredient just too good to be true?

The Hidden Dangers of Xanthan Gum

However, there are hidden dangers associated with consuming too much xanthan gum. Although it is officially deemed safe, some people have reported digestive issues, including bloating and diarrhoea, after ingesting large amounts of this additive. Additionally, there have been concerns about its effect on gut bacteria and potential allergic reactions. Which just serves to remind us that it is so important to be aware of what we’re putting into our bodies and to read ingredient labels carefully.

Potential Allergies and Sensitivities

Have you ever noticed an uncomfortable sensation or allergic reaction after eating yet you just can’t seem to identify the cause? It’s possible that xanthan gum could be responsible, as it has been known to cause sensitivity or allergic reactions in some individuals. Although not a common allergy, it’s important to be aware of potential reactions and avoid products containing this ingredient if you suspect a sensitivity.

Digestive Problems

Do you ever experience digestive problems after meals? If so, you’re not alone. Millions of people deal with bloating, gas, and other discomforts on a daily basis. It is possible that xanthan gum may be contributing to these issues. This common food additive can act as a laxative in some people, and those with sensitive digestive systems may want to avoid foods that contain it.

Evidence suggests that xanthan gum is having a profound effect on our gut microbiome. Whilst nobody understands exactly what this may mean in the long term, the fact that it is happening is certainly a pause for thought.

Healthier Alternatives to Xanthan Gum

Avoiding xanthan gum in the first place is a good way to start. Basing your diet around fresh natural ingredients and avoiding as many food additives as possible lays the foundation for a healthier diet. But there will be times when you need a helping hand in the kitchen. Especially if you want to explore gluten-free baking. So instead, try using chia seeds, psyllium husk powder, or agar-agar as alternatives.

Of course, the alternative you choose will depend on what you are using it for. And there may be a little trial and error involved. Chia seeds are a great source of fibre and can be ground and added to liquids to create a gel. Psyllium husk, another excellent source of fibre, can also be used similarly to chia seeds or added to batters for a thicker texture. It is also invaluable in gluten-free bread making. Agar agar can be used in place of xanthan gum in recipes that require a firmer texture.

These alternatives not only provide health benefits but also add unique flavours and textures to your dishes. Give them a try and see which one works best for you!

If you are interested in exploring gluten free baking, take a look at our guide to using gluten free flours. And don’t forget to check out our range of gluten free flours too.

This article was reproduced on this site with permission from the “Gluten Free Cereal Manufacturers”.
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