Xanthan Gum: The pros and cons of this synthetic gummy additive


What is xanthan gum?

Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide (a carbohydrate) whose molecules consist of a number of sugar molecules bonded together) that is extracted from bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. The xanthan gum is obtained from sugar with the help of fermentation (the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria) from bacteria Xanthomonas campestris. It is broken down into a broth substance which is made solid by the addition of alcohol. This mixture is then dried and powder.

Allene Rosalind Jeanes, a renowned researcher for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, discovered xanthan gum and it was developed for commercial use. The FDA deemed it a safe food additive in 1968. Xanthan gum is produced by natural fermentation (the chemical breakdown of a substance by bacteria) of corn, soy, wheat, or cabbage. The bacteria digest the sugars in these vegetables and produce a complex sugar polymer. Alcohol is added to make it drop out of solution.

The xanthan gum is then dried and converted into a powder that can be used in the food and other products. It has also found a popular role to play in the production of gluten-free food products. Xanthan gum is found in many food, personal care, and industrial products.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture National Organic Program has added xanthan gum on the National list for use in organic processing in the U.S. Xanthan gum has also found a major area of importance in organic production. It is classified as a vegetarian product and can be deemed to be halal (permissible or lawful in traditional Islamic law) and kosher (foods are those that conform to the Jewish dietary regulations.)

Health benefits of xanthan gum

Xanthan gum is used to improve the consistency, texture, and flavor of your pastries. Apart from decorating your food and making it look appetizing xanthan gum helps in preserving your food and improves shelf life by giving that extra color that is a feast to your eyes. Xanthan gum is present in medicines, salad dressings, cosmetics, ice cream, and even gum.

Apart from making food better looking it is also anti-cancer in nature. The oral administration of xanthan gum effectively caused retardation in tumor growth and helped prolong survival. Certain food products of xanthan gum helped patients suffering from oropharyngeal dysphagia (a condition where a person finds difficulty or has an abnormality in swallowing.) xanthan gum possess this property as it has an increased tendency of viscosity. It helps in aspiration and used for stroke patients.

The viscosity nature of the xanthan gum helps in preventing the blood from spiking. This particular feature helps lower the blood pressure along with cholesterol levels. It is used as a saliva substitute for people suffering from dry mouth. Xanthan gum acts as good fiber and improves bowel regularity. It improves the movement of water in the intestines and makes the stools softer and helps in easier defecation.

The major health benefit that it provides is its efficiency to lower blood sugar. Its viscosity nature slows absorption and hinders sugar from entering into your blood stream. This helps to decrease sugar spikes after eating. Xanthan gum is present in the following foods:

  • Used as a substitute for wheat in gluten-free products.
  • Present in salad dressing and milk-based sauces.
  • Used as a thickening agent in several recipes.
  • Used in ice creams and frozen foods.
  • Syrups
  • Toppings
  • Baked goods
  • Confectioneries and candies,
  • Breadings
  • Batter
  • Low fat spreads.

The other uses of xanthan gum

Xanthan gum doesn’t just limit its service to food products but has also been an active member in personal and industrial products too. It is present in toothpaste, shampoos, lotions, and creams. The skin hydrating properties present in xanthan gum helps it to be used in beauty products.  It helps to keep the constituent together and if necessary loosen them up and allow them to mix with each other.

The drawbacks of consuming xanthan gum

The major outcome of things going wrong with xanthan gum is a stomach upset. It can showcase certain conditions like, increased frequency of bowel movement, loose stools, increase gas, and can alter gut bacteria. According to a 2012 article, published in the “Journal of Pediatrics” brought to notice that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent out warnings that products containing xanthan gum have been linked to illnesses and deaths in infants.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has made it mandatory, that over-the-counter medication which contains water-soluble gums, such as xanthan gum, must have warnings about choking on their packaging. As xanthan gum can cause choking this can be a result of esophageal obstruction and asphyxiation which can occur when these medications are not taken with enough water.

Beware if you fall in this category

Xanthan gum, though, a wonderful additive can at times be a risky ingredient. It is essential to avoid using xanthan gum for people having severe wheat, corn, soy or dairy allergies. Being derived from sugar xanthan can cause any adverse reaction to the people having these above-mentioned allergies.

Avoid using xanthan gum for premature infants as it can influence the infants to develop necrotizing enterocolitis (a medical condition where a portion of the bowel dies). This condition is said to be life-threatening and can start with damaging the intestine and leading to death.

People who are diabetic and on prescribed medication such as glimepiride (Amaryl), glyburide (DiaBeta, Glynase PresTab, Micronase), insulin, pioglitazone (Actos), rosiglitazone (Avandia), chlorpropamide (Diabinese), glipizide (Glucotrol), tolbutamide (Orinase), etc, should take care while taking xanthan gum. Specifically, its intake should be stopped a few weeks before surgery to avoid any complications.

It is also advisable for people who have a history of fecal incontinence (the inability to control bowel movements, causing stool (feces) to leak unexpectedly from the rectum.) to avoid taking xanthan as it can work up the bowel more. 

Best xanthan gum substitutes 

Xanthan gum can be substituted with the following foods:

Psyllium Fiber

Psyllium is an excellent source of natural fibers and has a well-known beneficial quality in lowering cholesterol and insulin sensitivity. It is sold widely as a dietary supplement and has been used as an alternative for gluten. A little amount of Psyllium fiber helps to keep your bakery products fluffy and increase shelf life.

Chia Seeds

Chia seeds have the very same factors that encourage the use of it as a substitute for xanthan gum. It consists of a largely soluble amount of fibers, omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. The presence of the omega fatty acids helps it behave as a suppressing agent and eradicates the primary cause of chronic disease. It forms a gel-like substance when added with liquid and plays a vital role in improving the overall structure of baked goods. It also helps keep gluten-free bread from drying.

Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds are nature’s richest omega-3 fatty acids source. They have been found in bread and various bakery products for more than years. The health benefits of flaxseeds have made it a major element to be present in many food items. Flaxseeds have shown major improvements in medical conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol, and cancer. It is ground into a powder and used to make loaves of breads and it easily replace gluten without any hesitation.

Gelatin

The benefits of gelatin can be described on and on as mentioned by Weston a Price Foundation, “Prior to the mid 20th century, doctors recommended the addition of glycine-rich gelatin to the homemade infant formulas that were used when breastfeeding was not possible!” So the method of use is very simple just mix the powder form of gelatin with water and your gooey mixture for your wonderful cake is ready.

Agar Agar

Agar Agar is a healthy substitute for gelatin and is known as the safest form of xanthan gum substitute for vegetarians. It is derived from plants and is known as a plant-based gelatin substitute. It was used as weight reducing supplement by the Japanese and also opened his healing arms to treat diabetes and constipation. It is a product made from seaweed. You needn’t feel so gross about it, it is completely flavorless and is used as thickening and food stabilizing agent.

Quantity of xanthan gum used for various purposes 

If you need the correct form or look for your dish then please follow the below instructions: 

Thickening: As a thickening agent, the amount of xanthan gum you will use depends on how thick you want the liquid to be. For general purposes, you will use a 0.1% weight ratio for light thickening up to a 1.0% ratio for a very thick sauce. Care should be taken not to add too much xanthan gum as it can become detestable and seem like mucus.

Make Foam: To make foam it is essential to maintain a ratio between 2% and 0.8% of xanthan gum. The more xanthan gum you use can result in larger bubbles and will make the foam seem denser.

Create Bubbles: For bubbles, resembling soap bubbles, a typical ratio is 0.1% to 0.4% xanthan gum and 0.2% to 2.0% Versawhip or egg white powder.

Emulsion: To make a stronger emulsion it is necessary to add more xanthan gum, the more xanthan gum you add, the stronger the emulsion will be. To start binding an emulsion a ratio of around 0.1% can be used. If you want to also thicken the emulsion you can add up to around 0.7% of xanthan gum.

As a thickening agent in food, xanthan gum helps trap air bubble and keeps your lovely cake from losing shape. It is also an active emulsifier with the potential to hold your dish and make it a feast for your eyes. You can use xanthan gum for holding your sauces, pestos, soups and various forms of purees intact.

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