Thursday, June 4, 2015

What is Xanthan Gum?

[Lifestyle and Dietary] 

If, for dietary, health-conscious, or just naturally curious reasons, you find yourself reading the ingredient list on numerous food products, you are bound to ask yourself the question, “What is Xanthum Gum anyway, and is it actually safe to consume?”

You will often see Xanthan Gum listed as an ingredient in low fat foods as a thickening agent, in salad dressings for body and visual appeal, and in food substitutes such as gluten free baked goods to provide back some of the elasticity that would have been provided by the gluten.

So what is it?  In simplest terms, it is a bacterial slime derived primarily from corn but also soy and wheat.  Its current uses were derived from a study in the 1960’s to determine if there were practical benefits to be derived from this slime.  Some uses beyond serving as a food additive include underwater concrete pouring and particle suspension for horizontal drilling operations.

A more dispassionate and scientific definition of Xanthan gum is that it is a largely indigestible polysaccharide that is produced by bacteria called Xanthomonas Camestris.  Manufacturers place the bacteria in a growth medium that contains sugars and other nutrients, and the resulting product of bacterial fermentation is purified, dried, powdered, and sold as Xanthan Gum.

Studies thus far have shown Xanthan Gum to be a harmless food additive, and if anything, ingested in large and frequent quantities, it serves as a laxative.

The challenge is, that if you are aiming to achieve a more healthy diet and one that address dietary intolerances that you maybe experiencing, then how do you do so, as it seems avoiding one issue presents you with another one squarely in the face?

For, example, if you are dairy (lactose and/or casein) intolerant, and have opted for almond milk, that milk substitute will likely have carrageenan and/or Xanthan Gum additives. Furthermore, if you also have sensitivities to wheat (gluten), soy, or concerns about GMO corn, then Xanthan Gum may be an issue.  Lastly, if you are concerned about sustainability in the sense of fresh water resources and the efficacy of food, then the issue becomes even more complex.

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