Memo on your Xanthan Gum: is it safe to eat?

17 05 2009

So while I was making a tuna salad the other day, a friend pointed out the presence of xanthan gum in my low fat mayonnaise, saying it may carry a number of health risks. Since I know she is as cautious and wise as they come when it comes to what she eats, I was curious to know if she was right.

So I decided to do some research.

What is Xanthan Gum?

Xanthan gum is a polysacharride that is most popularly used today as a food thickener, especially in salad dressings and low fat foods. It enables such liquids to remain homogenous at rest, and requires a very small amount to elicit its effect. It is also used in the oil industry to thicken drilling mud (it keeps the drill parts lubricated), and in the pouring of concrete underwater.

How is it made?

A bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris forms a byproduct that acts like a natural stabilizer and thickener. The bacteria is fed corn sugar as it produces a clear liquid called xanthan gum.

Is it safe?

Yes! Research has shown that there is minimal risk following xanthan gum consumption, though some people may be allergic to it. It has been available as a food additive for decades, and has been met the FDA regulations for human consumption. Here is a great article on how food additives are regulated.

However it is important to note that xanthan gum is relatively indigestible by humans, that is it acts like a fiber, and may cause GI distress if consumed in large quantities.

Where else might I find it?

It is added to cosmetic products, low fat or fat free yogurt, ice cream (it prevents ice crystals from forming), salad dressings, dairy products, and many foods with a creamy texture.

So what’s the final word?

Xanthan gum is just another food additive not unlike the many that play an important role in today’s food supply. Without ingredients like xanthan gum, the food available in grocery stores (and more importantly, the ice cream shop) would lack its consistency, variety, and palatability. 

In the end, I was unable to find any credible research citing deleterious effects of consumption of this ingredient, and wouldn’t hesitate to make myself another tuna salad. Thank goodness!

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One response

3 11 2009
Jeff

One thing I do agree with you about is that very little research has been done to determine the negative health effects of food additives. I think you put to much faith in the FDA in regulating food additives. Xantham gum is made from corn, just the same as high fructose. Neither being naturally occuring forms of corn, but rather industrial forms. The FDA also allows food additives such as MSG, dimethypolysiloxene and butylhydroquinone or more commonly known as TBHQ or butane (i.e. lighter fluid). Most noticebly in the news, the FDa has been scrutinized because of the European ban on US exported meat.

The reason why you can’t find information on the negative health effects of food additives is because most research done to determine their effects is sponsored by big bussiness such as Monsato. There simply isn’t funding to determine the effects it has on our bodily systems.

I don’t have all the answers, but I have read a couple of really good books that can give better infom you for your next blog. I recommend reading: Omnivore’s Dilemma, Crazy makers and How the Food Industry is Destroying Our Brains and a Consumer’s Dictionary to Food additives.

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