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!