The Amateur Food Detective

The Amateur Food Detective
Bluebird Acres Farm in Friendship, NY

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Chewing Xanthan Gum


Okay, so the title of this piece is a little tongue-in-cheek (not to be confused with gum in cheek, ha ha), because obviously xanthan gum isn’t the candy you might use to appease a wailing child. It’s a food additive, and like most additives, it has both a negative side and positive side.
If you’ve ever read the ingredients on a bottle of salad dressing or sauces, or even on packages of ice cream, you will likely find xanthan gum listed. Like polysorbate and carrageenan, it keeps ingredients from separating and making the product appear inedible. It can also help thicken the product.
Xanthan gum is made by fermenting glucose, sucrose, or lactose with the bacterium Xanthomonus campestris. This bacterium is the same one that creates the black spots on cauliflower and broccoli. Your mouth watering yet?
If you’re allergic or sensitive to corn or soy, you may wish to avoid xanthan gum, as companies may be using these ingredients in its production. It’s also possible it could cause bloating and abdominal pain for some people. This could be because it’s a carbohydrate with 7 grams of fiber per tablespoon. However, take a look at this post by someone who has abdominal distress after consuming products containing xanthan gum: http://elskbrev.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/adverse-side-effects-of-xanthan-gum/
I’ve also read that exposure to xanthan gum might cause migraines, skin irritation, or in the case of bakers working with the powder, throat and nose irritation.
Now on to another interesting part of my discovery. In the 1970s, an experiment performed on people who were looking to lose weight showed that taking xanthan gum in capsule form (two 550 milligrams 20-30 minutes before meals) helped shed weight. Another study following that one also affected weight loss, but it was a slow loss.
I find this interesting, because in all my research I can’t find anything where people have tried taking xanthan gum for weight loss. I’ve found that several people use it in smoothie recipes or baked goods (especially if they can’t consume products containing gluten). If you know of anyone who has used xanthan gum to aid in their weight loss plan, please have them contact me. I’d love to interview him or her.
The FDA regards xanthan gum to be safe. FAO/WHO could not find any toxic effects or carcinogens attributable to the gum. So although people may be sensitive to this product or allergic to the ingredients it’s derived from, in general it seems to be a harmless product.