We’d be willing to bet you’ve never heard of xanthan gum, but you’ve probably eaten it. People use this wondrous ingredient in cooking and homeopathic remedies all around the world.
- Xanthan gum is found in everything from salad dressing to ice cream to toothpaste and more. It’s usually used as an additive to help thicken and emulsify food products.
- It’s FDA approved, and while it is very useful, it also has a range of surprising health benefits. Xanthan gum can aid weight loss, lower blood pressure, help bowel movements, and it might even be able to help prevent cancer.
We’ve taken a closer look at everything you need to know about xanthan gum. Read on to see how this additive can improve your life.
What is xanthan gum?
Xanthan gum is one of those things you find in all sorts of products, but no one really knows what it is.
- The xanthan gum you buy in shops comes from a particular type of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. It is usually sold as a white or light-coloured powder, and looks similar to baking powder.
Xanthan gum is formed when the X. campestris bacteria feeds on plants. It produces a protective coating, like the peel of an orange or the skin of an onion. You can see xanthan gum in the wild, as it is natural, not synthetic. Plants infected with the bacteria are discoloured, and as the bacteria continues to grow, a white coating forms over it. The thick, sugary outer layer protects the bacteria while it works, and it is this outer layer that we take away and transform into xanthan gum.
How is xanthan gum made?
Xanthan gum is made through the fermentation of this coating, although it doesn’t actually contain any of the bacteria. It’s basically a by-product. Manufacturers pull this outer layer away and use that to make xanthan gum, so you don’t need to worry about bacteria or infection.
- Technically, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, which means it is a type of carbohydrate made up of sugars and glucose. Usually, it is made by fermenting glucose and sucrose, a mix of sugars. Some lactose is also used, but you can get lactose-free options.
Once the xanthan gum layer has formed, which takes up to four days, manufacturers remove it and then pasteurize it to kill any active bacteria. Then, it is dehydrated or dried. Once dried, it is ground down into a powder and is ready for sale.
Usually, manufacturers use corn sugar as the base food, but different types of plants and sugars can be used to make xanthan gum, so if you have any allergies, you should check which base has been used to ensure you don’t have a reaction. Some common bases include corn, wheat, soy, and dairy.
History of Xanthan gum
Unlike a lot of food substances, xanthan gum is relatively recent. It wasn’t around for the Romans to use in baking, and no ancient Egyptian ever added it to their diet. In fact, it was only discovered in the 1960s.
- Xanthan gum was discovered in a research lab after the Great Depression in the early 1930s.
With so many farmers walking off their farms during the Great Depression, the government needed to find new ways to preserve crops, so they set up labs for development and research.
The discovery of Xanthan gum
In one of these labs, Allene Rosalind Jeanes discovered xanthan gum during research for the United States Department of Agriculture. Originally it was called Kelzan and was produced by the Kelco company. But very quickly, people realised how useful it was for pretty much everything to do with food and cosmetics. Then, in 1968 it was approved for use in foods in the US, Europe, Australia, and many other countries.
And we’ve never looked back. Xanthan gum is so valuable; it’s in so many different things, it’s hard to imagine life without it.
- Unlike other additives, there is currently no limit on how much of the gum can be used in food. The only limit is how much it takes to ruin a recipe!
Generally, so little xanthan gum is needed in recipes and products that we never get close to having too much of it.
Xanthan gum was discovered in the early 1960s by a scientist in the US. It was approved for use in food and household products very quickly and has been used in millions of products ever since.
How can you use xanthan gum?
Although it might sound a little strange, manufacturers use xanthan gum in many food products. You’d be surprised how often you consume it without knowing it.
- Xanthan gum is usually used as a thickener, so it is added to lots of food products to help improve their texture. It is also used regularly to help improve the consistency of foods, their appearance, and to lengthen their shelf life. For example, since olive oil and water-based products don’t usually mix, the gum is used to combine these ingredients in salad dressings.
Bakers use it a lot in baking because it helps trap air released by the baking powder and yeast. This means cakes rise evenly, and you get a light, fluffy cake. It also helps keep mixtures together, so they don’t become crumbly. This is particularly important in gluten-free and dairy-free recipes, which can end up falling to pieces.
- But xanthan gum isn’t just used in foods.
It’s considered a very safe product and is used in creams, toothpaste, shampoo, and more! It helps keep creams a nice consistency without becoming sticky. So next time you reach for your favourite thick and creamy moisturiser, take a look at the ingredients list; chances are, you’re already using it!
Of course, because it’s so effective at thickening liquids to a nice consistency, xanthan gum is also used in a whole range of other products, including paint, toilet cleaner, glue, insecticides, oven cleaner, and more. You’ve likely been using it for years and just did not know it.
Xanthan gum is an additive that is used to thicken everything from toothpaste and glue to baking mixtures and salad dressings. It is also used to help bind together two liquids that would otherwise remain separate, for example, water and oil.
Xanthan gum salad dressing
Xanthan gum makes a really great addition to salad dressing because it helps bind the ingredients together. A small amount of gum in your homemade dressing will give it the quality of a proper, store-bought professional dressing. Here’s our favourite recipe.
- 90ml lemon juice
- 35ml cold water
- ¼ teaspoon xanthan gum
- 100ml grapeseed oil
- 100ml olive oil
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of white pepper
- In a blender or using a whisk, mix together the lemon juice and water.
- Once smooth, slowly add the xanthan gum, mixing until the liquid is smooth and thick. If you want a thicker consistency, add slightly more gum.
- Then, slowly add the two oils until the mixture is creamy. You’ll notice the mixture doesn’t separate, and becomes a smooth mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
May aid weight loss
Xanthan gum is a type of soluble fibre, which means it is effectively a no-calorie food. No matter how much of the gum is in your food, you won’t put weight on, and therefore it is a great weight loss product. Consequently, you can use it to replace other additives that do contain calories.
Feel fuller for longer
- As well as having zero calories, xanthan gum is used in weight loss products because it helps keep you feeling fuller for longer. Because your body cannot digest and break down the gum, when you consume it, your digestion slows down.
Your body needs to spend more time working out what to digest and what to pass as waste. Your digestive system tries hard to break down the gum, and it takes your body a little while to realise it can’t digest the gum like other foods.
As a result, any food you eat with xanthan gum will stay in your digestive system longer. With slower digestion, you feel satiated for a much longer period of time after eating than you normally would. This puts an end to food cravings and prevents overeating, which are significant factors in gaining weight.
In addition, xanthan gum swells slightly while being digested. It pulls fluids to it, enabling it to expand. So, another reason you feel fuller longer is because you are actually fuller. However, with no calories, you won’t gain weight.
Xanthan gum is often used to aid weight loss because it contains no calories and can help you feel fuller for longer.
Might help lower blood pressure
Another significant benefit of xanthan gum is its remarkable ability to help lower blood pressure. There have been lots of studies done to understand why it can do this.
- Scientists have discovered that the xanthan gum reacts to the fluids in your digestive system. Like it does with all fluids, the gum makes your digestive fluids thicker and more viscose. It turns water-like digestive juices into a more viscous gel-like consistency.
The thicker consistency slows the process of taking sugar from food and moving it into your bloodstream. As sugars enter your bloodstream, it does so at a slower pace. This helps even out the amount of blood sugar in your body and prevents sudden spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels.
Studies have shown that as little as 12 grams a day can help maintain even levels of blood sugar for 48 hours. This means that if you struggle to maintain your blood sugar levels, eating a small amount of xanthan gum every day can help regulate your issue.
Also helps with cholesterol
As well as helping regulate blood sugar levels, xanthan gum helps with cholesterol levels. Researchers believe it helps to slow down the liver’s ability to synthesize LDL (low-density lipoproteins). LDL is the bad cholesterol that can lead to heart damage and heart failure.
In the same way that xanthan gum thickens and slows digestive fluids, slowing the absorption rate of sugars, it also slows the absorption of LDL into your bloodstream. But the impact of the gum is twofold. By reducing blood sugar, it is already lowering your cholesterol indirectly. High sugar and glucose levels encourage your liver to increase the fat in your blood. So, by evening out your blood sugar and slowing the synthesis of LDL, your body is getting a double-hit of low cholesterol goodness.
Xanthan gum has been proven by scientists to help slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, thereby preventing high blood sugar spikes. It can also help keep cholesterol down.
Could aid digestive problems
Do you struggle with digestive issues? Find yourself blocked and bloated after a large meal? Well, xanthan gum could help you out. Studies show that having just a tiny amount of gum every day can help with digestion. It can help encourage easy and smooth digestion of foods which can minimise symptoms of overeating and indigestion. It does this in two significant ways:
The first way xanthan gum helps with digestive issues is that it swells as it reacts with the fluids in your stomach and intestines. This signals your intestines and digestive system to start working to move the gum through your body. Any food you’ve recently eaten gets pushed through your body and digested with it. It’s why lots of people take it for constipation. It gives your body the push it needs to get everything moving again without adding to the blockage.
Some early research also suggests that xanthan gum can promote healthy gut bacteria.
As a type of fibre, the gum can encourage the growth of beneficial bacteria by promoting a healthy gut environment. As a result, your body will be more effective at breaking down and digesting food.
Increases water absorption
The other crucial way xanthan gum helps with digestive issues is it helps increase the amount of water and fluid in your intestines. When you are constipated, it can feel tough and dry when you go to the toilet, which results in a very painful experience. It reacts with liquids, and it can help pull liquids along with it. By increasing the amount of fluid in your intestines, the gum helps soften any hard blockages and encourages a soft stool that can be passed quickly.
- By boosting the digestive enzymes and fluids in your gut, intestines, and colon, scientists have concluded that most standard digestive issues can be cured by ingesting xanthan gum.
Any symptoms associated with overeating and digestive pain can be prevented by taking small amounts of the gum after a big meal.
Ingesting xanthan gum after a large meal can help encourage digestion and prevent or cure constipation. The gum helps stimulate your digestive system by swelling up and forcing your body to digest food. It also increases the amount of fluid in your body, helping keep food waste moving through your bowels.
Can help cure dry mouth
Xanthan gum can be used to help deal with rare conditions such as dry mouth. A dry mouth occurs when your body doesn’t produce enough saliva. This can make eating, chewing, and digesting very difficult, and in extreme cases, it can have long-term medical consequences.
- Xanthan gum reacts with liquids. This means that it can stimulate your body to produce more saliva in cases where there are little to no liquids.
Xanthan gum is an emulsifier which means it binds moisture together. This greatly assists people who need to increase the amount of saliva they produce, making eating much more manageable.
It can also be helpful to keep people who are on fluid-restrictive diets, hydrated. By encouraging the production of saliva and digestive fluids, and promoting fluid retention, it can be useful for people with medical issues that make staying hydrated an issue.
Help with swallowing
- As well as helping people who need a saliva substitute, xanthan is often added to liquids to make them thicker for people who have swallowing issues.
You might have seen the recent online trend of trying “thick water.” Thick water is designed for people who have problems swallowing or people with neurological diseases who find swallowing thin watery liquids difficult. Thick water is usually water with a thickening agent like xanthan gum added. This gives the water or other drink a thicker, more gel-like consistency making it easier to swallow. It is the perfect additive to thicken liquids at home.
Because it is both a thickener and an emulsifier, xanthan gum can be used to help encourage saliva production, and aid eating and digestion for people with dry mouth. In addition, it can be added to liquids to thicken them and make swallowing easier.
May help prevent cancer
While it’s still early days, and scientists haven’t really studied the subject in any depth, it appears that xanthan gum might help fight cancers. The few tests conducted on mice with tumours, so far, showed that those who had the gum regularly had slower tumour growth. No one really knows how or why xanthan gum accomplishes this, but it is encouraging that it may help slow the spread of cancer and stop the growth of tumours.
- Therefore, it is logical that if xanthan gum helps prevent cancers from growing, it could help prevent you from getting cancer in the first place.
Researchers have a long way to go before they arrive at a definitive conclusion, but as there is no evidence that it causes cancer, it certainly won’t harm you. And it may even help you!
Early research suggests that ingesting xanthan gum can help slow the spread of cancers and prevent tumour growth. However, more research is needed to find out how it does this.
Xanthan gum in baking
One of the easiest ways to introduce xanthan gum into your diet is to include it in your at-home baking. Usually, gluten is used in baking to help keep all the ingredients bound together. However, for people who can’t have gluten, xanthan gum is an effective substitute. It helps bind the moisture together, which keeps your cakes light, fluffy, and moist without crumbling to pieces.
- Xanthan is used in bread and pizza bases to hold the dough together. Some gluten-free baking mixtures include xanthan gum as part of the flour or base mixture.
Always check the label because you don’t want to add any more if there is already some in the mixture. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and too much of it can ruin your recipe.
If you want to include xanthan gum in your baking but don’t know where to start, here is one of our favourite gluten-free blueberry muffins.
- 250g gluten-free flour
- 100g sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
- Pink of salt
- 60g butter, melted
- 240ml whole milk
- 30g blueberries
- Zest of one lemon, grated
- Vanilla essence
- 2 eggs
- Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius. Grease a 12-cup muffin pan with butter and line it.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs until smooth.
- Slowly add the milk, vanilla essence, and the lemon zest. Once smooth, slowly add the melted butter.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, xanthan gum, and a pinch of salt.
- Slowly add the dry mixture to the moist egg mixture. Mix gently without whisking.
- Once thoroughly mixed, slowly add the blueberries, folding them in gently. Do not over mix.
- Divide the mixture evenly into the muffin pan.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the tray halfway through to ensure even cooking. Allow to cool slightly before serving.
How much xanthan gum can you use?
Not very much! With xanthan gum, less is more, and you definitely don’t want to use too much. Although every recipe is different, most recipes for baking and cooking won’t ask for more than about a teaspoon. This is usually enough for it to work and for you to get the health benefits of the gum. It’s better to add too little than too much! You shouldn’t ingest more than about 10 grams a day.
What is xanthan gum used for?
Xanthan gum is a thickening agent, which means it is used in cooking and other household products to change the consistency of liquids. It is used for thickening foods and drinks as well as other products like glue and cleaners. It can thicken water and liquids for people who need help swallowing.
What does xanthan gum do?
Xanthan gum thickens and binds liquids together. This makes it a great aid to digestion as well as helping to beat constipation. Because it changes the consistency of liquids, it also affects absorption rates in your body, thereby lowering blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
What is a xanthan gum substitute?
If you don’t have any xanthan gum or prefer to use something else, there are lots of substitutes available. Corn starch is a good substitute. So is unflavoured gelatine. Another good natural substitute is agar-agar, which is a plant-based alternative to xanthan gum.
Where can I buy xanthan gum?
You can buy xanthan gum in most baking and cooking stores. You might even be able to find it in the baking aisle of your local supermarket. Take a look in health food stores or online. Depending on the size of the store, you may only have one option, so buying it online will give you more choices.
How much xanthan gum can you use in baking?
Every recipe is different, but you should only use small amounts. It is very effective, and therefore using too much can ruin a recipe. Generally, recipes only need around 1 teaspoon. You might need to use 2 teaspoons for something like bread, but you won’t need to use a lot. Xanthan gum is an additive, not the main ingredient.
Is xanthan gum gluten free?
Yes! It is gluten-free, and it is a staple in gluten-free baking. However, gluten-free recipes often don’t stick together well because without gluten, cakes can fall apart. Xanthan gum is used in most gluten-free products because it acts like gluten, and it is safe for celiacs.
How do you dissolve xanthan gum in water?
It’s best to dissolve xanthan gum in water before adding it to a recipe. This gives you greater control of how much gum you use, and it helps distribute it evenly. Measure out the amount of gum you need and slowly add water. Slightly warm (not hot) water is best. Slowly whisk the mixture as it thickens. It may take a minute or so. Add more water if it becomes too thick.
Is xanthan gum healthy?
Xanthan gum is approved for use in food products and cosmetic products around the world. It is safe and healthy for you to put on your skin and in your foods. It also has some additional health benefits, including aiding digestion and lowering blood pressure. Xanthan gum is not good to give to young children and babies, but it is safe for adults.
Why is xanthan gum expensive?
Xanthan gum can be expensive because it is produced in very specialised conditions. It has to be grown and harvested in a proper laboratory using specialist equipment. This means it isn’t cheap to make and, therefore, isn’t cheap to buy. However, the good news is that you really don’t need to use much so one bag will last you a long time. So, when it comes to cost per usage, it really isn’t that expensive at all.
Does xanthan gum have any side effects?
Science considers xanthan gum very safe to ingest and use on your skin. This means there are very few side effects, and you’ll only get them if you have over 15 grams a day: which is a considerable amount! The only real potential side effect of having too much of it is diarrhoea. Because it is a kind of laxative, it can cause digestive issues if you are susceptible to gastrointestinal issues.
Xanthan gum really is everywhere! It’s one of those staple ingredients you really should keep in your kitchen cupboard because you never know when you’ll need it. It’s incredibly useful in baking and cooking, and if you enjoy spending time in your kitchen making food from scratch, xanthan gum is a game-changer.
As well as helping make yummy gluten-free treats and cakes, it can also be used to thicken sauces. If you make your own face creams and cosmetics, it can help bind the ingredients together for a professional result.
As well as being super handy to have in the house, xanthan gum also has a range of health benefits that most people don’t know about. These include helping with weight loss, lowering blood pressure, and helping with digestion. If you are someone who struggles with dry mouth or a lack of saliva, xanthan gum is a must-have.
Have you already discovered the benefits of xanthan gum? Do you use it regularly? We’d love to hear about your favourite recipes for baking and for homemade cosmetics, or any other health benefits you have discovered. Get in touch and leave us a comment!