X is for Xanthan Gum

Bob's Red Mill Xanthan GumHave you ever seen this on the ingredient list of your favorite product? Maybe you have…but maybe you have never given it a second thought. In our house..these days, not a label or ingredient list goes UN-READ…so when I got to the letter X, I thought, what the heck, let’s let the rest of the world know what this crazy sounding ingredient, really is. According to Wikipedia:

Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, derived from the bacterial coat of Xanthomonas campestris, used as a food additive and rheology modifier,[2] commonly used as a food thickening agent (in salad dressings, for example) and a stabilizer (in cosmetic products, for example, to prevent ingredients from separating). It is produced by the fermentation of glucosesucrose, or lactose by the Xanthomonas campestrisbacterium. After a fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. Later, it is added to a liquid medium to form the gum.[3]

I became increasingly aware of this product as I began down the path of gluten free (GF) baking for my daughter about 2 years ago. Xanthan Gum was called for as an ingredient in many of the GF recipes. I had NO idea what it was and had to consult some of my Gluten free Mentors (thanks B.S.!) for advice. Just as they described…I found the bag of this mysterious stuff on the shelf at Whole Foods!  You just need a pinch of this fine powder and some liquid and Viola you have a thickening agent that mimics the “elasticity” of gluten (found in wheat) in a recipe!  Just trying to clean up that bit I sprinkled on the counter (in the photo) with a wet paper towel created a mini-gooey-slick on my countertop. Note to self- next time I spill xanthan gum while baking… nix on the water, and just “dust” it into the garbage can!

I have a number of friends who have been or are just beginning their Gluten Free journeys and I have learned A LOT over the past few weeks from them…. upon my further investigation of Gluten Intolerance and Celiac Disease…I came across this WARNING for XANTHAN GUM:

By no means am I advocating that all people following a gluten-free diet give up products made with Xanthan gum.  But, if you do not feel that the diet is helping you, and are still symptomatic, a sensitivity to Xanthan gum is one possibility that needs to be ruled out.

Ironically, though, I heard a similar conversation the other day from a mom whose son was reacting to GUAR GUM (the suggested replacement for xanthan) in this article… so it only proves once again to me… TO EACH HIS OWN and one man’s food is another’s POISON, know thy body and listen to it, if a food makes you sick- don’t eat it!

One other interesting use for Xanthan Gum I found was as the main ACTIVE ingredient in a product called Simply Thick, which is a thickener for people with swallowing issues.

Wikipedia offered this warning on their site:

On May 20, 2011 the FDA issued a press release warning “parents, caregivers and health care providers not to feed SimplyThick, a thickening product, to premature infants.” The concern is that the product may cause necrotizing enterocolitis. SimplyThick’s active ingredient is xanthan gum.[8]

And the company’s website Echo’s this warning here.

One last interesting note about this fine powder with the funny name… is it appears to be a highly efficient laxative due to this study:

The effect of feeding xanthan gum on colonic function in man: correlation with in vitro determinants of bacterial breakdown.

Abstract

Xanthan gum (15 g/d) was given for 10 d to eighteen normal volunteers. In vivo measurements of stool output, transit time, frequency of defaecation and flatulence were compared with a preceding control period of 10 d. At the end of the control and test periods fresh faecal homogenate from each subject was anaerobically incubated with xanthan gum and control solutions to assess the ability of the bacteria to break down the gum. Xanthan gum was found to be a highly efficient laxative agent causing significant increases in stool output (P < 0.01), frequency of defaecation (P < 0.05) and flatulence (P < 0.01) whilst having variable effects on transit time. Before feeding xanthan gum, faecal samples from twelve of the eighteen subjects could reduce the viscosity of the gum in vitro. This rose to sixteen of the eighteen with significantly greater amounts (P < 0.05) of hydrogen and short-chain fatty acids also being produced, indicating bacterial adaptation in the presence of the substrate. Correlations between the in vivo and in vitro findings did not substantiate claims that the in vivo effect of a given polysaccharide can be predicted from its fermentation characteristics in vitro.

This study looks at Guar and Xanthan and Ispaghula(??) Gum… it is interesting that these “gums” were found to LOWER pH (aka making the environment more acidic!)

Br J Nutr. 1988 Nov;60(3):467-75.

The relation between bacterial degradation of viscous polysaccharides and stool output in human beings.

Abstract

1. The relation between bacterial degradation of three viscous polysaccharides (guar gum, ispaghula and xanthan gum) by colonic bacteria in vitro and their effects on colonic function were investigated by comparing the results of anaerobic in vitro incubations with fresh faeces from seven healthy volunteers (measuring viscosity, pH and gas production) with the effects of feeding all three polysaccharides to the same volunteers for 1 week each (14-15 g/d) on faecal mass and whole-gut transit time. 2. Guar gum was rapidly fermented in vitro by faecal bacteria from all volunteers with concomitant loss of viscosity, reduction in pH and generation of gases. Ispaghula maintained its viscosity during incubation, but the pH fell significantly. The results of xanthan gum incubations showed considerable individual variation. 3. Only ispaghula significantly increased faecal mass, whilst none of the gums significantly affected stool frequency or transit time. Statistical analysis of the pooled results showed that although transit time and faecal output were inversely related, feeding viscous polysaccharides could influence these indices independently. Stool frequency was significantly correlated with the transit time, but not the faecal output. 4. Transit time was reduced by gum feeding to a significantly greater extent in those subjects whose faecal bacteria reduced or removed the viscosity of that gum, than in those subjects where the viscosity was maintained. In contrast, there was a smaller increase in faecal mass when the viscosity of the appropriate cultures was removed than when it was maintained or reduced. Increases in stool frequency were significantly associated with hydrogen production from in vitro cultures.

So I know that was WAAAAY more than you ever wanted to know about a goofy sounding ingredient on the back of your bag of gluten-free pretzels…

but there you have it, I can now cross the letter “X” off my list! Only 2 letters to go in this ABC Journey and 2012 will be here before I know  it!

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About Baby(food)Steps

Taking Babyfoodsteps to a healthier, happier family!
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2 Responses to X is for Xanthan Gum

  1. Debbie says:

    Okay, so I’m going to try it!!

  2. Joan Ablahani says:

    Theres one problem with Xanthan Gum for people who are Salicylate Intolerant or allergic to corn. Since it is derived from the slimy bacteria rotting on corn ( the same bacteria that turns cabbage and cauliflower black) many people have a bad reaction to it. Just the fact that it comes from corn which is a GMO genetically modified to tolerate high levels of pesticides makes it undesirable for me.
    I am lactose intolerant and couldnt figure out why the Lactaid Cottage Cheese still bothered me till I saw that it was thickened with Xanthan Gum.
    Take care, Joan

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