Xanthan Gum – Is It Gluten Free?
If you’re one to read nutrition labels on food, you have likely come across the ingredient Xanthan Gum.
It has become more and more popular as an additive in processed gluten free foods. But what exactly is it? Here’s what we’re going to dig into:
- How is it made?
- What does it do?
- What is it used for?
- What does xanthan gum do for gluten free baking?
- Is it gluten free?
- What are some substitutes?
How is Xanthan Gum Made?
Xanthan gum is made from fermenting sugar with a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestri. The source of sugar used to make xanthan gum can differ, but often comes from corn, wheat, dairy, and soy. After fermentation, the remaining residue is dried and turned into a powder.
What Does it Do?
It is appealing to many food manufacturers because of its wide range of applications. It acts as a thickening agent, binder, and emulsifier. These properties are useful for the following purposes:
- Thickening agent: helps to thicken the consistency of things like sauces. Wheat flour is often used for this purpose in gluten-containing foods
- Binder: holds ingredients together – this something that gluten itself tends to do in baked goods
- Emulsifier: blends ingredients that would naturally remain separate, like vinegar and oil in a dressing
What is Xanthan Gum Used For?
Because of its wide range of uses (and very inexpensive cost to include!) xanthan gum is a common additive in the following types of products:
- Baking and baked goods – as a binder
- Dressings and sauces – as a thickener and emulsifier
- Cosmetics – as a binder and emulsifier
- Medications – as a binder for tablets and emulsifier for liquids (e.g., drops for the eyes)
How Does it Impact Gluten Free Baking?
From a practical standpoint, xanthan gum is typically used to thicken, bind, and emulsify processed foods. Xanthan gum also helps gluten-free flour hold onto moisture and give good structure to baked goods. On the surface, xanthan gum provides a good gluten-free alternative in many applications, and many people who try foods made with xanthan gum are impressed by the texture and mouthfeel that they experience. However, just because xanthan gum seems to be a good ingredient for gluten sensitive individuals doesn’t mean it is. Let’s look a little closer.
What Are Some Substitutes for Xanthan Gum?
While xanthan gum is often included in gluten free foods, it is derived from corn, which as we have previously discussed, is not actually safe for those with gluten sensitivity. It may seem like a great alternative to gluten, but the reality is, xanthan gum is not truly gluten free and Gluten Free Society does not recommend its consumption.
Rather than using xanthan gum in your gluten free cooking and baking, we recommend you try some of the following alternatives
- Chia or flax egg (ground chia or flax mixed with water) – works well as a binder in baking
- Tapioca starch – works well as a thickener in sauces
- Mustard – works well as an emulsifier in dressing
- You may also want to read our article on toxic food gums and additives.
It is also important to note that some gluten free flour blends already contain xanthan gum. Make sure to read all labels!
Although xanthan gum is commonly used for baking and in gluten-free foods, Gluten Free Society does not recommend its consumption by those with gluten sensitivity. Instead, try some of the alternatives listed above, and enjoy an abundance of healthy whole foods – no additives required!