Everything You Need to Know About Xanthan Gum

Medically reviewed by Natalie Butler, RD, LD on May 18, 2017Written by Lana Bandoim on May 18, 2017

What is xanthan gum?

You may have seen xanthan gum listed as an ingredient in gluten-free baked goods. It’s also found in cosmetics, lotions, medications, and many packaged and processed foods and beverages. It’s a complex carbohydrate and can be used as a stabilizer, thickener, or binder in foods.

Did you know?

Xanthan gum is created by a sugar fermentation process. The bacteria Xanthomonas campestris eat simple sugars and turn them into complex carbohydrates that become xanthan gum. After processing, xanthan gum looks like a white powder.

Usage

Xanthan gum has many uses in the food and beverage industries, including:

  • acting as a binder, stabilizer, and thickener
  • helping to create a uniform texture in food products
  • replacing some fats
  • creating a creamy texture

In frozen foods, xanthan gum can prevent the formation of ice crystals. This is why it’s also an additive in ice cream and other frozen desserts.

Its elastic properties make xanthan gum a popular additive in cosmetics and lotions, too. It helps create a smooth application of these products.

Xanthan gum may be found in:

  • baked goods
  • dressings
  • ice cream
  • frozen desserts
  • confections
  • cake and dessert mixes
  • dairy products
  • pudding and gelatin mixes
  • jams and jellies
  • sauces
  • gluten-free foods
  • cosmetics and lotions
  • synthetic saliva
  • medications and pills
  • specialty thickened foods

Xanthan gum as a gluten-free substitute

Xanthan gum is a common gluten-free substitute for baking and cooking. It’s safe for people with celiac disease.

Gluten often acts as a binder in recipes and keeps the food from falling apart or crumbling. Xanthan gum can be a substitute for gluten because it has similar properties. It can also help:

  • add elasticity to dough and keep food together
  • make doughs stickier
  • maintain the shape of food
  • add moisture to baked goods
  • make foods thicker

Xanthan gum is commonly found as a gluten substitute in gluten-free:

  • cookies
  • cakes
  • pancakes
  • muffins
  • breads
  • pizza dough
  • salad dressings
  • other baked goods

Learn more: What to avoid and what to eat with a gluten intolerance »

Dosage

The recommended acceptable daily intake (ADI) of xanthan gum is 0–10 milligrams per kilogram each day. It has a laxative effect when taken at doses of 15 milligrams or more.

Xanthan gum is not recommended for infants.

It can be difficult to determine how much xanthan gum is in certain packaged and processed foods. If you begin to experience unpleasant side effects after consuming products with xanthan gum, consider reducing your intake.

Health benefits

The main health benefit of xanthan gum is its ability to replace gluten. It helps people with celiac disease and gluten intolerance enjoy baked goods and other products without gluten.

Other health benefits of xanthan gum include:

In addition, one study found that xanthan gum can help slow down the growth of tumors in mice. There are no human studies at this time to support xanthan gum’s antitumor activities in people.

Side effects

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers xanthan gum to be Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).

Potential side effects include:

  • laxative effect
  • increase in flatulence or gas
  • necrotizing enterocolitis in infants
  • changes in gut bacteria
  • changes in intestinal permeability

Xanthan gum substitutes

There are many alternatives to xanthan gum that you may see on ingredient lists:

The takeaway

Xanthan gum is a food additive that is generally considered safe. Many foods and other products have xanthan gum. It’s a common gluten-free substitute for baking or cooking. Several studies have shown different health effects of xanthan gum. Thickeners that contain xanthan gum, like Simply Thick, are not recommended for infants due to increased risk of infection and death.

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