Xanthan Gum is a microbial polysaccharide derived from the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris that is typically found in commercial salad dressings, ice creams, and other suspensions or liquid products that require an emulsifier. It can be bought for home use and is a great way to thicken and stabilize soymilk-based rice milk-based sauces, soups, and nondairy ice creams. It was invented by Allene Rosalind Jeanes.
The FDA deemed it a safe food additive in 1968. It's often used in gluten free baking as a replacement for the gluten. It offers the much-needed thickening effect that is usually found in gluten.
How Is Xanthan Gum Made?
It is produced primarily from cellulose from corn, soy or cabbage. Xanthan gum functions similarly to gelatin in recipes with regards to stabilizing suspensions, but it is completely vegan. It's also great for cooking and baking for persons with food allergies and restrictions, especially for those who are omitting dairy, eggs, and soy from their diet.
How To Use Xanthan Gum
While it may seem expensive at about $10-$12 for 8 ounces, a very small amount goes a long way! To use xanthan gum in your dairy-free recipes, use about 1/8 t. per cup of liquid and combine these in a blender, not by hand, as it will "gum" almost instantly and form clumps if not constantly in motion while it is incorporated into the liquid.
For sauces, blending the xanthan gum first with a bit of oil before adding the soymilk or rice milk produces the best taste and texture, as this gives the sauce richness and depth that would normally be achieved by cream, butter or eggs.The more xanthan gum is used in a liquid the thicker it will become.
Is Xanthan Gum Safe?
In small quantities, xanthan gum is perfectly safe to consume. If you ingest more than 15 grams you may experience some intestinal discomfort similar to eating too much fruit. However, most people do not consume anywhere close to this amount of xanthan gum in a day.
Xanthan gum is made with things like corn or soy which can cause an allergic reaction in some. While it's very rare for people to have an allergic reaction to xanthan gum if you are exceedingly sensitive to its base ingredients you might want to skip it. If you are sensitive to this ingredient don't worry you're not destined for a life of thin soup, you can swap guar gum or locust bean gum.
If you happen to inhale xanthan gum powder (not recommended) you may experience some respiratory flu type symptoms.
Other Uses for Xanthan Gum
The oil drilling industry also makes use of this common baking ingredient. Drilling companies often use xanthan gum as a mud thickening agent. Many cosmetic companies also include it as an ingredient in lotions and liquid makeups. It does have some skin moisturizing ingredients which make it great for products used on the face.