Label Decoder: Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum's not hard to find when you're checking labels. Candy, puddings, ice cream, even cottage cheese -- it's all over grocery store shelves. Although it’s not the easiest word to pronounce, xanthan gum is one additive that you can chew on without worry.

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Xanthan gum is not hard to find when you're checking labels. Candy, bread dough, ice cream, even cottage cheese -- it's all over grocery store shelves. Although it’s not the easiest word to pronounce, xanthan gum is one additive that you can chew on without worry.

What Is It?

"Gum” additives (e.g. xanthan gum or guar gum) are used to thicken foods such as ice cream, frozen pudding, salad dressing, dough and cottage cheese. Xanthan gum is used to mimic the flavor of fatty ingredients that were removed from low-fat products. It can also replace egg yolks as a thickener.

Manufacturers add xanthan gum to candy to prevent sugar crystals from forming and to frozen foods to give them a smooth texture and mouth feel. Sometimes called "corn sugar gum," it's a natural carbohydrate that isn’t absorbed by the body. The additive is produced by the fermentation of the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris.

Home cooks can buy packaged xanthan gum to add thickness and viscosity to their breads and other baked goods. Because it’s free of gluten, eggs, dairy and soy, it’s the preferred thickener for those with food allergies who like to bake their own goodies.

Is It Safe?

Xanthan gum is considered safe -- though it hasn’t been widely tested. Some folks with sensitivities to corn might be allergic -- reported symptoms include headaches, diarrhea and stomach pain. If you think you’re allergic, check out one of the other “gums” on the market instead. Substitutes such as guar gum, gum Arabic, locust bean gum or carrageenan might be a better choice.

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