Have you wondered what is Xanthan Gum made from? Maybe you’ve seen it in the ingredients label of a gluten free food product.
You certainly wouldn’t be alone in questioning what it’s made from, and whether you should even be eating it.
Truthfully, I didn’t even question it until a friend of mine read about it in a book called Pandora’s Lunchbox by Melanie Warner.
In the book, Melanie exposes the dirty underbelly of the food industry and its love of weird powders that you might not actually want to consume.
This was the first time I ever realized how alarming an ingredient like xanthan gum is! (And it seems like it is in everything!)
So let’s cover the basics and then dive into the darker side of xanthan gum so you can make a more informed choice moving forward.
What is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum is a common food binder available for purchase at grocery stores in the form of an inconspicuous white powder.
As the term “gum” implies, xanthan gum gives items such as gluten free bread some of the texture and consistency that we’re all familiar with from our non-gluten free days.
It provides some of that natural gumminess inherent to gluten in products without it.
This ingredient becomes even more important when you remove other binders, such as eggs, when making gluten free products vegan.
Sounds like xanthan gum is a good thing, right?
Not so fast…
The Dark Side of Xanthan Gum
Most people have no idea what xanthan gum is made from.
Granted, the pure white powder doesn’t sound any alarms. It’s easy to confuse it with some of the other “white powders” we’re used to adding to baking mixes.
And frankly, when I ate a lot of gluten free baked goods and bread, I didn’t necessarily care in the beginning what each ingredient was and where it came from. I just wanted to eat something similar to what I was used to before going gluten free.
To be clear, xanthan gum is a food additive approved for use in the USA in 1968 and is pervasive in the gluten free food category.
It’s actually pretty difficult to find products without it (and that includes items outside of food such as shampoos and other beauty products).
When mixed with some of the other gums, such as locust or guar gum, the result is an even better binder which explains why they are often used together in products.
The question few ask though is how xanthan gum is produced so that this common white powder has the power to make ingredients bind together as effectively as it does.
The journey to your plate all starts with a lovely strain of bacteria known as Xanthomonas Campestris which in the world of Botany is responsible for producing what’s known as Black Rot on vegetables of the cruciferous family (ie. cauliflower, broccoli, kale).
Yes, Black Rot.
It sounds awful and it is for plants that become infected. As you can see here in a picture that I personally took of my cauliflower plants attacked by Black Rot during the summer of 2013. I couldn’t save them and lost the entire crop after a summer’s worth of hard work.
But What is Xanthan Gum Made From?
To be clear, xanthan gum isn’t black rot.
However, I’ll leave it up to you whether you feel comfortable eating it from here on out.
The action of the bacteria produces black rot or a slimy gel depending on where it is applied.
In the case of producing xanthan gum, Xanthomonas campestris is applied to some sort of starchy material (ie. corn, wheat, dairy or soy).
The mixture ferments to produce a slimy, indigestible polysaccharide (a string of multiple glucose molecules) substance.
This slimy material is then further refined, dried and milled into the white powder we know as xanthan gum.
Before we go further, you may have questions about whether the original starch would cause any reactivity in humans who are sensitive to those particular foods — corn, soy, dairy or wheat (which is most important to all of us here). It appears that there have been very few studies conducted on humans about the safety of xanthan gum according to the research provided by Chris Kresser.
Another question is whether xanthan gum is made from source materials (ie. corn and soy) that are GMO (genetically modified organisms). For those who do their best to avoid consuming those GMO crops, that would mean nixing xanthan gum off your list unless it’s certified as organic.
It’s been noted on several sites, including that of Bob’s Red Mill, that folks with a corn or soy allergy may want to avoid xanthan gum produced from those starches since there’s no guarantee that it’s free from those allergens.
At the time of this article, Bob’s Red Mill’s xanthan gum is made from wheat starch. The starch does lack gluten (but makes me wonder about safety for those with an actual wheat allergy). With the FDA regulations now, I would assume they actually test their gluten free products to fall under 20 ppm.
Side Effects of Xanthan Gum
As you may already know, everything in nature can cause side effects that vary from person to person. Xanthan gum is no different and can cause issues for people.
According to WebMD, it’s contraindicated to consume it in large quantities (over 15 grams per day). It may also interfere with diabetic medication, causing blood sugar levels to drop too low.
Xanthan gum is listed as a “bulk-forming laxative” which can cause problems such as nausea, vomiting and hard stools to name a few.
It is possible to develop a sensitivity to xanthan gum just as you would to other foods.
If you find that you’re still reacting to food that’s labeled gluten free, remember that other food intolerances are possible and can sometimes mimic the symptoms of getting glutened.
Leaky Gut Syndrome is a big reason why folks may find themselves adding more foods to the “NO” list. There is plenty of anecdotal accounts all over the web from people who react to xanthan gum.
What To Do…
If you follow my work here at Gluten Free School, you know I’m a fan of eating real food.
By doing so, you reduce your exposure to wacky ingredients such as xanthan gum.
It’s not to say that you can’t ever indulge in a gluten free baked good or a slice of gluten free bread. But ask yourself if you feel comfortable doing so all the time now that you know what it is.
I recognize that some people may not care while others, like me, absolutely will. We are each responsible for tending to our own health. The decision you make rests entirely on your shoulders.
If you bake, you can replace xanthan gum with guar gum which is derived from the guar bean.
And you could also search on Google for the paleo version of the baked good you’re hoping to make. Even if you don’t eat paleo, you’ll at least end up with a recipe that’s focused solely on real food over a gluten free recipe comprised of 20+ ingredients (like xanthan gum).
I’d also suggest contacting companies with products you love and let them know that you’re not comfortable with their choice of binder. If they receive enough complaints, they may very well reformulate the product without it.
I’ll certainly follow up with another article looking at some of the other gums in the future, so please stay tuned!
NEED MORE HELP?
If you feel like you’re at your wits’ end and fed up knowing what to eat…
Or you feel like food is your enemy now that you’ve gone gluten-free because you don’t know what’s safe…
And you’re feeling deeply overwhelmed with the process of ridding your life of gluten…
I have a really neat opportunity for you so keep on reading!
I’m hosting a special webinar (that’s totally free) where I’m going to talk about the process how to simplify going gluten-free as well as how I (and my clients) have gotten to a place where the lifestyle and diet are a piece of gluten-free cake.
If you’ve been GF for less than 2 years, are still struggling to “stay on the wagon,” or haven’t even started going GF yet… this is for you.
Today and tomorrow, I’m hosting an exclusive webinar called…
There’s no cost to attend and I’m going to cover some of the biggest questions you have!
Think of it like you and I sit down for a cup of tea (or coffee)… let’s talk. Plus I’ll have a special surprise for you at the end! BUT please be aware that I will not record this event so if you miss it, then you’ve missed out.
Comment below –> Will you continue to eat products with xanthan gum? Do you react to it?
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I will eliminate Xanthum Gum from mine and my families diet immediately. I don’t eat the breads and cakes ready made but my son sometimes does and I did notice that I would hic-cup during eating these products and yet, as far as I am aware, there is nothing else in the product that I am sensitive to – probably the X-Gum. Thank you for sharing and researching.
Hello, thanks for the info. I haven’t bought this yet but now I deffenitlly won’t now.
I have the intollarence factor and it effects my skin and it isn’t pretty.
I have too much wrong with me now I don’t need that.
Thanks for doing the research. Who’d have thought?
Xanthan gum has been on our “try to avoid” list for several years, though we do occasionally eat a product that contains it. Frankly, I did not know the source starches included wheat.
I have purchased some Xanthum but have not opened it. I will try to return it now. I just crave a sandwich or a slice of cake!
Also avoid Carrageenan!
What I learned about Xanthan Gum and what you state here makes it go from horrid to incredibly horrid. It is my understanding that the “processing” is as follows – That fermented liquid (from the bacteria on the corn, soy, etc.) is called a “beer” in the industry, and is fed to insects (i.e. cockroaches) and the dung from these “drunk” insects is then further processed into what you buy on the shelf and in almost everything.
This is a difficult issue. As it does not sound like the best thing to eat, it is also very difficult to make a good GF bread without it.
Personally, I have a slight sensitive to eggs, but the small amount that shows up in a loaf of bread is miniscule. Because it improves the taste and texture of GF, I continue to use eggs in my bread. So, along with that philosophy, I will probably put Xanthum gum into the same category as I do for eggs in my bread.
But I appreciates the author’s comment: “We are each responsible for tending to our own health. The decision you make rests entirely on your shoulders.”
Thanks for the information.
Thank you! One more thing to mention– I am allergic to yeast/mold dietary and environmental– for those with yeast allergies, this can cause reaction. I purchased a highly regarded banana bread in the celiac community ( I am non celiac gluten intolerant) and was thrilled to see yeast-free on the label— baker’s yeast free! After eating it I started with phlegm and throat clearing, wondering why my usual reaction was occurring. After learning about xanthum gum, I realized I am eating some derivative of mold! Amazing. No more xanthum gum for me and disappointed that such large and well respected allergen aware companies would not think of this. Hope this helps anyone with both gluten and yeast allergies. 🙁
I didn’t read anything in your article that set off alarm bells in y head about any danger to using xanthan gum. The bacteria that make xanthan gum are almost exclusively fed corn syrup to ferment corn sugars to gum, at least in the US and the EU. I don’t know about xanthan made in China.
I eliminated xanthan gum shortly after I eliminated gluten because I was still feeling ill. Unfortunately, like you said, it’s in so many things. I have found that companies that are not based in the United States use it less frequently so I look for their products.
I’m not gluten sensitive unless I eat a ton of wheat but I can taste/feel xanthan gum in a product such as low fat salad dressing. It’s the mouth-feel, I guess, that I don’t like. But though it’s supposed to be tasteless, I swear their is a taste associated with it. I don’t even have to read the label to know it’s in something. Gross.
Thank you Jennifer for informing me about Xanthan Gum. I had no idea what so ever about it. I never even put any thought into it. With all this information good and bad it’s so scary to eat anything now a days !
I eliminated xantham gum from my diet about three years ago after I identified it as a substance that was causing all sorts of digestive problems in my cat. It’s commonly used in canned pet food as a binder. After doing some research on it at that time, I decided that my human family would be better off without it, too. Thanks for this article.
Omg ,I just found your article .
Thankyou so much for all the info on Xanthan Gum.
I tried a new custard last year,gluten and lactose free by Zymil. I thought it was safe to try.
It tasted nice ,it stole 12 months of my life .
Long story short within 5 min of ingesting it .
Buckled over in pain stumbled to toilet ,explosive diarrhea, heart pounding,sweating,wanting to vomit ,new I needed help ,(wanting to ring 000 that’s all i remember .)
I blacked out and fell (while trying to go and reach for
When I came too ,I was back on toilet ,wondering what was dripping down my face ,(was blood )and why is there blood all over my arm ?
Didn’t know I fell ,or where until I came home from hospital,and looked for my own DNA .
I had concussion,bumps ,bruises,grazes got stitches on face .
Internal bleeding next day,pain so severe as if insides were being ripped out .
Had to have so many tests ,brain scans,Colonoscopy, etc over 12months .
This product should come with a huge warning label.
I hate seeing the custard in all supermarkets ,knowing what it did to me .
I went to RNSH for testing it was the only thing they couldn’t test for.
So we knew this was the ingredient that caused my demise.
And this XANTHAN GUM is in other products.
Please be careful I’m 57 and I have never had a food allergy so severe that I blacked out, fell etc.
head injury/concussion with cognitive/memory issues took 12months to settle and improve.
For a young person or elderly this could be even more severe …
So what can I use in place of it! Help!
Hi Patricia, do you use xanthan gum a lot? There are other “gums” out there that can be used such as guar gum. Are you making your own flour mix from scratch or just trying to avoid it in products?
my grandaughter has galactosaemia which she cannot have anything dairy or galactose. is xanthan gum or guar gum not suitable for her
Hi Patricia, galactose is a sugar that’s only present in milk. According to the following document, you probably should contact a company to find out if galactose is present or was used in the process of making these gums –> https://www.hgsa.org.au/documents/item/50
Since your granddaughter has this in-born error, it’s best to get your information from a food company about the products directly who is knowledgeable about the products and can give you the most accurate answer.