Origins & Information - (A-Z) Xanthan Gum

Chances are that if you've looked at the ingredient lists of sauces, dressings, ice creams, drinks, and other foods, you'll have seen an ingredient called "Xanthan gum" listed. No it's not like the gum that you can buy to chew but good guess. What you actually see Xanthan gum used for is as a thickening agent. It is included in a lot of foods because of its incredible ability to increase the viscosity of a liquid quite quickly (usually only .5% is used for the desired effect. In salad dressings, it helps keep everything together and suspends spices such as in Italian dressing but when subjected to shear forces activated by shaking, will allow the liquid to thin and become easy to pour. It can give the "fat" feeling to low fat or non-fat dairy products. It can also keep the water intact in pastry fillings so that the pastry dough itself will not get soggy. The common consumer can actually buy Xanthan gum in powdered form (add water to make it "gummy") in several places, and it is often used as a substitute for gluten in baking.

To get a little technical, if you care to read on, Xanthan gum is derived from the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris which is also the cause for black rot on broccoli and other rotting of leafy vegetables. When combined with corn sugar, the bacterium produce a colorless slime after fermentation. The gum is a polysaccharide and all-natural so don't be worried about unknown named additives when you see it on your foods' ingredient lists! Other uses include thickening toothpaste, keeping cosmetics together, and lubricating oil well pumps.

This post is part of an A-Z series I am running for my blog category "Origins and Information" while I am in Vietnam with my family for July. Many of the posts in the series answer questions that were posed by friends/readers. If y'all enjoy the series, I will gladly run another in the future!