Is Xanthan Gum Actually Bad for You?



I get this question almost on a daily basis: “Hey Cara, I see that you don’t use xanthan gum in some of your recipes and I was wondering: Is xanthan gum actually bad for you?” Since this has become a hot topic over the past couple of years, I thought I would weigh in on my opinion on this issue and answer why I omit xanthan gum from my homemade gluten-free flour blend and ultimately from the majority of my current recipes.

Is Xanthan Gum Actually BAD for you? - Fork & Beans

Xantha-what?

Xanthan gum [zan-thuhn] noun. To quote its Wikipedia page’s definition: Xanthan gum (/ˈzænθən/) is a polysaccharide secreted by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Translation: Xanthan gum is a sugar derived typically from corn (can also be from soy or wheat) that has been pooped out by a bacteria that produces rot on various vegetables. Yup, you heard me correctly friends. 

 

What products can you find xanthan gum in?

Chances are you have consumed xanthan gum mores times than you realize. It is a common ingredient in everyday items like toothpaste, medicine, various condiments like salad dressing, cosmetics, ice cream, and even gum. It’s probably fair to say that if it is packaged, it contains xanthan gum. Why, you might ask? It is a great thickener–it has the properties perfect for creating a food that binds well and is stabilized. Keep reading to find out how…

 

So xanthan gum is derived from what, you say??

Here is where it starts to get a little interesting. The way that this gum is produced is through the mingling of a sugar derived from corn and a bacteria that creates black spots on mainly vegetables like broccoli. Come on, you know what I am talking about. How many times have you bought that head of broccoli and forgot it was there in the back of your fridge, only to find that after a month of sitting there it has that black rot on certain sections of the florets. Friends, meet bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. Bacterium Xanthomonas campestris, meet my friends.

 

May we pause right there? Despite what a great help xanthan gum can be in your gluten-free recipe, that part always creeps me out a bit. Now please note that just because that part creeps me does NOT mean that I am yelling from the rooftops to stay away xanthan. I get that there are things in the this world that are created by mold or bacteria. Cheese being an awesome example. Cheese is delicious but cheese is mold. Does that still creep me out? Why yes, yes it does. Will I still eat it? Why yes, yes I will. Oh wait, I’m allergic though so there’s that.

 

Okay back to business, the fermentation process of the two ingredients (the sugar and bacteria) creates this slimy substance which is then dried up and made into powder form that you see on store shelves. This starts to explain a lot for those of you who have made the horrible mistake of accidentally spilling a little bit on your kitchen counter and then tried cleaning it up with a wet towel. In the words of  Julia Roberts in “Pretty Woman”: Big mistake. Big. Huge. Your counter has turned into the slimiest mess that takes forever to clean up. 

 

Why is xanthan gum so popular in gluten-free goodies?

Let’s do a little baking 101 here. When gluten (which is nature’s great binding agent) is missing from a baked good, xanthan gum steps in with its ultra-sliminess and attempts to mimic gluten. For anyone who has ever forgotten to add gum to their recipe, you know of the regret that occurs once that goodie crumbles in the palm of your hand. That’s exactly how xanthan helps a gf’er out. It makes your recipes not crumble, yo. But can you have the same end result without the gum? Stay tuned…

 

Why don’t you have xanthan gum in your All-Purpose gluten-free flour blend?

I keep a large bin of my premixed flour blend on hand at all times so when I am ready to start baking, all I have to do is shake it up, measure it out, and use it as an all-purpose flour. There are four ingredients in my blend: brown rice flour, sorghum flour, arrowroot powder, and potato starch. I do not add xanthan gum into the blend because I am finding that you really don’t always need xanthan gum in the majority of your baked goods. I have made pancakes, cookies, English muffins, bagels, and even gluten-free vegan sandwich bread that not only require absolutely no xanthan gum but has great texture!

 

So…is xanthan gum actually bad for you?

We are told that xanthan gum is perfectly safe to consume so no, it’s not bad for you. At least there have been no case studies up to this point saying that when consumed it causes major harm (unless you count that trip to the bathroom as unsafe). Some report intestinal discomfort like bloating, gas, and even diarrhea when ingested. However it’s still an item that has really come out into mainstream only recently so we (as the public) still don’t know a whole lot about it other than it works miracles in gluten-free baking. Should you avoid using it? Only if you 1). Simply don’t want to use it; and 2). Have an allergy towards the various common items which xanthan can be derived from: mainly corn, though research has shown that it can also derive from wheat and soy (though corn is the most common). If so, you might be having unknown reactions towards xanthan (I know of some people who get very sick from it) and it is best to checked up on it at your doctor’s.  It’s best at that point to find creative ways to get the same binding result without xanthan. Is that even possible? Absolutely! 

 

Are there any great substitutes for xanthan gum?

You bet your bottom dollar there is. For those of you allergic to the above mentioned items and have no issues with using a gum, Guar gum is your solution. Plus side: it’s cheaper than xanthan–hooray for saving money! Want an all-natural solution for some of your baked goods? There are two wonder foods that we can thank Mother Nature for: Chia Seeds and Psyllim Husk. There is something magical about the way they enable your baked goods to stay in tact, however you need more than two tablespoons for it to work., at least that has been my experience (which  as we all know is subject to change as I continue to grow in my skills). The bread recipe that I created is a great example of how ground chia seed works. Also, a mixture of both chia and psyllium is a match made in heaven for xanthan-free baking. Chia and chia + psyllium works best in bread-like items. Some recipes simply don’t need it at all. I find that my cookies keep well without xanthan gum, especially when molasses is in the ingredients list, though not necessary. The items I’m still experimenting (unsuccessfully I might add) with xanthan-free baking? Muffins, cakes and cupcakes. Until then, only a small amount of xanthan gum is needed in a recipe that I am okay with it still to remain in some of my recipes. To be continued…

 

I still want to use xanthan gum. How do I use it in my gluten-free baking?

I haven’t 100% given up on the gum either so ain’t no shame in wanting to use it! Recommended usage for xanthan gum (taken from the back of my Authentic Foods bottle):

Cake – 1/4 teaspoon per 1 cup flour

Bread – 1 teaspoon per 1 cup flour

Pizza Crust – 2 teaspoons per 1 cup flour

 

Should you believe everything you read here? Nope. That is why researching on your own watch is so beneficial. If you know me, you know that I never push ideas onto anyone (just photos of food) and I encourage you to make up your own mind up on this issue. I am merely expressing my opinions.  Is that the end of the discussion? Absolutely not! Did I leave something out or do you disagree with the information shared here? I would love to hear your thoughts so share away for the benefit of our community here…





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Comments

  1. Thanks for the article. I am allergic to corn and wheat so I have been avoiding Chatham gum for years.
    Thanks for the alternatives…

  2. Hi Cara, I have read the comments on Xanthan gum. There are 5 other substitutes for this. If you ask for alternatives to Xanthan gum and Guar gum on yahoo the internet will give them to you, one of which is jelatine powder which is what I will be using to thicken ice cream instead of Xanthan gum. Hope this may be of use to other bloggers. Regards Carmen down under.

  3. Colitis in infants

    The only concerning research I found on xanthan gum relates to the development of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) in infants. Earlier this year, the New York Times published an article relating the tragic deaths of infants who had developed NEC after consuming a diet of formula or breast milk that had been thickened with a xanthan gum-based product called SimplyThick. This product was widely used in hospitals to thicken feed for infants with swallowing difficulties.

    Two papers reviewed the cases of xanthan gum-associated NEC, and while there isn’t enough data to establish causation, the general consensus seems to be that the xanthan gum caused increased bacterial production of SCFA in the newborns

  4. I am curious, when using chia seeds instead, would you just use a coffee/spice grinder and then add them? I know you can use them with water to make an egg substitute but would grinding them up hide them in the flour and still help with the binding? I guess I would be curious about flax too, as I have both of those in whole seed format. Thanks!

    • Yes exactly, Hannah! I usually buy chia seeds whole and then grind them up in my coffee grinder and store them. For the flax seeds, I either buy them already ground up or wait right before I need them and grind them myself :)

  5. hi cara! i use xanthan in all my vegan/GF bread baking. if i want to replace with psyllium husk, what’s the proportion I should use? I already use chia seeds and flax in all my breads too. thank you!

  6. Thought you might find this interesting… Someone has put together some research on all the gums available. One called Gum Arabic is derived from beans (not bacteria) and completely natural Apparently. I’m thinking of trying it out for any side effects although there is none documented in the studies :)http://chriskresser.com/harmful-or-harmless-guar-gum-locust-bean-gum-and-more

  7. thank you for the article! i have just started gluten & dairy free diet and i love baking so much so now it’s kind of difficult for me. i baked healthy, but now it’s even more complicated. but i’m sure that with your website it will be at least a lil bit easier :)this article is really useful for me because i was not sure if i should use xanthan gum or not but i think i will give a try in some cakes which are falling apart. otherwise i will try guar gum or chia seeds. :) let’s see how it works! thanks one more time, K

  8. Xanthan gum gives me severe acne.

  9. Is xanthan gum vegan?

  10. Now we use more and more food additives to make food more delicious,such as xanthan gum.But I think it is important for us to learn to control the quantity of it.Here is more details for xanthan gum.http://www.orencn.com/-Xanthan-Gum–good-Emulsifiers–Thickeners_827.html

  11. How is the guar gum substituted for xanthan? Is the same amount used? And psyllium-what amount is used per 1 cup of gf flour? Thanks

  12. If XG is or can be derived from whey, isn’t that an issue for those avoiding dairy? Isn’t whey a form of dairy?

    Still new to this whole no-dairy thing and trying to understand it all.

    • I didn’t see any mention of whey in the article. It is mainly derived from corn but can also come from wheat and soy is what is stated above.

  13. Nicolette says:

    Hi Cara,

    I one of the unlucky few with an extreme sensitivity to xanthan gum! Thank you so much for creating recipes without it and giving alternatives for it. Love your site!

  14. Love your recipes, love your info and knowledge and love your blog! Looking forward to your book!

  15. Guar Gum is always cut with at least 10% soy. I have a soy reaction if I ever come in contact with it. Just an FYI for anyone allergic to soy.

  16. Xanthan gum is a sugar derived typically from corn (can also be from soy or wheat) — Hello GMOs. Definitely not good for you.

  17. Great article.
    Thanks for sharing.
    I am following you since shortly. Just a little regret – I can only try the recipes where you mention grams and ml.
    I was used to grow my own sourdoughs. My new challenge is to try a gluten free version using quinoa and/or buckwheat flours. Not a great success up till now. With dry quinoa/buckwheat sourdough it works perfectly (no chia seeds or other gum-alike products) and the taste is yummy. Have you tried yet?
    (Regards from Belgium)

    • Hi Anne-Catherine! I am definitely putting “add metric system measurements” on my things to do list to help you out! That is great to hear about the sourdough. I have yet to try growing my own–maybe you can give me some pointers… xo

    • I would love to know how to do that too! I miss a good sourdough!!

  18. Dear Cara, thanks for your lovely xantham free recipes. I am allergic to several things and try to cook and bake with as less ingredients as possible. Have you ever tried ground lentils (beans or peas work out aswell but gives no nice colour) instead of xantham, maybe you get that way muffins you like :)
    (Try to use as many as you would use chia seed)

    • Wow, what a great tip, Sonja. I will definitely give it a try–never have before but if you say it works, I believe it. Thank you! xo

  19. Great info! I use xanthan gum and I love it :) Glad to know it’s okie okie.

  20. Cara,
    thanks for doing the research for us! I am still using xanthan gum currently, but sort of phasing it out of stuff that I’ve made before to see if it affects anything (like gf, dairy free cornbread!). Xanthan gum doesn’t gross me out, but now that I know it’s bothering other people’s stomachs I’m going to keep a keener eye on my use of it and how I feel after. I’m going to try guar gum now that you recommended it. I am still big into baking with eggs because sometimes you just can’t beat the texture.

    • I need to give guar gum a try as well. I just have this lifetime supply of xanthan to get through first 😉 You are so welcome for the info–hope it helps you out! xo

  21. gross! how did i not know this? i will still use it though.
    i am highly, deathly allergic to chia seeds. which of course i found out the hard way. i hate that chia is in everything now. crackers, chips, stinkin’ cookies. drives me bananas. i’m gf and vegan, and boy do vegans love putting chia seeds in everything! my life was so much easier before they got popular. sigh

    • Oh that deserves a huge BOOOOOOOO!!! What a bummer Kelly! You are right, it’s all the craze these days. Thankfully, if you aren’t allergic to psyllium husk, you can get the same results as chia seeds. Much love, xo

  22. Well I don’t know if it’s bad for me but it is grown on things I’m allergic to. I also know that anytime I use even 1/4 tsp all I can do is taste slime for the next two days. Yuck! I like to use a combination of ground flax and chia seeds because psyllium husk, though absolutely amazing, doesn’t care for me much either. 1 Tbsp of arrowroot or corn starc, if you can eat it, combined and boiled 1 to 2 minutes makes a great binder in denser baked products.
    Regardless of what the food industry has to say and how it relates to their bottom dollar, our bodies were not designed to eat processed anything IMHO.

  23. Thanks, Cara. This is such great info. I’ve been wondering about Xantham gum, so this is perfect timing!

  24. I replace xantham gum by chia seeds, i pulverised it so it will become a powder and mix way much better for my breads, crust and cookies!
    I stay away from guar gum, xantham and especially carraghenan since it makes me sick( allergic reaction and belly problems)
    thank you for this post, I will try psyllium husk

    • I think this is the important issue here Melissa! People are getting hung up on the fact that I simply stated that the process xanthan is created is creepy. It IS creepy but the main point is that it makes some people sick (like YOU) and needs to be monitored if so. Thank you for your comment! xo

  25. So just curious…. if penicillin is from mold, does that also make it yucky/weird/unnatural?

    (Side note: R.I.P Mr Ramis, the self-proclaimed collector of molds, spores, and funguses.)

    • Hi Beth!

      Is it still creepy? Yes. Is cheese creepy because it is made from mold? Yup. Would I ever tell anyone to not use penicillin or eat cheese? Not at all. Did I tell anyone to stop using xanthan? Absolutely did not.

      And R.I.P. indeed! xo

  26. I shy away from xanthan gum since I started doing October Unprocessed a few years ago. It’s just not on my “well that’s natural” radar. You don’t have to be gf to be getting your fair share of xanthan gum. It’s in lots of stuff including just about every salad dressing on the shelf, as a result, I make my own dressing now. Glad to see you’re cutting back!

    • I mainly started cutting back because people were requesting xanthan gum-free recipes but once I realized that I didn’t have to spend hours scrubbing my kitchen counter getting the slime off and I could have the same results without it, I was all in! I save so much money not using it as often too :) Glad to hear that you are all aboard the unprocessed train. Choo choo!

  27. I think as consumers we should be wary of avoiding a certain product simply due to skepticism — it’s one thing to recommend not using a product because it has scientifically been proven to cause harm; it’s another to recommend not using a product because of subjective reasons, such as how creepy the fact is that X. campestris is the culprit of black rot on crucifers (or personal opinions of the FDA)… yes, X. campestris is used to ferment sugars to produce xanthan gum, but the fact that it causes rotting of crucifers is unrelated (and doesn’t suddenly make xanthan gum harmful). I think Bloggers should be careful to be a little more objective and unbiased when it comes to health claims since it’s easy to spread around misinformation on the Internet.

    From my limited experience (I’m currently doing a BSc in biochemistry), I think the skepticism surrounding xanthan gum is a little unwarranted. It can definitely cause abdominal discomfort because it IS laxative (it’s a largely undigestible polysaccharide, or in other words: dietary fibre, just like psyllium husk) and swells in the intestine, and if you’re experiencing discomfort then you’re probably using too much. That being said, individuals with a history of bowel discomfort (e.g. IBS) should probably avoid xanthan gum simply because it’s going to give you that uncomfortable, bloat-y, painful feeling… but according to the current scientific literature, there is no evidence of chronic harm or cancer risk or anything like that. There HAS been a study which links exposure to xanthan dust and respiratory problems, which makes sense since it will coat mucus membranes if you’re huffing tons of the stuff… which I’m assuming no one is actually doing.

    So if you don’t like the idea of a lab-processed food additive, then by all means avoid the stuff, but it shouldn’t scare you away from household items which do include xanthan gum in the ingredients.

    • Wow, what a well-thought out reply A! Thank you so much for taking the time to be so thorough and thoughtful, for reals. I love that everyone here can have their own view and express it in a respectful way. I think you misread this post however, because I did not recommend anyone from not using xanthan gum. I apologize if that wasn’t clear but I honestly don’t think that there is anywhere in this post that says my opinion is to stay away from the stuff nor did I even claim that it is harmful. More importantly I wrote this post not to be scientific (so I’m free to be subjective) but because as the opening states, I’m always asked why *I* choose to limit my xanthan gum usage so I was answering the why. It’s a personal decision based off of personal, objective and subjective opinions.
      Again, thank you so much for vocalizing your opinion here A! It is super appreciated!
      Much love,
      Cara

      • Yes I see what you mean now Cara. I think I was a little misled by the title of this post since it’s quite a substantial question! I really appreciate your opinion on gluten-free baking, but I was really looking forward to your opinion on the good/bad of xanthan gum (or as your title suggests — tackling the question of “is it really bad or not”?) I think a better summation of your post would be “my opinions on xanthan gum” — or something not as lame. I hope you get what I mean, no disrespect :).

        • Touche A 😉 Fair enough. No disrespect at all–I really appreciate your comments. Thank you! xo

          • Very glad for the information and warning about Xanthum Gum. It has taken me years to figure out that it is an ingredient I need to avoid as it causes me intense bloating. I wondered if other people experienced this as well. Thanks again for this blog.

  28. I’m not gluten free, but do tons of gluten free cooking & baking for others. I live in a tropical area, and find that with all the variables I already have to contend with (heat, wind, humidity) it gets dicey being vegan with my baking at times. If I do not add xanthan gum to most of my cookie recipes, they will be sub-par. I do not use it in my things like pancakes, nor typically my cakes (moist enough to bind I guess). I’ve just discovered and have begun using guar gum (thanks to Fran Costigan’s new chocolate book) and if I have success with that ingredient in my recipes, I will probably switch over once my several pounds supply of xanthan gum is exhausted, only because I do know some people don’t want xanthan gum in their stuff. I personally have no problem with it, but when cooking & baking for others, I do my best to accommodate. You are beyond awesome by the way, seriously.

  29. I’m with Beth. I don’t use it anymore, I use Psyllium husk if needed as it helps the structure of certain baked goods (and flatbreads) and much needed fiber. I also take issue with guar gum, different subject but it causes a gluten like reaction in me.

  30. Sandy Coleman says:

    I am learning so much from you! Thank you so much I am baking agin due to you and some of the other bakers out there that are letting us know HOW!
    I made a yellow cake from scratch yesterday and it is good. I am amazed. Thank you again.

    • What an incredible comment to read Sandy. That makes me SUPER happy to hear that you are feeling confident in the kitchen again. PS Share that yellow cake recipe please 😉 Sounds awesome!

  31. Such a great post lady. I will definitely be sharing. I myself have been avoiding xanthan gum in my home flour blends for a year or two now. I find too much of the stuff gives me tummy aches and gas. I will occasionally use pre-made blends with it in there, and I find it’s ok in moderation, but I really just don’t love it. It freaks me out. I personally really love whole psyllium husk and psyllium husk powder in certain breads and other baked goods, for that amazing chew that is often missing in gluten-free breads and baked goods.

    • I totally forgot about the bloating and diarrhea issue :) I always noticed a change in abdominal activity when I consume it… Word on the psyllium husk. Do you pulverize it to powder form or do you buy it like that?

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