Xanthan gum (EU) is a polysaccharide (EU) that helps control thickening across a broad assortment of food products, from beverages to bakery and sauces to ice creams. Xanthan gum is created by the fermentation of the bacteria Xanthomonas (EU) campestris. What results is a slimy substance, which is precipitated from its growth medium, dehydrated and ground into a fine powder.
It is classified as INS 415 in the Codex Alimentarius and was approved for use in food by the FDA in 1969 and the EU in 1980. It is on the approved synthetic ingredients list for the National Organic Program in the U.S. and is permitted in products labeled “organic” or “made with organic.” Organic sources are also available from some suppliers.
10 Important Properties of Xanthan Gum
- Soluble in both hot and cold water.
- Effectively works across all pH ranges.
- Salt in a formulation does not impact its activity, even at very high levels.
- Tolerant to alcohol in a formulation.
- Resistant to high heat and enzymes.
- Has good freeze/thaw stability, due to its ability to bind water.
- Has a synergistic effect when added with locust bean gum (EU), guar gum (EU), konjac (EU), and some starches. This effect will increase the viscosity of a finished product when used with one of these materials.
- Agitation is needed when adding xanthan to liquids or lumps, also called “fish eyes,”, will occur. Some suppliers have produced an agglomerated xanthan, which may reduce this occurrence.
- Xanthan gum solutions exhibit pseudoplasticity or shear-thinning behavior – the viscosity will decrease when shear is applied, which aids in production. But once the shear is removed, the product will return to its original state.
- Only very small amounts are needed to obtain the desired effect in food.
Food Application Specifics
As a thickener in reduced fat frozen dairy products (EU), xanthan gum can mimic the mouthfeel of full fat products. It also helps improve the body of diet beverages. Xanthan gum assists in controlling cake batter rheology during baking and is used in many gluten free mix products as it aids in thickening the batter or dough. It can be found in gluten free pastas (EU) as well. Due to xanthan gums’s high alcohol tolerance, it can be used to thicken the consistency of cream liqueurs (EU). It is also added to clinical foods for patients with difficulty swallowing.
Xanthan gum can prevent ice crystal formation in ice cream and frozen foods (EU). It can suspend fruit pulp (EU) and other particles in liquids. In fruit fillings (EU), it prevents moisture from migrating after baking. Xanthan gum can reduce syneresis in sour creams (EU) and, when mixed with guar or locust bean gum, it can improve the flavor and texture of reduced fat cream cheese (EU). In alfredo sauces (EU), it stabilizes dairy proteins to prevent a curdled appearance over time. It helps maintain a smooth body in yogurts (EU) and tofu (EU) and stabilizes dessert toppings and salad dressings (EU).
Blending oil and water into a more unified mix and preventing separation over shelf life is one of the many applications for xanthan gum as an emulsifier. In processed meats, it helps to bind water, emulsify and improve tenderness. Xanthan gum can aid in producing homogeneity of soft pet treats and works well with other gums to produce the gravy in canned pet foods.
As a foaming agent, xanthan gum aids in the aeration of whipped creams (EU) and can mimic the properties of egg white in baked goods. Xanthan’s foaming ability makes it a favorite for molecular gastronomy – creative ingredients can be turned into a finely textured foam for a unique dining presentation.
As you can see, xanthan gum has many applications in the food industry. But its uses don’t stop there. Other uses for xanthan gum include:
- It is often used in oil hydraulic fracturing (also known as fracking) due to its ability to suspend particles and its shear thinning capabilities. The demand has been so high that this use has caused price issues for the food industry in the past.
- Xanthan gum works in toilet bowl cleaners, oven cleaners and paint strippers to help the other ingredients “cling” to a surface.
- You often see xanthan used in toothpastes to aid in keeping the paste stable , ready to be pushed out of the tube, rather than flowing or sticking to the lid when opened.
- Xanthan gum is frequently used as a thickener, suspending agent and stabilizer in creams, lotions, cosmetics and sunscreens.
- It can be used to thicken paints, and to aid in preventing separation while the paint is in storage.
- It is used in liquid medications to stabilize and suspend the ingredients for proper dosage.
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