Monday, August 26, 2013

X is for Xanthan Gum

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Blogging Through the Alphabet
Have you ever wondered what xanthan gum is? If not, then you've probably never read ingredient labels on foods or other household products because it's in a lot of stuff!

I remember looking up this ingredient a long time ago, and really all I could recall was that it acted as some type of "glue" to hold things together. Well, since I needed an X post for this week, I decided to research it again.

So, what is xanthan gum? Hint: It's not something you chew to freshen your breath. It's a polysaccharide. That helps doesn't it? Not so much. A polysaccharide is a complex form of sugar/carbohydrate. Past that, it gets way to sciency for me, so feel free to read more about polysaccharides here if you wish.

What is xanthan gum used for? Well, I was on the right track, I guess, with the whole "glue" thing since it is used in cosmetics to help hold water and oil emulsions together. According to a science dictionary, an emulsion is "a suspension of tiny droplets of one liquid in a second liquid. By making an emulsion, one can mix two liquids that ordinarily do not mix well, such as oil and water. "

Also, Xanthan gum is an excellent thickener. So, when added to foods such as sauces and salad dressings, it helps to make them thicker. It is also used in products such as ice cream and toothpaste to give them a creamy texture. Xanthan gum can be used instead of gluten when using dough for baking bread or other foods. Gluten-free eaters still have to be careful with this substitute, though, because some types of xanthan gum are made with wheat, corn, or soy.

Even oil drillers and concrete pourers use this stuff for making their jobs easier. Who knew that oil drillers used it to make drilling mud thicker, and that concrete pourers needed it to make concrete thicker when pouring concrete under water? Not me.

Xanthan gum is used to treat some types of medical issues, too. Just click the link if you're interested in those. :)

How is Xanthan gum made? Before I bore everyone to tears, I thought I'd add one last Xanthan gum detail that's kind of gross if you ask me. To make xanthan gum, the bacterium, Xanthomonas campestris, is added to glucose or sucrose. That might not mean much to you now, but after I tell you what that bacterium is, it might make you wrinkle your nose just a tad. It's a bacterial species that causes certain types of plant diseases such as black rot in cruciferous vegetables. Yum.

So, the mixture of glucose or sucrose and Xanthomonas campestris ferments for a while, and after that isopropyl alcohol is added to separate the polysaccharide from the mixture. The polysaccharide is dried, ground into a powder, and added to a liquid. Xanthan gum is all ready to use!

As far as healthy for you, I can't say. It was approved for use in foods in 1968 and, it's been approved as a safe food additive in the USA, Canada, Europe, and other countries. In my opinion, there are a lot of things in food that are approved as safe ingredients that aren't really all that safe. Hey, though, Bob's Red Mill sells it, so it's probably not that bad, right?!


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