Xanthan Gum is a dry, white powder that is used as a stabilizer, thickener, and as a “suspension” agent to keep things from settling in liquid mixtures.
It is stable at high temperatures and dissolves easily in liquid, whether hot or cold. It will create a thickened, viscous solution, but not a gel. It’s not an emulsifier, but it acts to stabilise an emulsification.
It makes foods smoother and gives them body and mouth-feel.
It’s a natural ingredient that is mostly now created via an industrial process. A bacteria called “xanthonomonas campestris” is added to sucrose or glucose (in North America, usually in the form of corn syrup), where it is allowed to ferment. The colonies of bacteria secrete a “polysaccharide” slime. The mixture of bacteria, secretion and corn syrup is then washed in alcohol to put it into solution, then dried and ground into a powder.
Though the bacteria are yellowish, the powder comes out with no colour.
You may see xanthan gum described as “a natural carbohydrate derived from corn syrup.”
It is used a great deal in many products, including ice creams and toothpastes.
You can purchase xanthan gum for home use. It can be used in fat-free salad dressings (and other fat-free or lower-fat items) to give them body that would otherwise be lacking.
Xanthan gum can also be used as a replacement for gluten in gluten free breads: in the absence of gluten to hold flour molecules together, xanthan gum will help bind them together so that they can trap gas from yeast allowing bread dough to rise. It is also useful in other gluten-free baked goods, gluten-free pastas, etc.
You use it in very small quantities, so a little goes a very long way. In fact, using too much can give a food item a slightly slimey texture.
In general, per cup (5 oz / 140g) of gluten-free flour, add:
- 1 teaspoon xanthan gum for cakes or cookies
- 2 teaspoon for breads
When making salad dressings, use no more than ½ teaspoon per 250 ml (1 cup) of liquid.
Xanthan gum was discovered in the 1950s at the USDA’s Northern Regional Research Center (NRRC), Peoria, Illinois, by Allene Rosalind Jeanes. It was first produced commercially in 1960, but didn’t become available commercially until 1964.
Xanthan gum was approved by the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for food use in 1969.
Xanthan gum was approved for food use in Europe in 1982, and assigned the E number of E415.
Literature & Lore
“We say, oh, god, I don’t want that non-natural thing. But let me tell you, it’s just as natural as gelatin or essentially anything else you do. The same thing is true of any of the modernist ingredients, whether they are things like xanthan gum or gellan gum. Those are both made by fermenting bacteria. But then again, yogurt and vinegar are made by fermenting bacteria. And a wine is made by fermenting with yeast. There’s no particular reason to draw a line and say, oh, fermenting with the bacteria that produce xanthan, that’s bad, but somehow fermenting with yeast or with bacteria in other kinds of cooking is good. They’re the same kind of thing.” — Nathan Myhrvold. Nathan Myhrvold. Modernist Thickeners. In: HarvardX SPU27.2x. Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science (physics). Module 2 – Viscosity and Polymers. Accessed November 2022 at https://learning.edx.org/course/course-v1:HarvardX+SPU27.2x+1T2022/
|↑1||Nathan Myhrvold. Modernist Thickeners. In: HarvardX SPU27.2x. Science & Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science (physics). Module 2 – Viscosity and Polymers. Accessed November 2022 at https://learning.edx.org/course/course-v1:HarvardX+SPU27.2x+1T2022/|