Xanthan gum, a food additive and stabilizer, may cause allergic reactions in some people, especially to those who are hypersensitive to corn. In such a case, xanthan gum substitutes like guar gum, gum arabic, locust bean gum, gum tragacanth, and carrageenan can be used for thickening and stabilizing the food products.
Xanthan gum is a widely used food additive, which is produced by fermenting glucose and/or sucrose with the bacterium strain, Xanthomonas campestris. The name xanthan is derived from the bacterium that is responsible for production of this gum. Chemically, xanthan gum is a long polysaccharide consisting of three different chains of sugar. Its structure is more or less similar to cellulose, except for the trisaccharide side chains. To be more precise, the ingredients are glucose, glucuronic acid, and mannose.
This food additive is available in powder form, and is readily soluble in water and brine solution. One of the characteristic properties of xanthan gum is that a small quantity is required for getting the desired thickening (about one percent). Approximately 0.5 percent gum is added in processed food products. Depending upon the required thickness of the product, the quantity of xanthan gum can be lowered to about 0.3 – 0.4 percent. Also, it is stable even when exposed to a wide range of temperature and pH, which is not so in case of other gums.
Uses of Xanthan Gum
Even though strains of bacteria are involved in the production of xanthan gum, scientific researches reveal that it is not harmful for human consumption. Commercially, it is used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, thickener, and binding agent in preparation of dairy products, sauces, and salad dressings. Xanthan gum recipes are ideal for people who are sensitive to gluten, soy, egg, and dairy-based products. Some people prefer adding it in ice creams to prevent formation of ice crystals and also, to get a pleasant texture. In toothpaste and cosmetic products, xanthan gum acts as a binder of the ingredients and prevent them from separation. In simpler terms, it is used in products that require gel like properties.
Substitute for Xanthan Gum
While xanthan gum has multiple uses in varied products, some people report allergic reactions to this food stabilizer. Those who are sensitive to corn and corn-based products are at a higher risk of manifesting allergy symptoms. Some of the manifested conditions include headache, diarrhea, temporary increase in blood pressure, and abdominal pain. For such an allergic case, one can make use of a substitute in specific amounts. Following is a list of the popular substitutes for xanthan gum, which you can consider using in gluten-free and dairy free recipes:
Also known as guaran, guar gum is a polysaccharide containing mannose and galactose sugars. Of all the substitutes of xanthan gum, it is a preferred choice. Basically, it is a powder form of the endosperm of cluster beans or guar beans. For production of guar gum, the beans are dehusked first, screened, and then grounded to form a fine or coarse powder.
Like xanthan gum, guar gum is used as a thickener, stabilizer, and plasticizer in dairy products, baking, meat items, frozen foods, sauces, salad dressings, and cosmetics.
Gum arabic is a natural food stabilizer, which is derived from the sap of various species of acacia tree. As it is obtained from acacia tree, it is also referred to as gum acacia. Unlike xanthan gum, it contains glycoproteins in addition to polysaccharides. Gum arabic is colorless, odorless, and highly soluble in water.
The low viscosity, high emulsification, and adhesion properties of gum arabic make it an excellent ingredient in bakery products, beverage emulsions, meal replacers, and coatings of cereals, snacks, and confections. Besides food processing units, it has been used in various industrial applications like inks, paints, glues and textiles.
Locust Bean Gum
Locust bean gum or carob gum is a polysaccharide having mannose backbone and galactose side chains. It is obtained from the seeds of carob beans, and can be dissolved in both hot water and cold water. Commercially, locust bean gum is available in the form of a white or whitish-yellow powder.
It is commonly used as a thickener, stabilizer, and gelling agent in cream cheese, ice creams, fruit preparations, and salad dressings. Proponents of this gum opine that it increases the dietary fiber of the food without increasing the calorie count. However, there are conflicting data regarding the safety and uses of locust bean gum.
Gum tragacanth or simply tragacanth is a tasteless, odorless, and water-soluble polysaccharide produced from the sap of Astragalus plants. It is used as a stabilizer and textural additive in processed food, beverages, and salad dressings.
However, gum tragacanth has fewer applications in the food industries as compared to xanthan gum and other substitutes of xanthan gum. In the contrary, it is widely used in pharmaceutical and other manufacturing industries.
Carrageenan is another substitute for xanthan gum, which is obtained from the red algae, Irish moss. Since carrageenan is a plant-based product, many people opt for it instead of using gelatin (an animal-based food additive). It is widely used in dairy products, soy milk, alcoholic drinks, ice creams, desserts, soups, and jellies. Though carrageenan is commercially available as a powder in the market, one can also make it at home by boiling Irish moss for about 30 minutes.
Xanthan gum and its substitutes are important ingredients of many processed food items, as they provide the desired texture and increase the palatability of such products. In fact, the individual components of food will separate in the absence of xanthan gum or its substitute. Nevertheless, the chemical properties of these food additives, their ingredients, and side effects should be analyzed prior to introducing them in the diet menu.
While some people experience hypersensitive reactions to xanthan gum, others may manifest unusual symptoms after ingesting xanthan gum substitutes. Thus, the food safety depends upon the individual sensitivity towards the particular food additive. On the safety note, it is always better to understand the product (whether xanthan gum or substitute), so as to minimize the possible health risks and complications (if any).