Xanthan gum, also known as E415 in the EU, is one of those ingredients that vegans often find themselves scratching their heads over trying to figure out whether it's vegan-friendly or not.
The thing is xanthan gum is a particularly confusing food additive for vegans because of how it's produced.
So is xanthan gum vegan?
The answer is it all depends on whether glucose, sucrose or lactose was used in the fermentation process.
If it sounds confusing to you, don't worry. Let's get into the nitty-gritty!
Xanthan Gum: Vegan or Not?
There really isn't one correct answer because it all depends on how the xanthan gum was cultured. You see, as a high-fiber carbohydrate that can be extracted by fermenting sugars, xanthan gum can be produced in a range of different ways.
In most cases, xanthan gum is vegan because it is extracted from the fermentation of corn, soy, or wheat. You can read more about the production below.
However, xanthan gum can also be produced from non-vegan sources such as whey and egg whites. Obviously, xanthan gum that is derived from animal sources cannot be considered vegan.
Unfortunately, there is no easy way for a consumer to know for sure whether the xanthan gum was fermented using a vegan source or an animal derived source. The only option is to contact the manufacturer and ask.
Alternatively, you can stick to buying products that are clearly marked vegan as this will ensure the ingredients are free from any animal derivatives.
If you're looking for a vegan xanthan gum to use in baking, Bob's Red Mill is an option. In fact, Bob's Red Mill clearly states this on their website:
"The bacteria that grows our xanthan gum is fed a carbohydrate substrate produced from Non-GMO corn (UPDATED 8/1/2018)."
With that being said, whey-derived xanthan gum is still used in various products so we advise you to err on the side of caution.
What is Xanthan Gum Used For?
Xanthan gum is derived from bacteria that causes black rot in broccoli, leafy greens, and other vegetables and the process involves fermenting.
It's also a commonly used food additive that serves several purposes such as a stabilizer or a thickener. For example, it can help prevent emulsion in sauces and keep spices fresh. In addition, it can bind ingredients together and is sometimes used in recipes and baking.
Since xanthan gum is so versatile, it's also hugely popular. Today it’s found in a multitude food items such as store-bought sauces, spice mixes, and gluten-free bread where it replaces the actual gluten. Xanthan gum can also replace gelatin in vegan products and candies.
In most of the world, this food additive is marked as xanthan gum in ingredient lists, but in Europe, it's also known as E415.
Besides being used in food products and cosmetics, xanthan gums is sometimes used to lower blood sugar levels, as a laxative, and to replace saliva in people that suffer from Sjogren's Syndrome (dry-mouth). The ingredient is also often found as an inactive ingredient in drugs and medicine.
Products That Contain Xanthan Gum
To give you a better idea of what xanthan gum is and how it’s used we’ll share some common products containing the food additive below. It’s most commonly used in food items, but as you can see, xanthan gum is also used in cosmetics.
Note that this list is far from all-inclusive.
- Bread and baked goods
- Gluten-free bread and baked goods
- Salad dressing
- Pre-made soups
- Ice cream
- Liquid soaps and shampoos
- Laundry detergent
Is Xanthan Gum Safe?
Yes, xanthan gum has been listed as a safe food additive in most of the world since the 1960s. However, there have been a few health concerns related to this food additive.
Firstly, a food thickener called SimplyThick containing xanthan gum as its active ingredient was proven to be dangerous to premature infants in 2011.
Moreover, there have also been links found between factory workers that were exposed to xanthan gum dust and developed respiratory issues.
Due to xanthan gum's laxative properties, it can also cause diarrhea when over-consumed. But besides that, xanthan gum can be considered safe to consume.
There are also a limited number of medicinal usages of xanthan gum. And some even claim that there are health benefits of eating xanthan gum.
Xanthan Gum Substitutes
If you want to avoid xanthan gum because of the risk that it's derived from animals products or you're simply looking for a substitute, you're in luck.
As you can see below, there is no shortage of good xanthan gum alternatives.
Xanthan gum is often confused with guar gum and for good reason. Not only do the two food additives have similar names, but they also have close to identical usages in terms of binding, thickening, and stabilizing. However, xanthan gum is better suited for baked foods and guar gum is recommended for cold foods.
Corn starch is a great natural thickener that can replace xanthan gum in most cases. In fact, corn starch is an efficient and cost-effective alternative used by many companies these days. Moreover, corn starch can and is often used in recipes that you make at home.
Besides being a great breakfast item, chia seeds fill other purposes. Mix a spoonful of chia seeds with some fluid and you’ll get a sticky substance that can replace xanthan gum and even egg whites in recipes.
This is a starchy substance that shares many similarities with xanthan gum, corn starch, and agar agar (see below). It’s often used in recipes for vegan cheese where it helps give the finished product its cheese-like texture.
Agar agar is often used in combination with corn starch or arrowroot when making vegan cheese because the combination creates a sticky “cheesy” texture and make the cheese meltable.