What Is Xanthan Gum? - Modernist Cuisine

What Is Xanthan Gum?

MCMarch 1, 2013

Some people are suspicious of ingredients with unfamiliar names, such as xanthan gum. We are frequently asked, “Aren’t your dishes chock-full of chemicals?” Well, yes, but all foods are, including the most natural and organic ones. But nearly all of those chemicals are derived from natural ingredients or processes that have been used for decades.

First discovered by USDA scientists in the 1950s, xanthan gum is fermented by plant-loving bacteria, characterized by sticky cell walls. It is no less natural than vinegar or yeast. We think xanthan gum is one of the best discoveries in food science since yeast.

It is used as a thickener or stabilizer in a wide variety of foods found on grocery store shelves. Many canned or prepared products contain xanthan gum: salad dressings, sauces, soups, and baked goods — particularly those that are gluten-free because xanthan gum can perform some of the same functions as gluten.

Xanthan gum is one of the most useful food additives around; it is effective in a wide range of viscosities, temperatures, and pH levels. It is easy to use, has no taste, and generally works quite well. And it can thicken liquids at extremely low concentrations – as little as 0.1% by weight can yield a thick liquid, and 0.5% by weight can make a thick paste (this is why it is best to weigh out xanthan gum with a digital scale rather than use volumetric measurements). Traditional thickeners like flour typically require far larger amounts to do a similar job. The quantity matters because the more thickener you have as a fraction of the total mixture the more likely it is to impose an undesirable texture and inhibit flavor.

Ready to try xanthan gum? Take a look at our recipe library for recipes for Spinach Pesto, Jus Gras, and Wasabi Cream. Check back later this month, when we’ll be showcasing more recipes from Modernist Cuisine at Home that use xanthan gum.

adapted from Modernist Cuisine and Modernist Cuisine at Home

24 Responses to “What Is Xanthan Gum?”

    • Now >there’s< an informed opinion.

      You're not supposed to eat the powder all on its own. The studies that have shown a laxative effect in xanthan gum were feeding 15 grams of it to people every day. Since xanthan tends to be less than 0.1% of the total weight of the food it's in, you'd have to eat 15 kilograms of xanthanized food every single day to get the same effect.

      Xanthan gum forms naturally on all sorts of plant matter. When cabbage gets all slimy, it's because xanthamonas bacteria have been eating it, and that slime is the xanthan gum they leave behind. It's very, very similar to the fermentation process that yeasts perform and is no less natural.

  1. Derrek

    What is the best way to incorporate Xanthan Gum without adding air to a sauce or a dressing. Immersion blenders add air and the the gum usually traps tiny bubbles resulting in a color change. If I add it by hand I usually end up straining it to remove any clotted gum. Cheers…

  2. ChefNico

    You can incorporate Xanthan gum by first dispersing it in the dry ingredients of whatever you’re making. I.e. the salt & spices, then gently whisk it in. To get rid of airbubbles you can vacuum pack the final liquid 1 or 2 times, this will suck ouot the air. Cheers, y’all.

  3. Annie B.

    I am just beginning to uncover some possible allergies to gluten. I read on a web site that xanthan gum might have an effect on someone with a gluten/wheat allergy. Is that true? I’m looking for guidance in a sea of information. Thanks!

    • Hi Annie,

      You may want to contact individual manufacturers to find out if their xanthan gum is made with the same machines that make foods with gluten, and also to find out their source for the bacteria that xanthan is derived from.

  4. Annie B.

    P.S. The web site said that xanthan gum can come from different sources: wheat, corn, or soy. So, if that’s true, then you’d need to find out the source of the xanthan gum. Right?!