Xanthan gum is a thickening agent used in many foods, medications and cosmetic products. Produced by fermenting simple sugar with bacteria, xanthan gum has strong binding properties, which makes it an effective choice as an emulsifying agent. It also is naturally gluten-free.
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Xanthan gum is produced by feeding sugar to the bacteria xanthomonas campestris. The bacteria take in the sugar and metabolize it into a more complex carbohydrate, in this case xanthan gum. The structure of the new carbohydrate has unique properties that make it an efficient thickener or stabilizer when combined with other ingredients.
Gluten is the component in bread that causes the flour to stick together. This leads to problems for people who need to avoid gluten in their diet, such as those with celiac disease, because baked goods without gluten tend to be dry and crumbly. Xanthan gum takes on some of the same properties as gluten when it is added to liquid. Adding xanthan gum to baked goods improves the texture, makes the item less crumbly and gives the recipe less of a gritty consistency.
In addition to acting as a binding agent in baked goods, xanthan gum can be used to thicken foods. According to the Molecular Gastronomy Network, xanthan gum's molecular composition prevents the formation of ice crystals, making it useful for frozen foods and ice cream. Another characteristic of xanthan gum is pseudo plasticity, where it makes a substance solid when settled, but easily poured when transferred. Like ketchup, it squirts out of a bottle easily and then settles back into a blob once on your plate.
Cosmetics and Medications
Xanthan gum is frequently added to semiliquid cosmetics and lotions. Adding xanthan gum to cosmetic agents allows for a smoother, more even application. Xantham gum can also be found in medications and pills, and has been used alone as a synthetic saliva for people who suffer from dry mouth.