Xanthan Gum: Uses and Health Benefits

This food additive is generally safe and useful for baking and cooking

xanthan gum in container

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Xanthan gum is a food additive that helps make food products thicker. It's commonly found in bakery products, especially in gluten-free baked goods, where it helps to bind the ingredients together. Xanthan gum also is used as a stabilizer to make ice cream thicker and creamier, to enable salad dressings to blend and pour more easily, and to suspend fruit pulp in juices.

Other uses for xanthan gum include thickening toothpaste, binding extended-release tablets, and blending cosmetics. It's also helpful in non-food applications, such as in oil drilling (it's injected into mud to make the mud thicker and easier to work with), and in concrete work underwater (it helps prevent the concrete from washing away while it hardens).

Xanthan gum, which was approved for use in food in 1968, is considered to be a safe food additive by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It even has some beneficial health effects, such as lowering blood sugar. However, some people report that xanthan gum—especially in larger quantities—causes them to suffer from excess gas, bloating, and diarrhea.

What Is It?

Xanthan gum is produced from glucose derived from grains such as corn, soy, or wheat, and sometimes from lactose (sugar derived from milk). Sugar cane and beets also can be used as the source of the glucose in the product.

A strain of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris ferments the glucose or lactose, creating a gummy liquid. Manufacturers then use a form of alcohol to separate the gum, and then dry it and mill it into xanthan gum powder.

Xanthan gum that's used in foods is a fine, off-white powder that quickly dissolves in hot or cold water. A small amount of xanthan gum goes a long way to make a food product thicker or enable ingredients to hold together, and in fact, it's rarely used in concentrations larger than 0.05 percent of a product. Manufacturers often combine xanthan gum with other gums, such as locust bean gum and guar gum, to enhance the effect.

Products Using Xanthan Gum

You'll find xanthan gum in a huge variety of products—likely in food items and personal care items you never expected to contain the ingredient.

Food products using xantham gum include:

  • Ice cream
  • Salad dressings
  • Puddings
  • Pasta
  • Processed beverages
  • Dry drink mixes
  • Tomato sauce and other sauces
  • Frozen foods such as fries and entrees
  • Relish
  • Mayonnaise
  • Ketchup
  • Mustard
  • Salsa
  • Syrups and other toppings
  • Vegetarian/vegan meat and cheese substitutes
  • Coconut milk
  • Prepared gravy
  • Canned and boxed soup
  • Chewing gum
  • Yogurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Gluten-free breads and other baked goods
  • Corn tortillas
  • Processed meat products
  • Candy

Suffice it to say, you're probably consuming some xanthan gum on most days without even realizing it.

Non-food products that can contain xanthan gum include:

  • Toothpaste
  • Shampoo
  • Conditioner
  • Cosmetics
  • Lipstick and lip balm
  • Skin cream
  • Pet food
  • Over-the-counter supplements
  • Prescription medications
  • Water-based paint
  • Construction materials
  • Glues and adhesives
  • Food packaging

Xanthan gum happens to be an extremely useful substance, and it's even under investigation for use in tissue engineering, a new medical field in which doctors replace damaged or missing body parts with engineered replacements made from living cells build on a "scaffold," or frame. Researchers are looking at whether xanthan gum may be useful as part of that underlying framework.

Possible Health Effects

The FDA considers xanthan gum to be safe in quantities up to 15 grams (about one-and-a-half tablespoons) per day, which is far, far more than you're likely to consume in a day. A typical recipe might call for 1/4 teaspoon for every cup of flour.

Most people consume xanthan gum without any noticeable health effects, either positive or negative. However, some might find that this ingredient has an effect on them.

Potential Health Benefits

Xanthan gum has been shown in studies to:

  • Lower blood sugar: One study looked at healthy people who fasted for 12 hours and then consumed a nutritional drink enhanced with xanthan gum. The researchers found that blood sugar levels 20 minutes after the drink's consumption were lower in people who consumed the drink with xanthan gum than blood sugar levels in a control group. Older research has indicated that xanthan gum may be useful in diabetes management.
  • Make you feel fuller: Since xanthan gum is a form of soluble fiber, it can help make you feel fuller and more satiated after eating. This may help you if you're trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss.
  • Combat tooth decay: Researchers have found that xanthan gum may help to protect against cavities and demineralization of teeth.
  • Substitute for saliva: People who have Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune condition, have constant dry mouth. Xanthan gum is used in mouthwash and other products intended to combat this problem.
  • Relieves constipation: Xanthan gum, like many other forms of soluble fiber, is an effective laxative.

    Potential Health Problems

    As with most foods and food additives, xanthan gum consumption also carries with it some potential health risks. They include:

    • Allergic reactions: Researchers looked at a variety of different gums, including xanthan gum, to see if they provoked an allergic response in healthy individuals, and found that some people indeed did have evidence of an immune system reaction to certain gums. This could cause symptoms in some people, although more research is needed, according to the study.
    • Bloating and diarrhea: Because xanthan gum is a form of fiber, some people find they become bloated or suffer from diarrhea if they consume too much of it. In a few people, even a tiny bit of xanthan gum seems to be enough to provoke a reaction, although it's not clear why this would occur.
    • Flu-like symptoms and nose and throat irritation: Workers who handled xanthan gum in an industrial setting with very high exposure levels reported experiencing symptoms that got worse with increased exposure. Fortunately, there was no evidence of permanent lung damage in workers with the highest and longest exposure.

    It's also theoretically possible that people who have allergies to the substances from which xanthan gum is made could suffer reactions. For example, wheat, soy, and corn all are used to make xanthan gum, and there's a small risk of a tiny amount of the allergenic protein remaining in the processed xanthan gum.

    However, this would only happen if the person in question was extraordinarily sensitive, and in fact there haven't been any documented instances in medical journals of this problem occurring. Xanthan gum is processed thoroughly in its manufacture, and the FDA does not believe that allergenic proteins remain in the finished product.

    Still, if you have severe food allergies and you're concerned about allergic reactions to xanthan gum that's sourced from something to which you're allergic, you can contact the manufacturer to ask about the source of that company's xanthan gum.

    Baking With Xanthan Gum

    Although xanthan gum is included as an ingredient in many processed foods, people who use it at home in recipes and cooking are most likely to need it for gluten-free baking. In fact, it's nearly impossible to make good gluten-free bread and other baked goods without some sort of gum ingredient, usually either xanthan gum or guar gum.

    The gluten in wheat flour makes dough stretchy and springy. Gluten-free flour, which usually is made from a blend of gluten-free grains and other starches such as rice, tapioca, sorghum, and potato, lacks that springy quality. Xanthan gum or another type of gum, such as guar gum, can imitate that quality; without a gum ingredient, gluten-free baked goods tend to be dry and crumbly.

    You don't need much xanthan gum to make this work: start with 1/4 teaspoon for every cup of gluten-free flour. You can add more (up to 1 teaspoon per cup) for recipes that call for very stretchy dough, such as homemade gluten-free cinnamon buns or pizza crust, so don't be afraid to experiment with your recipes. Still, be careful not to overdo it, since too much xanthan gum can cause your baked goods to be sticky and rubbery in texture.

    Cooking With Xanthan Gum

    While you're most likely to use xanthan gum in gluten-free baking, it's actually a versatile ingredient for home cooking. It's neutral in taste and you won't be able to detect it in the finished product.

    For example, you can use a tiny amount of xanthan gum (perhaps 1/8 teaspoon) to thicken a sauce for meat or chicken, or to make low-carb gravy. You also can use xanthan gum to thicken homemade sorbet or dairy-free vegan ice cream—simply add about 1/8 teaspoon to your favorite sorbet recipe or vegan ice cream recipe to get a thicker, creamier finished product.

    Xanthan gum can be tricky to add to liquid recipes since it tends to form rubbery clumps that then are difficult to disperse and mix in. To alleviate this problem, sprinkle the xanthan gum carefully over the mixture a little at a time while beating it thoroughly, either by hand or with a machine mixer.

    A Word From Verywell

    Although xanthan gum is considered quite safe (and even has some potential health benefits), it's always possible for an ingredient not to agree with you.

    If you find you don't feel well after eating products that contain xanthan gum, you may want to experiment with eliminating it from your diet. To do this, look for "xanthan gum" in ingredients lists on food product labels—it always will be clearly called out. In homemade recipes, you can substitute guar gum for xanthan gum one-to-one and the recipe should turn out exactly the same.

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    Article Sources

    • Dost F et al. Stimulating the Discussion on Saliva Substitutes: A Clinical Perspective. Australian Dental Journal. Jan. 20, 2013. DOI: 10.1111/adj.12023.

    • Tanaka H et al. The Addition of Xanthan Gum to Enteral Nutrition Suppresses Postprandial Glycemia in Humans. Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology. 2018;64(4):284-286. DOI: 10.3177/jnsv.64.284.

    • U.S. Department of Agriculture. Xanthan Gum: Handling and Processing. April 22, 2016.

    • Vojdani A et al. Immune Reactivities Against Gums. Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine. 2015;21 Suppl 1:64-72.