What the Hell is Xanthan Gum?

Xantan gum is commonly used in cooking

Xantan gum is commonly used in cooking

If you look at food labels of the things you eat, you've seen it.  It is in most of the foods we eat, and it has a funny name.  I've asked myself the question a thousand times: what the hell is xanthan gum?  Well I decided to do a little research for myself and anyone else out there who might be interested.  

So what is it really?  I felt WebMD had the most concise explanation:

Xanthan gum is a sugar-like compound made by mixing aged (fermented) sugars with a certain kind of bacteria.

It is found in tons of things, not just food products.  Wikipedia has a good breakdown of it's uses:

It helps to prevent oil separation by stabilizing the emulsion, although it is not an emulsifier. Xanthan gum also helps suspend solid particles, such as spices. Also used in frozen foods and beverages, xanthan gum helps create the pleasant texture in many ice creams, along with guar gum and locust bean gum. Toothpaste often contains xanthan gum, where it serves as a binder to keep the product uniform. Xanthan gum (when sometimes not made from wheat—see Allergies for gluten-free allergy information) is also used in gluten-free baking. Since the gluten found in wheat must be omitted, xanthan gum is used to give the dough or batter a "stickiness" that would otherwise be achieved with the gluten. Xanthan gum also helps thicken commercial egg substitutes made from egg whites, to replace the fat and emulsifiers found in yolks. It is also a preferred method of thickening liquids for those with swallowing disorders, since it does not change the color or flavor of foods or beverages at typical use levels.

Yikes sounds like it is in fact in everything we consume. 

So is xanthan gum bad for you?  In terms of my own research, the jury is still out.  While your health nut types will say "it isn't natural, therefore it is bad", there really isn't anything proven in terms of bad side effects.  Wikipedia mentions a case of an product with the main ingredient of xanthan gum being banned for possibly causing a certain disorder in infants, but a true link was never proven.  

I guess for me it seems like for now, xanthan gum isn't all that bad.  Also it seems like you would pretty much have to stop eating most foods to completely avoid it.  I guess for now I'll continue on eating things containing it as well as reading my labels and shaking my fist in the air yelling "XANTHAN GUMMMMMMMMM!" like I did on occasion before I did my research on it.  

Sources: 

Wikipedia 

WebMD