Can you be allergic to xanthan gum?

Do you have sudden, strange and unexplained allergic reactions to gluten free and other freefrom foods?

You know you’ve checked the label and everything looks to be safe… Maybe you are even reacting after food cooked using gluten free self raising flour but you just can’t work out what’s causing a problem?

Well you’re not going mad, you may be allergic to xanthan gum which is used to replace the missing gluten that is lacking when you don’t bake with wheat based flours.

Xanthan gum

It sounds like like a character for Willy Wonkers Chocolate Factory or maybe even a nasty disease of the mouth.

Xanthan gum can be found in so many things from toothpaste to icecream and as it has thickening properties it has been adopted by the gluten free baking industry as a pretty good way of replacing that missing gluten that makes normal wheat baked goods so springy, moist and strong.

Gluten helps bind bread together so when it is lacking the bread or cakes produced can be very dry, flat, solid and unappealing.

So what exactly is xanthan gum?

It doesn’t take very much research to discover that “It is produced by the fermentation of glucose, sucrose, or lactose. After a fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. Later, it is added to a liquid medium to form the gum.” (source: Wiki)

The word lactose should already be ringing alarm bells.

It appears that xanthan gum can be grown on sugar from dairy, soya, wheat or corn yet it rarely declares which medium was used to grow it.

It is also grown using a bacterian which causes cabbages to rot! Lovely! I hear you cry. Pass me some xanthan gum right now.

It’s used a lot because it’s considered to be relatively safe and is very cheap to produce. It is also very stable and works miracles with gluten free bread.

How do you know where your xanthan gum originated from?

Have you ever seen a label with the source of the xanthan gum listed? My research didn’t throw up an figures about the amount of the allergen which may or may be present in the end produt but it could be a frustrating journey trying to discover what it came from. In fact on Doves Farm xanthan gum it says it comes from a few different countries so it would take a while to work out what the mix consisted of.

Tracing where xanthan gum was actually derived from is proving harder than I thought but I’m on the case.
If you suspect it may be causing you a problem, try to find out the source. I think it should definitely be labelled and wonder why it isn’t already.

Doves Farm have responded however to assure me that the xanthan gum they use is grown on corn, the least allergenic of the base ingredients so it should be OK for most people.

At no point have I ever been told that xanthan gum could be a potential threat to my health, even though I am allergic to wheat and soya and intolerant to wheat.

There is always the possibility that someone could be allergic to all xanthan gum, the bacterium it is grown on could cause an allergic response too. People can be allergic to the strangest things.

There must be another way to bake gluten free without xanthan gum…

Eating fake foods which are processed unnaturally seems like a bad idea for me, we know from recent news that processed meat can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer, so why not other processed aritificial food stuffs too?

When you try to find products on the shelves of supermarkets that don’t contain xanthan gum you realise just how widespread its use is. It’s in so many things.

Artisan Bakery doesn’t use any man-made synthetic gums or other additives. They use natural simple ingredients. I haven’t tried their bread yet but am planning to do so if my own home baking attempts prove futile. Watch this space for more info on that, but I have heard very good reports from others that it’s very tasty bread. I’m looking forward to trying it.

I have also noticed recently that M&S gluten free use guar gum. This was true for their gluten free crumpets but I’m not sure about their bread or other #GF stuff, but worth trying if you think xanthan is a problem.

Guar gum, by comparison, whilst processed to some extent is the powder from the gum of the guar bean so it’s far more natural and should pose less allergy risk.

So, to xanthum or not to xanthan, that is the question. One the most important lessons I learnt whilst writing this blog post is how to actually spell xanthan gum… I’ve been spelling it xanthum gum – when did they change the spelling?

Does it only pose a problem for hightly allergic people? How much allergen may be present? More research needed because I didn’t find all the answers but I will update this blog post as and when I discover what’s that.

Are you allergic to xanthan gum? Do you react when you eat products containing it? Or is just a harmful ingredient?

Further reading about xanthan gum

The FitSugar blog explains The Skinny on xanthan gum
Celeste explains why she no longer uses xanthan gum: Why I no longer use Xanthan or guar gum
Michelle Berridale-Johnson of Foods Matter also shares some interesting research material about xanthan gum xanthan and guar gum

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About Ruth

Ruth works freelance as a copywriter and writes the What Allergy blog to share information with people who have allergies, eczema, asthma and food intolerances. http://www.whatallergy.com was voted in the top 5 allergy blogs and Ruth also judges regularly for the FreeFrom Food Awards and FreeFrom Skincare Awards. She runs a support group for the Anaphylaxis Campaign and also writes regularly for Exchange, The National Eczema Society quarterly magazine.

Comments

  1. I don’t think there is such a thing as xanthum gum. It’s xanthan gum.

    • Thanks Donna. How have I not noticed that my whole life? I have updated the blog… Thanks for pointing that out, a copywriter should really get the spelling right the main topic of discussion! 2/10 see me. Write one hundred times: It’s not xanthum gum it’s xanthan gum

  2. The xantham gum from ‘Life free from’ says it is wheat and gluten free, as well as nut free and suitable for vegans (so I assume no dairy).

    • Thanks Liz. I also checked with Dove Farm and The Foodamentalists and both use corn derived xanthan gum so perhaps we are worrying for no reason. Worth knowing though as could explain the unexplained attacks when we can’t check the origin!

  3. We have advised against consumption of xanthan gum on the TrulyGlutenFree site for ages ever since I discovered it in supplements, let alone foods. I am told much of it nowadays is fermented using corn sugar, as that is the cheapest source. The problem is, as you say, you can’t tell and it can vary without even the supplier knowing, as it depends on what source is cheapest at any given time. There is no obligation for the manufacturer to tell the product supplier when the source changes. Nightmare.

    Fermented products, like some supplements, enzymes, food additives etc, are a real problem generally since, as you can tell from this, they have to use a fermentation substrate – a sugar – and that is usually corn-based from what I am finding, although it can be the sources you mention. Most people won’t react at this level , of course, but you can and a lot of my readers/patients do.

    • Thanks Micki, and as I am realising, I am not most people. Am on a pick it kill it diet at the moment. No processed foods at all and feel so much better already. Husband did buy a packet of those lovely kettle crisps for me, the unsalted ones, so Might have to make an exception for those. Ha Ha. The more I read about xanthan gum the more disgusted I am, all these fake, manmade ingredients can’t be good for us. I’m avoiding it if at all possible from now on. No mean feat I know, but as I’m pretty sure it’s possibly the culprit for some pretty horrendous allergic reactions it’s no great loss. My doctor can’t believe what I’m allergic to and the list keeps rising!

      • Like that: pick it, kill it. Welcome to TGF world! Nothing processed goes in at all as it’s just not worth it. Hope you enjoy cooking…!

  4. Warning about both Xanthum Gum AND Guar Gum if you have had stomach or intestinal surgery:

    Beware both. Eat small doses until you know how you will react. My experience is that post stomach surgery, I was forewarned about guar gum to avoid it equal to avoiding pastas, especially spaghetti. Pastas and guar gum were known to my surgeon at the time to cause extreme discomfort in patients who had stomach or intestinal surgery. Symptoms – “If you feel like you have a balloon being blown up inside you, making it difficult to breathe, and you are bloating up like a balloon as well, chances are you have had an experience with one of the “gums”. That fermentation — in my opinion is dangerous stuff. For me, both are horrid – almost worthy of a visit to ER! Usually the after effect is I can’t eat for at least a day, sometimes several, until the symptoms subside.

    Meanwhile, you may find your heart racing, blood pressure rising rapidly and your body in a state of panic – cold sweats, light headed, feeling like you are struggling to breathe – when this happens to me, I feel like I am being “strangled” inside-out. Your stomach can feel like it is expanding to stop your lungs from fully expanding to breathe.

    If you have found you got into this stuff accidentally – - (become a paranoid ingredients label reader – it will help) one thing I have found that will sometimes cut through the pain and extreme discomfort fairly quickly is to sip (very small tiny drinks) of Coca-Cola. It will help dissolve the blockage. My surgeon had also suggested drinking Adolph’s meat tenderizer mixed in water. It takes awhile (for me at least) for the symptoms to go away.

    I have found this nasty goopy gum in everything from wing sauces (for chicken wings) to chain restaurant stir-fry’s you would find in the frozen food section at a grocery store.

    Report any adverse reactions. It’s the only way these additives can be stopped from being sold. The major chain restaurant I contacted told me flat out that since they don’t hear people complain about it, they don’t think they owe an apology. I didn’t want an apology – I wanted to warn them their product might actually kill someone who has had a shortened intestine or stomach made smaller for any reason.

    These two gums are very, very scary. In my opinion, these should be considered to be pulled off market – or – at least carry a strong product warning!

    It’s not a food allergy – it’s a fermentation problem with the Gums.

  5. I’ve been newly diagnosed with a corn allergy. I react to xanthan gum MORE than corn-on-the-cob.

    First time was a fajitas seasoning pack containing this gum. I broke-out in hives. My allergist has me following the paleolithic diet due to my apparent sensitivity to food additives/preservatives; this seems to be helping.

    Last night I almost had to use my epipen from eating a slice of gluten-free cake from a gluten-free bakery! I assume it contained xanthan gum; being my birthday (27th) and just a small slice, I thought it would be ok. I’m still having throat swelling this morning.

  6. I’m trying to eliminate common ingredients in certain foods that are making my two year old break out in hives around the mouth and face immediately after eating them. This is a common ingredient listed however it’s also listed in other foods that don’t cause a reaction. Could it act differently in some foods, than others?

    • Hi Amanda, I have this exact problem too. I haven’t gone into it exactly but there are many manufactures of xanthan gum and also they can be made using different starting cultures. It is almost impossible to find out this information but it’s one of the things I would love to do when I get more time. I think xanthan gum in doves farm flour is OK for me, but in some smaller companies, it’s not. I think it could well be some types are bad and others not but I have no idea why. Confused? Yep me too,

  7. Elisabeth says:

    Hi there,
    Interesting writing. I, too, am suspecting that xanthan gum may be my culprit. I’ve been gluten-free for two years and dairy-free for a year. About 6 months ago, I started reacting to something I’ve been eating. This has happened three times now and I have ended up in the ER. Symptoms are lips and tongue tingling and goes on to tingling in my entire body, chest tight and hard to breathe feeling somewhat paralysed, faintness, elevated heart rate and feels as though my blood pressure goes up and down, headache. The ER docs said it was not an anaphalactic reaction because I had no swelling and rash and he couldn’t do anything for me (they felt that Epi-pen or steroids might actually make me worse–my body was in a state of extreme neurological “excitement”). I contacted my allergist and he wants me to write down all food and ingredients I ate on the days I was affected. Guess what the common ingredient is? Xanthan gum! Also, rice flour because it’s in so many gluten-free items as well. Anyway, I’m going to be tested on Monday and might have to even eat some xanthan gum there and see if I react. My symptoms are extreme–they fill my whole body and head–and last for 5 days. I feel like I’m poisoned. I’ll report findings back. P.S. I read that if you have a mold allergy, you may also be very allergic to xanthan gum because it’s basically a mold that we are eating.

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  1. […] recently, there has been some controversy surrounding xanthan gum as it appears to cause allergy-like symptoms in certain individuals. Add that to the fact that it’s highly processed, its use is being viewed […]

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