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.
Or you may just be struggling to process or digest it, not an allergy but still not great for the gut.
It sounds 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 ice-cream 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.
A bacterian is used to grow xanthan gum which causes cabbages to rot! Lovely! I hear you cry. Pass me some xanthan gum right now.
However it’s considered to be relatively safe and is very cheap to produce, 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. Lots of people do have a problem with corn though, so I’m not sure if there is a safe form to use.
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.
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.
Some bakeries don’t use any man-made synthetic gums or other additives. They use natural simple ingredients. It is entirely possible. Check out Knife and Fork Bakery, who do not use xanthan gum in their gluten free bread.
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, 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 think both spellings are correct, one American and one English spelling.
Does it only pose a problem for highly 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?
Alternative ingredients to avoid using xanthan gum
There are a few things that you could try, including psyllium husk, arrowroot, flax and chia seed and Konjac powder.
What is methyl cellulose?
There are other nasty ingredients in gluten free processed free from bread including gums, fillers, things like methyl cellulose which is basically cardboard! We really shouldn’t be eating these ingredients so if you can avoid them please do.
Methylcellulose, or methyl cellulose, also known as its abbreviation MC. It is made from cellulose and can be used as a thickener, emulsifier, binder, stabilizer and gelling agent in food with the European food additive number E461. It is also a fiber supplement. It is a water-soluble polymer chemically modified from natural cellulose by partially etherified it with methyl groups. For more visit the Food Additives website.
From the BBC website cellulose is described as:
Cellulose is the main substance found in plant cell walls and helps the plant to remain stiff and strong.
Humans cannot digest cellulose, but it is important in the diet as a source of fibre.
Cellulose is used to make clothes and paper.
So manufacturers are adding an ingredient that is the major component to make clothing and paper and cardboard? Why are we even thinking of eating this? The long term effects are not understood and I’d rather wear it and write on it thanks!
Further reading about xanthan gum
Celeste explains why she no longer uses xanthan gum: Why I no longer use Xanthan or guar gum