If you’ve decided to go keto, you’re likely to run into some odd ingredients in recipes that you have never used before.
One of these strange ingredients is Xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum is a man-made food additive that is used in many processed foods.
It is not a natural product, but quite popular in gluten-free baking due to its ability to bind, stabilize, and mimic the properties of gluten.
Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. It’s quite sticky, so it helps to hold baked goods together.
When there’s no gluten in a flour, such as almond flour or coconut flour, the finished product will fall apart if you don’t use something to help the crumbs stick together.
Not all low-carb flours are gluten-free, however, so this is only a problem in keto recipes that don’t use vital wheat gluten or high-protein wheat starches.
In low-carb baking, vital wheat gluten and wheat starch help bread and rolls to rise like traditional baked goods.
When gluten-free flours are used, Xanthan gum helps starches combine together in a way that traps air bubbles that form as yeast doughs rise.
Xanthan Gum is also used as a thickener in many processed foods.
It helps to keep fats, spices, and other ingredients evenly distributed throughout salad dressings, sauces, gravies, and puddings.
This enables ingredients like oil and liquids to stay together and not separate.
Heavy solids do not settle on the bottom of the container.
Low carbs can use Xanthan gum in similar ways.
What is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan Gum begins as a species of bacteria known as Xanthomonas campestris, the same bacteria that is responsible for the dark spots that appear on cauliflower if you don’t use it within a day or two.
Officially a polysaccharide, a string of sugars, Xanthan gum is produced by being fed wheat starch, soy, corn starch, or whey, and then allowed to sit for a few days and ferment.
The result is a gel-like substance, which is then dried, milled, and ground into a powder known as Xanthan gum.
Once the vegetable gum is mixed with water, broth, or some other liquid, it turns back into a gel known as soluble fiber.
In general, your digestion doesn’t break down a soluble fiber.
This type of fiber passes through the digestive system in its original form.
It’s great for those doing keto because the 7 carbs per tablespoon that Xanthan has doesn’t have to be counted toward your daily carbohydrate totals like cornstarch or wheat flour does.
Neither does the powder contain any calories or other nutrients.
Why Use Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum appears to be quite expensive, so why would you want to use Xanthan gum in your keto cooking?
Looks can be deceiving.
Since you only use a pinch of Xanthan gum at a time, about 1/4 of a teaspoon will thicken a cup of liquid, a bottle of Xanthan gum will last for a very long time.
In addition, Xanthan gum is a non-toxic, FDA-approved additive that comes with a wide variety of uses for those doing keto. It can be used in:
- salad dressings
- weight-loss shakes
- low-carb sauces and gravies
- homemade syrups
- baked goods like pizza and rolls
- keto dessert recipe
Since it thickens liquids and helps hold particles together while baking, using Xanthan gum instead of cornstarch or wheat flour can help you make your favorite recipes keto-friendly without having to add additional carbs or calories to your meals.
Low-carb flours are high in protein and low in starch, so they will not thicken liquids.
While cornstarch is used by some people doing keto, it comes at a cost of 7 carbs per tablespoon, which is too high for those only eating 20-net carbs per day.
Xanthan gum can be used anywhere you’d want to thicken, blend, bind, or emulsify a sauce, shake, or gravy.
It is particularly handy during the holidays or when hosting a party, family gathering, or summer barbecue.
Just gently sprinkle a bit of powder over the top of your liquid and vigorously whip it in. Cook and continue stirring until thickened.
It’s better to start off with too little Xanthan than too much and keep your sauce on the thin side because you can always add more later on if you want to.
Using too much Xanthan gum too early in the cooking process can cause your sauce to have a slimy consistency.
In fact, most brands of cream cheese have some type of vegetable gum already in them.
Xanthan Gum vs Other Alternatives
The major alternative to Xanthan gum is guar gum. Unlike Xanthan gum, guar gum is a natural product derived from a seed that is native to Asia.
Guar gum helps keep large particles trapped in suspension, but will lose its ability to thicken if it comes into contact with an acid medium, such as vinegar or lemon.
If using acidic ingredients in low-carb recipes, you’ll want to use Xanthan gum instead of guar gum.
Guar gum also isn’t as strong as Xanthan gum, so you’ll need to use quite a bit more in order to get the same thickening power. This makes it easy to use too much.
In addition, guar gum doesn’t combine well with hot liquids. It’s better when mixed into cold liquids or oil first.
An alternative to using guar gum for only cold liquids is to toss the liquid and guar gum into the blender and whirl together until smooth, just before heating.
In fact, you can do this with Xanthan gum, as well, if you’re worried about using too much.
There are a variety of products on the market today that use a combination of vegetable gums instead of just Xanthan gum or guar gum.
Thick-it-Up and Thick-It are two of the most popular among keto dieters.
These products come with a stronger thickening power than either gum alone, and unlike guar gum, can be used with hot liquids.
You’ll still have to be careful that you don’t use too much.
Additional alternatives to Xanthan gum include:
- psyllium husks
- flaxseed meal
- chia seeds
- agar agar
- unflavored gelatin
While these alternatives can be used in baking or to thicken shakes, they won’t work well for gravies and sauces. Xanthan gum is still best.
Benefits and Side Effects of Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum isn’t an emulsifier, even though it acts like one, so it doesn’t alter gut bacteria when taken in normal doses. Nor does it produce inflammation.
It’s also safe for those with intestinal issues such as ulcerative colitis and Chron’s disease.
However, since it travels through the digestive system without being broken down, it does cause problems for some people.
Xanthan gum attracts moisture to itself and comes with a potential laxative effect.
It can make gut pain or diarrhea that you already have much worse.
In addition, the bacteria collected as the source for Xantham gum tends to come from a variety of cruciferous vegetables:
Those with allergies or food sensitivities to cruciferous vegetables can react to Xanthan gum.
Potential side effects in people with food sensitivities include bloating, cramps, and flatulence.
People have also been known to react if the powder is accidentally inhaled.
Watch for nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, and other allergy symptoms to surface either immediately, or shortly after ingestion.
You also have to beware of the medium used to feed the bacteria. If you’re allergic to wheat, corn, soy, or dairy, you could have problems with brands that use those sugars during the fermenting process.
This information doesn’t come on the label, so you’ll want to check with the manufacturer if you’re sensitive to dairy, corn, wheat, or soy.
A few benefits of using Xanthan gum have also been reported. These include:
- lowering blood glucose level
- stabilizing blood glucose
- reducing cholesterol
- laxative for those with constipation
- help for dry mouth or throat
Xanthan gum swells as it moves down the intestinal tract, and since it speeds up digestion, it is thought to slow down the absorption of glucose.
It also works as a saliva substitute for those who don’t make enough saliva.
Despite the benefits, you don’t want to consume too much. WebMD recommends not consuming more than 15 grams per day to avoid complications and side effects.
To put this in proper perspective, 1 teaspoon of Xanthan is 7.39 grams, so as long as you’re not consuming more than 2 teaspoons a day and don’t have any food sensitivities, you’ll be okay.
Two teaspoons is more than you’d use to thicken a sauce or gravy.
Even yeast rolls wouldn’t provide that much per serving, so overall, Xanthan gum is considered by experts to be very safe and will greatly enhance your keto diet.