For every food technologist out there, XANTHAN (pronounced zan-than) GUM (aka E415) is a staple in their product development pantry. Being discovered in the 1960s, xanthan gum was introduced into the food industry in the 1970s. My first foray into new product development was with xanthan gum while helping to formulate an updated version of The Wendy's Company chocolate fudge topping sauce for the Australian market. The year was 1999, I was doing work experience at Heat and Control Inc. .The food technologist got me to put some xanthan on my tongue forming what felt like a lump of Clag glue immediately. Lessons learnt: xanthan is a great texture modifier & a little can go a long way.
Xanthan gum may sound sci-fi but it's actually really simple: sucrose (table sugar) & glucose are mixed together to form the food source for a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. While fermenting their sugary growth media, X. campestris produce a by-product: Xanthan gum. Xanthan gum, a hydrocolloid (i.e. it forms a gel in water), is then collected, purified, dried & ground into a powder making it the perfect ingredient to help stablise everything from ice-cream and salad dressings to toothpaste & glue. Xanthan also helps to soften otherwise stodgy gluten free baked goods.
xI've recently learnt a new attribute of this staple ingredient: Gut Microbiome food. Yes xanthan gum seems to be a prebiotic, having a beneficial effect on the gut microbiome.
According Matthew Ostrowski one of the lead researchers on a joint study by University of Michigan & NMBU - Norwegian University of Life Sciences, xanthan gum is more than just a simple ingredient stabiliser, but is also a food source for beneficial gut bacteria that produce healthy short chain fatty acids (essential for a healthy colon.)
Who knew but the humble xanthan gum (resistant to digestion in our stomach and small intestine) may actually be playing an important role in enriching our gut microbiome. This is really important given the widespread use of xanthan in processed foods, but also the high use of xanthan in gluten free products designed for those with coeliac disease or ascribing to a gluten free diet. Of course dose is a factor, & under no way am I promoting the consumption of copious amounts of chocolate topping sauce, toothpase or Clag glue. But I think it's really important to realise that food is more than just a collection of nutrients.
Just when you think you've nailed food, we discover something new & more intriguing about it.
Check out ScienceDaily's recent article on this new research published in Nature Portfolio Microbiology journal (Ostrowski, M., et al. "Mechanistic insights into consumption of the food additive xanthan gum by the human gut microbiota", Nature Microbiology, 2022; 7 (4): 556 DOI: 10.1038/s41564-022-01093-0 ).
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