What It Is
Xanthan gum is made by fermenting sugar, which is then purified, dried and powdered. It is used as a thickener and stabilizer in various processed foods, particularly gluten-free foods. We don’t generally recommend consuming processed foods, as they tend to be devoid of nutrients and contain all manner of additives, including sugar, but if you find xanthan gum on a list of ingredients that otherwise looks harmless, you’ll probably be fine.
What It’s Made From
The only possible cause for concern when it comes to xanthan gum is what it’s made out of. It can be made using anything that contains sugar, including corn, dairy and wheat, and some people with allergies to these foods also have problems digesting xanthan gum. Many producers of xanthan gum now use wheat to create their product. The result has minimal levels of gluten (small enough to meet the requirements for gluten-free labeling) but sometimes it can cause issues for those who are extremely sensitive to gluten.
Effects on Humans
For the most part, human and animal studies have found no harmful effects from xanthan gum, other than as an “effective laxative”, but even that was only in extremely high doses. The only cause for concern came from a series of tragic deaths that resulted when newborns were fed a thickener called SimplyThick, but as long as you don’t feed xanthan gum to your baby, there doesn’t appear to be any real cause for concern.
For more information on whether xanthan gum is healthy for you, see Chris Kresser’s post on whether Xanthan Gum is harmful or harmless.