Committing to a vegan lifestyle can be challenging. However, with time, most people develop the habit of checking food labels before buying any product to make sure it’s vegan. Not everyone does it the right way, though.
When determining the vegan status of any product, many of us tend to focus on the main ingredients while ignoring food additives that typically appear at the very end of the ingredients list.
Knowing that many vegans consume non-vegan or controversial ingredients due to this oversight, I have taken it upon myself to educate my fellow plant-eaters about these food additives.
Today, we’re going to about xanthan gum – an ingredient that is not only widely used in foods but is also found in a range of non-food products. Is xanthan gum vegan? Let’s find out!
Is Xanthan Gum Vegan?
The short answer is – xanthan gum is mostly vegan, but not always.
I know it’s confusing, but we’re going to (try our best) to clear this confusion today. Let’s take a look at how xanthan gum is made to develop a better understanding.
|What is Xanthan Gum, By The Way?For those who may not know, xanthan gum is a form of carbohydrate (from the category of polysaccharides) used as a stabilizer, emulsifier, and thickening agent. It appears on the ingredient list of many foods, ranging from soups and salad dressings to gluten-free baked goods to juices and ice creams. It is also often used as a gelatin substitute in plant foods, particularly the ones meant for vegetarians and vegans..|
Xanthan gum often appears as E415 on many food labels.
How is Xanthan Gum Made?
The process of manufacturing xanthan gum is similar to that of making yogurt. It’s also produced through fermentation. The process of making xanthan gum involves fermenting simple sugars (simple carbohydrates) by a specific strain of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.
|Interesting Fact An interesting (or should I say disgusting) fact about Xanthomonas campestris is that the same bacteria causes black rot on cruciferous vegetables.|
As the bacteria metabolize sugar, it is converted into a sticky, slimy, goo-like substance. Once the whole batch of sugar is fermented, the sticky liquid is mixed with alcohol (most commonly, isopropanol or ethanol). This process helps solidify and separate the gum from water. The solidified gum is rinsed and dried, and then ground to make the xanthan gum powder that is used in foods as an additive.
What Can Make Xanthan Gum Non-Vegan?
Xanthan gum is produced through the fermentation of carbohydrates. Nothing in this process seems to be against the principles of veganism, leaving many wondering how some forms of xanthan gums can be non-vegan.
Do you know what the issue here is? People tend to look for the problem in the wrong place. It’s not the manufacturing process that makes some forms of xanthan gum non-vegan – it’s the type of carbohydrate used.
The sugar (carbohydrate) used to make xanthan gum doesn’t always come from the same source. They can be taken from multiple sources. These include cane sugar, corn, wheat, and lactose.
According to multiple sources, xanthan gum can also be made from carbohydrates obtained from beet sugar, soy, and whey.
Another factor that can make xanthan gum non-vegan is the use of lysozyme to purify the gum (this isn’t the standard practise but is often used). Lysozyme is an enzyme naturally found in abundance in human and cow milk, egg white, blood serum, and various body secretions, such as saliva, mucus, and tears. However, there are also some plant sources of it, such as bitter melon, cabbage, barley, fig, cauliflower juice, and papaya juice.
To sum up, if the sugar (carbohydrate) and lysozyme (if used) used to make xanthan gum come from animal sources, the resulting product would be non-vegan. Similarly, if xanthan gum is produced using all plant-based ingredients, it will be vegan.
How Do You Know If Xanthan Gum Is Vegan?
This is where things get tricky. You can’t tell how the xanthan gum used in a product is prepared just by looking at the food label. The only way to find it out is to contact the manufacturer, which isn’t practical. After all, you can’t get in touch with the manufacturer of every food item containing xanthan gum to inquire about its vegan status.
Even if we presume that someone is ready to do it, you can’t be sure that you’ll get the answer to your question because it is highly unlikely that the food manufacturing companies make their own food additives. They most likely source them from outside.
Even if we ignore lysozyme (since it isn’t always used), it is (almost) impossible to determine what type of carbohydrate is used to make a batch of xanthan gum.
So, Should Vegans Avoid Xanthan Gum?
Don’t jump to the conclusion yet – there’s more to the picture!
According to OK Kosher Certification, one of the world’s leading kosher certification agencies, most of the xanthan gum produced in the US is made using corn because it is a subsidized crop. Other sources are only typically used for non-GMO xanthan gum.
The agency also highlights that cane sugar is the primary source of xanthan gum in South America because of its low price, whereas in Europe, the food additive is commonly made from wheat.
If we go by this explanation, the majority of xanthan gum is vegan friendly. However, it doesn’t eliminate the possibility that the xanthan gum used in a product is non-vegan. No matter how slim, the chances are still there.
Frequently Asked Questions
§ What is xanthan gum made of?
Xanthan gum is made by fermenting carbohydrates (sugars). Read the article to learn about the xanthan gum manufacturing process in detail.
§ Does xanthan gum have gelatin?
No. Xanthan gum doesn’t have gelatin in it.
§ How do you know if xanthan gum is vegan?
The only surefire way to know if xanthan gum is vegan is to ask the manufacturer.
Wondering what you should do if it’s not possible? Read the article for a detailed discussion on whether vegans can eat products containing xanthan gum or not.
§ Is Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum vegan?
As per the information given on the Bob’s Red Mill website, their xanthan gum is made from corn, which means it is vegan.
§ What is xanthan gum used for?
Xanthan gum has a variety of uses in both food and non-food industries. As mentioned earlier, fermented gum has been traditionally used to thicken, stabilize, and emulsify foods. However, it has also started to be used in gluten-free products and as a gelatin substitute in vegetarian and vegan foods.
Some of the most common non-food uses of xanthan gum are oils and cosmetics.
§ Is xanthan gum gluten-free?
Yes. Xanthan is gluten-free and is commonly used in gluten-free products.
§ Is xanthan gum natural?
Even though xanthan gum is produced through the natural process of fermentation, it cannot be classified as a natural ingredient because it is not found in nature.
§ Is xanthan gum halal?
The Muslim’s Consumer Group lists xanthan gum as a halal ingredient.
Conclusion – Can Vegans Eat Xanthan Gum or Not?
It all comes down to whether you belong to the group of vegans who want to be 100% sure about the vegan status of each and every ingredient used in a product, or you’re one of those who are okay with consuming foods containing a couple of ingredients you’re not confident about.
If you’re the first kind, you may prefer to avoid products containing xanthan gum. But, if you’re from the second group, you can go ahead and have all the xanthan containing foods.
Did you find this article helpful? Are you interested to learn about the vegan status of other commonly used food additives as well? Check out my article Is Cellulose Gum Vegan!