The first time I was asked by a consumer about xanthan gum was probably a good 40 years ago, and the question just keeps coming up.
In fact, one of the first TV commercials I did was for Dutch Mill Donuts, a family-owned New Jersey bakery that touted the fact that their products didn’t contain it.
The reality is that the words xanthan and gum just don’t sound good or edible, and for some unpronounceable.
Xanthan gum is fermented sugar. Simple sugars such as sucrose and glucose are made up of single sugar molecules, and are then mixed with a bacteria called xanthomonas campestris, which is how the name xanthan gum came about. As the mixture ferments, those single sugar molecules join together to make long chains called polysaccharides, and then transforms into a sludge or goo that basically holds the other ingredients together. When isopropyl alcohol is added, the mixture dries out and is ground into a powder. It then is used in foods that have certain ingredients that don’t normally join together, such as oils and water in foods such as dressings, sauces, ice creams and soups.
Bottom line—yes it's a scary name, but it is not a scary ingredient.