Ah, did you think I wouldn't come up with something for X?
How many times have you watched Iron Chef or some other show on the Food Network and seen someone add xanthan gum (a thickening agent) to their food? There have been some pretty strange guests on Iron Chef, but I usually enjoy learning about new ingredients and/or cooking styles so I've been known to stay up late watching one cooking show after another. Been there?
Xanthan gum. No, I don't have a recipe that includes xanthan gum, but on the heels of pink slime, I got thinking about what xanthan gum really is and how often I am ingesting it. Buyer beware and all.
Xanthan gum is derived from the same bacterium that cause broccoli and other leafy vegetables to rot and turn black. It's called "Xanthomonas campestris," (so science-y) and it produces a slimy substance that, when combined with corn sugar, becomes an extremely useful thickener, emulsifier and stabilizer for just about any processed food. Umm, yum!
Some typical foods you might purchase that include xanthan gum:
Xanthan gum acts as a stabilizer in beverages, particularly fruit juices. Without xanthan gum all the fruit bits (pulp) would sink to the bottom. Xanthan gum helps them stay afloat.
Ice creams often include xanthan gum as a stabilizer. It prevents the buildup of ice crystals and keeps the product smooth and creamy. It also gives American cheese slices their unique melting ability due to its stability under extreme heat. It remains stable, holding the oil and other ingredients together resulting in a smooth, uniform melt.
Xanthan gum holds unlike substances together. Such compounds are called emulsifiers, and they keep a bottle of salad dressing smooth and uniform. Without xanthan gum, the oil content in the dressing would slowly separate from the other ingredients. This is especially true in low-fat and nonfat dressings.
Condiments and Relishes
Manufacturers add xanthan gum to condiments and relishes, particularly cream-based varieties, as a thickening agent. It keeps the at-rest ingredients stay together and gives it excellent flow. It also reduces water separation, which would otherwise result in a soggy burger bun.
Xanthan gum is extremely stable from a wide range of temperatures - both from the freezing point to the boiling point, which makes it an ideal stabilizer in microwaveable foods.
Xanthan gum is used as a wheat gluten substitute to give a gluten-free product that "stickiness" that wheat bread contains.
Xanthan Gum used to only be available commercially, but now it's appearing on health food store shelves. Have you ever tried this thickening agent?
I don't know, but if it comes from the same substance that makes broccoli turn black, then I think I'd rather pass. I wonder how many other mystery ingredients we're swallowing each day? It makes me want to go on a whole foods diet!
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