Xanthan gum is a versatile ingredient used for many purposes. It’s often added to food as a thickening agent, emulsifier, or stabilizer.
Xanthan gum can be found in several different foods, including soups, fruit juice, and ice cream. You might find it listed on the back label of several foods in your home.
As it is included in so many products, vegans may question whether xanthan gum is vegan or not. We’ll cover the answer in this post, including how xanthan gum is made, what things make it vegan or non-vegan, and how to tell if your xanthan gum product is plant-based friendly.
Xanthan Gum: The Basics
Xanthan gum’s composition consists of repeating carbohydrate subunits, making it a macromolecule. It’s created by fermenting sucrose and glucose, which are both types of sugars.
Xanthan gum gets its name from the Xanthomonas campestris bacteria. The bacteria is added to a mix of sugars, along with nitrogen and dipotassium phosphate.
A solid polymer is taken from the liquid after several days. The polymer is then dried and refined into a powder. It can then be used for many purposes, such as adding to food or even in industrial applications, like making drilling mud more viscous.
Why Would Xanthan Gum Be Unsuitable For Vegans?
Xanthan gum is made by fermenting carbohydrates from sugars. The sugars can be taken from several sources, including animal ones, making them non-vegan.
Xanthan gum might not be made with animal substances, but the sugars made to create it may have been taken from animal matter.
Whey is an example of a product used to acquire the carbohydrates needed to create xanthan gum. Whey is derived from the production of cheese. As it is a waste byproduct, whey is readily available and cheap to purchase. This is why lots of food items contain whey, but this does make them unsuitable for vegans.
However, xanthan gum can be made using several plant-based friendly carbohydrates. Examples include soy, sugar beet, corn starch, and sugar cane.
A different reason why xanthan gum might be non-vegan is due to the enzymes added to process the gum. These enzymes may have been sourced from animal matter.
Some manufacturers might use plant lysozymes to refine the gum, but others might use lysozymes from geese, ducks, turkeys, and chickens.
Is My Xanthan Gum Vegan?
One of the simplest ways to check whether a product containing xanthan gum is plant-based friendly is to choose products with a clear vegan label. This will signify that all of the ingredients used are suitable for a plant-based diet and lifestyle. There may be instances where some products aren’t labeled as vegan, but are still plant-based friendly.
If you check the label and cannot see any non-vegan ingredients, along with xanthan gum, it’s likely to be suitable for a vegan diet. The manufacturer may have not added the vegan label to their product.
However, several products that aren’t labeled as vegan have been made with processes that deal with animal substances or dairy.
Many less strict vegans are wary of the risk of cross-contamination, but choose to consume the product anyway. Do bear in mind that those with allergies or issues with dairy should avoid these products.
If the product was made with animal-friendly processes, and there isn’t anything evident on the packaging (apart from xanthan gum) designating the item as non-vegan, contact the manufacturer.
Ask what substances were used to process and refine the xanthan gum. If any whey was used to culture it, or animal enzymes used to refine it, the xanthan gum would be non-vegan.
If plant-derived lysozymes and sugars were used in the manufacturing, the xanthan gum would be considered vegan.
Contacting the manufacturer may not be possible if you’re in eating out somewhere else or in the middle of your grocery shop. If this is the case, stay on the safe side and choose substitute items that are clearly marked vegan.
The Bottom Line
Xanthan gum is a food additive that has several uses. While it can be made with vegan-friendly processes and ingredients, some manufacturers can use non-vegan methods to obtain the gum.
Vegans should stick to xanthan gum products that have a distinct vegan label. If you’re unsure, ask the manufacturer to check.
Bear in mind that it can be difficult to obtain specific data about the production and refining process, so you might not get the information that you need.
Nevertheless, as more companies are recognizing the need for vegan-friendly products, hopefully, a larger amount of xanthan gum products will be suitable for vegans in the future.