Xanthan gum, guar gum, locust bean gum – these are ingredients that are added to gluten free products. What are they, what do they do, and are they OK for someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance?
When you take the gluten out of the flour used for baked goods, you take out the component that makes the products stick together. Bakers use gums to help restore some of that stickiness in the dough so the products aren't quite so crumbly.
Xanthan gum is the one that people usually spell incorrectly (xantham or zanthan show up a lot). Technically, it is a polysaccharide used as a food additive and rheology modifier. A polysaccharide is a complex sugar made up of long chains of simple sugar molecules joined together. A food additive means that it is added to products to change the texture, appearance, or stability of the product. Xanthan gum is added to thicken products and make them hold together better. Rehology describes the way a substance flows or in the case of baked goods, how they hold together.
So xanthan gum is a sugar that changes the texture of baked goods to make them more sticky and hold together better. It is made by fermenting corn sugar with the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris in a liquid form, and then isopropyl alcohol is used to separate out the xanthan gum from the rest of the liquid product. The separated solid is dried and ground into a beige powder.
Guar gum or guaran is made from the guar bean, also known as the cluster bean. Most commercial production comes from India, although some of the dryer areas in the US, Australia, and Africa also grow these beans. Once the hull is removed the rest of the bean is ground to make a light gray powder. Guar gum tends to be less expensive than xanthan gum.
Locust Bean Gum
Locust bean gum is extracted from the seeds of the carob tree which grows in Mediterranean countries. It is also known as carob bean or carob gum. It is a white or yellow-white powder.
Pick a Gum
Any one of these three gums can be used individually, although their chemical properties are all slightly different and if you use a mixture of locust bean and guar gum or guar and xanthan gum, you end up with a thicker product than you get from one individual product.
There is no gluten in any of these gums, but they some people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance get diarrhea when they eat it. It turns out that all of these gums, but especially guar gum, can be used as a laxative, and some people are very sensitive to even very small amounts of the gum. People with corn allergies may react to xanthan gum produced from corn. While it can be produced from other grains, it may be easier to just try guar or locust bean gum.
So in summary, xanthan gum, guar gum and locust bean gum are all naturally gluten free and are just fine for someone with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.