Xanthan Gum – Natural or Not?

Written by: | September 28, 2018 | Leave a Comment

Xanthan Gum is a common ingredient found in both cosmetics and food products. It’s a thickening agent used to create gels. Essential Wholesale uses xanthan gum derived from the bacterial fermentation of wood pulp polysaccharides, not corn, and is certified non-GMO as per NOP rules of the USDA. It is manufactured using ethanol, not isopropyl alcohol.

You may find information stating that xanthan gum is anything but natural. The distinction between natural and unnatural is not always perfectly clear. One has to make their own decision about what is natural and what is not, as there is no absolute definition, only opinions. The process of Xanthomonas campestris converting cellulose into gum is more or less the same thing as the process of yeast converting plant sugars to alcohol. It is a fermentation process which under suitable conditions happens at Mother Nature’s own prompting without any human instigation
whatsoever. As grapes will rot and ferment on the vine producing alcohol, broccoli, and leafy greens will rot and ferment producing xanthan gum. However, the slimy gum streaking the vegetables rotting in the sink isn’t any more appealing than the rank alcohol found in rotting fruit. Commercially traded products produced by bacterial fermentation such as wine, beer, bread, cheese, and xanthan gum are going to be made under the carefully controlled conditions of a manufacturer who intends to clean up the whole process. One of the last steps in producing xanthan gum, before
drying and powdering, is to wash it with a solvent. In the case of the xanthan gum Essential Wholesale manufactures with, the solvent used is ethanol (as opposed to isopropyl alcohol). While the xanthan gum we use has been produced commercially under artificial clean room conditions and while the ethanol that has been applied to it in the process could not have come into contact with the xanthan gum except by human intervention I have to remember that cheese does not make itself and rennet, as well as many other ingredients, cannot find their way to a batch of fermenting dairy without human hands. Both wood pulp and Xanthomonas campestris is every bit as natural as dairy and Mucor miehei. If one was to argue that using Xanthomonas campestris to ferment genetically modified corn resulted in an unnatural end product I would agree. Short of that, it seems to me xanthan gum is as natural as cheese.

While our xanthan gum is non-GMO and processed with ethanol and therefore concerns related to GMO’s and isopropyl alcohol do not apply, I would like to play the devil’s advocate here: The author at cassiopaea.org states “Isopropyl alcohol as some of you know is a highly toxic carcinogen.” And then goes on to cite the work of Dr. Hulda Clark to support this claim. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration “Epidemiological studies suggested an association between isopropyl alcohol and paranasal sinus cancer; however, subsequent analysis suggests that the “strong-acid” process used to manufacture isopropyl alcohol may be responsible for these cancers [ACGIH 1991]. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that the evidence for the carcinogenicity of this process is adequate but that the evidence for isopropyl alcohol itself is inadequate [IARC 1987].” At this point, I haven’t invested a great deal of time in research, but it appears that incidents of isopropyl alcohol-related cancer are limited to cases of paranasal sinus cancer among workers in isopropyl alcohol manufacturing plants who have probably been inhaling the strong acid fumes used in the manufacturing process for years. Even if a xanthan gum was processed using isopropyl alcohol and after drying some residual fraction
of isopropyl alcohol remained in the finished product, say 1 ppm, and we hypothesized that this residual isopropyl alcohol could cause cancer in sufficient quantities (unproven), I would guess that one might have to eat metric tons of xanthan gum every week for decades before one reached a critical exposure threshold comparable to that experienced by people breathing strong acid fumes eight hours a day five days a week for years. In the case of personal care products, in which xanthan gum is an ingredient added at anywhere from 0.1 – 1 %, this theoretical residual isopropyl alcohol can probably be reduced to 0.000005 ppm of the total product, and possibly much less than that (assuming it is there at all). And as these products are applied topically rather than eaten, the critical exposure threshold would be higher by an order of magnitude.

I would not try to encourage you to reconsider xanthan gum. If it upsets digestion or adversely affects your energy level or doesn’t agree with you in any way get rid of it and don’t second guess yourself for a moment.  However, unless you are experiencing a bad reaction from using the bases on your skin and hair comparable to the bad reaction you experience eating products containing xanthan gum I would encourage you to reconsider our non GMO xanthan gum as a safe personal care ingredient. As far as cost is concerned, xanthan gum and guar gum are currently neck and neck with xanthan gum being marginally cheaper.

Substituting guar gum for xanthan gum could be challenging. Thickeners and surfactants, one might say, share a very difficult relationship. It takes a lot of coaxing and wheedling and prodding and compromising to strike a balance where the two can work together in the same base. 

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