Xanthan gum. We all grew up with its name gracing the ingredients of various artificially constructed foodstuffs. Ice cream, McDonalds Barbeque Sauce, most anything that came out of a vat rather than where it should. But what the heck is it?

Xanthan is an anionic bacterial polysaccharide composed of a § -(1->4)-D-Glc (cellulosic) backbone with a trisaccharide sidechain linked to C3 of every second glucose residue. The sidechain is § -D-Man-(1->4)- § -D-GlcA-(1\->2)-6-O-acetyl-alpha-D-Man-(1\-> with approximately 60% of the terminal mannose units being pyruvylated.

Xanthan is known to be the most versatile and resistant gum known to Man. Easily dissolved, creating high viscosity in any solution and supposedly, "excellent mouthfeel." Very similar to guar and locust bean gum, it is much easier to produce. The bacterium Xanthomonas campestris, luckily enough for sinister food manufacturers everywhere, creates it as a natural byproduct. And so, this lovely thing known as Xanthan gum is stuck in most any gooey product on the market, making sure it stays real nice and gooey till you stick it in your mouth. Also used in many, many baked goods, for volume and coagulation. That naughty Betty Crocker has a trick up her sleeve.

Another curiosity of this particular gum, is that its exact chemical composition is still quite the secret to the modern organic chemist. It was discovered at the USDA's National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research at Peoria, IL (where other such miracles as penicillin and riboflavin emerged from), its structure is still being analyzed and interpreted today, by the tamer forms of chemists.

Xanthan-Gum.net lists the uses of xanthan gum as:

  • emulsifier
  • lubricant
  • suspending agent
  • thickener

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