OK, so after going completely gluten free, I noticed that a lot of the gluten-free bread recopies called for either Xantham Gum or Guar Gum. Well, I'm pretty meticulous about the ingredients I bake with, so I decided to do a little research on these to figure out which is better or if perhaps one should be avoided. Sure enough, I learned some interesting things in this process. Let's start with Xanthan Gum, since it seems to be the most popular and common in recipes.
Xanthan gum is anything but a natural substance. That's not to say this makes it bad or evil because it's not natural, but there are some things to take note of. Here is an article from Celiac.com that discusses some of the problems with Xantham gum. I'll quote the description from the beginning of how Xantham Gum is made and follow up on the rest below: http://www.celiac.com/articles/21710/1/Could-Xanthan-Gum-Sensitivity-be-Complicating-your-Celiac-Disease-Recovery/Page1.html
Xanthan Gum is a polysaccharide used as a binder in many gluten-free products. In the production of xanthan gum, sucrose or glucose is fermented by a bacterium, Xanthomonas campestris. After a four-day fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a corn-based growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. When added to a liquid medium, a slippery, sticky gum is formed, and this substance works well in holding baked goods together, or keeping separate liquid ingredients in suspension in salad dressings and sauces.
Isopropyl alcohol as some of you know is a highly toxic carcinogen. For those of you who have read any of Dr. Hulda Clark's work, you'll know that she considers isopropyl alcohol to be a factor in a lot of cancers based on the way it interacts with parasites in the body. Isopropyl alcohol is fairly ubiquitous in our society today (as is Cancer). It is often sold as a bathroom product "rubbing alcohol" for disinfecting. Despite its household status, isopropyl alcohol remains a poisonous solvent. It sounds like the way it is used in the manufacture of Xantham Gum is that it is used as a (cheap) extraction medium. I would guess the majority of the isopropyl alcohol is evaporated off in the process, but the fact that some could still remain in the final product should be cause for alarm among those who consider Xanthan Gum a healthy food additive.
Not only this, but the growth medium for Xanthan gum is also made from corn. People with sensitivities to corn should take note of this. Continuing with the Celiac.com article:
While the above description doesn't make it sound very appetizing, what's the problem with xanthan? Some people develop an allergy to xanthan, with gastrointestinal symptoms such as bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Even consumption of a very minor amount can lead to days and days of recovery and many trips to the bathroom. Hmm. Sound like anything we've heard before? And that's the problem. Experiencing a xanthan reaction can make you question your gluten-free diet, make you think you were accidentally exposed to gluten, or mystify you completely.
A xanthan reaction can also precipitate migraine headaches, skin itchiness, and for those exposed to large amounts, such as bakery workers, nose and throat irritation. Symptoms of xanthan sensitivity become more prevalent with increasing exposure, so that can be one important clue. If you've suddenly started baking alot, or become addicted to a new brand of gluten-free cookies, and you start to have increased gastrointestinal symptoms, you may want to consider ruling out an adverse reaction to xanthan gum.
What's a body to do? Guar gum makes a good substitute, and it is also less expensive.
How did I become aware of this? Well, actually I have known about this for quite awhile, but since xanthan gum is in so many gluten-free products, I thought that sensitivity to xanthan must be a rare and isolated occurrence. Then two things happened to change my mind. I began baking a lot of gluten-free products for a business venture, and suddenly started having some gastro-intestinal problems, after being healthy for so long. I didn't have the severe pain of a gluten reaction, but otherwise my symptoms were eerily similar, particularly the bloating. I had already decided to lay off the baking (and tasting) as much as I could, and had narrowed the possibilities down to either tapioca starch or xanthan gum. Then, a student in one of my cooking classes let me know that she had a severe allergy to xanthan, and described her symptoms. They were identical, except in severity.
I reformulated my recipes using only guar gum for my next stretch of gluten-free baking, and I had no problem at all. I certainly hope that I do not develop a reaction to Guar gum, which is the ground carbohydrate storage portion of the guar bean. I have not seen reports of allergy or sensitivity to guar gum, but will do a little more research for my own knowledge, which I will share in the future.
By no means am I advocating that all people following a gluten-free diet give up products made with Xanthan gum. But, if you do not feel that the diet is helping you, and are still symptomatic, a sensitivity to Xanthan gum is one possibility that needs to be ruled out.
So, people with food sensitivities, especially those who have problems with corn, should take note of this. It might be another hidden factor causing inflammatory problems.
As stated in the article above, the supposed substitute for Xanthan gum is Guar gum. Now, Guar gum has not been without its share of controversy either. For a period of time certain manufacturers sold Guar gum as a weight-loss pill, which caused some people serious intestinal problems. One person even died, although the cause of death was only indirectly related to ingesting Guar gum pills it seems. This was enough for the FDA to ultimately crack down on Guar gum and put out warnings about its use. http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1370/is_n8_v24/ai_9073320/
Guar Gum Diet Products Under Investigation
Diet products containing guar gum are being investigated by FDA following the recall of Cal-Ban 3000 diet tablets and capsules. Use of the product, whose main ingredient is guar gum, was associated with numerous injuries.
Guar gum is a complex sugar that swells when wet and can create a sense of fullness in the stomach.
FDA halted distribution of the product in July because of reports that it caused throat obstruction and because promotional materials made unproven claims.
FDA directed Health Care Products, Lutz, Fla., nationwide distributor of Cal-Ban, to recall existing supplies. The agency warned consumers to stop using the pills immediately and to return remaining ones to their place of purchase.
At least 17 people experienced esophageal obstruction after taking Cal-Ban tablets. Ten required hospitalization, and one died of a blood clot that reached the lungs a week after surgery to remove the throat obstruction.
FDA had already been moving to ban guar gum and some 100 other diet product ingredients because their effectiveness for weight loss has not been proven.
In July, Florida health officials had ordered Health Care Products, which also does business as Anderson Pharmacals, in Tampa, Fla., to stop selling Cal-Ban 3000 because of reports of 50 cases involving injuries.
Guar gum is approved for use in small amounts in foods such as cheese, salad dressing, and ice cream. These uses do not pose a health threat.
From what I understand, Guar gum is essentially a laxative, but so is Xanthan gum. Both do pretty much the same thing in that regard. From what I could find there are no referenced health studies on Xanthan gum, however, there are a few regarding Guar gum and despite the FDA's claims, these studies seem to paint it in a better light. Here's some of what Wikipedia had to say about Guar gum and it's effects on health:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guar_gum
Guar gum is a water-soluble fiber that acts as a bulk forming laxative, and as such, it is claimed to be effective in promoting regular bowel movements and relieve constipation and chronic related functional bowel ailments such as diverticulosis, Crohn's disease, colitis and irritable bowel syndrome, among others. The increased mass in the intestines stimulates the movement of waste and toxins from the system, which is particularly helpful for good colon health, because it speeds the removal of waste and bacteria from the bowel and colon. In addition, because it is soluble, it is also able to absorb toxic substances (bacteria) that cause infective diarrhea.
Several studies have found significant decreases in human serum cholesterol levels following guar gum ingestion. These decreases are thought to be a function of its high soluble fiber content.
Guar gum has been considered of interest with regards to both weight loss and diabetic diets. It is a thermogenic substance. Moreover, its low digestibility lends its use in recipes as a filler, which can help to provide satiety, or slow the digestion of a meal, thus lowering the glycemic index of that meal. In the late 1980s, guar gum was used and heavily promoted in several weight loss products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration eventually recalled these due to reports of esophageal blockage from insufficient fluid intake, after one brand alone caused at least 10 users to be hospitalized and a death. For this reason, guar gum is no longer approved for use in over-the-counter weight loss aids in the United States. Moreover, a meta-analysis that combined the results of 11 randomized controlled trials found that guar gum supplements were not effective in reducing body weight.
Two Japanese studies using rats showed that guar gum supports increased absorption of calcium occurring in the colon instead of in the small intestine. This means that lesser amounts of calcium may be consumed in order to obtain its recommended minimum daily intake (RDI). This has obvious implications for reduced calorie diets, since calcium rich dairy products tend to be high in calories.
However, guar gum is also capable of reducing the absorbability of dietary minerals (other than calcium), when foods and/or nutritional supplements containing them are consumed concomitantly with it. However, this is less of a concern with guar gum than with various nonsoluble dietary fibers.
Some studies have found guar gum to improve dietary glucose tolerance. Research has revealed that the water soluble fiber in it may help people with diabetes by slowing the absorption of sugars by the small intestine. Although the rate of absorption is reduced the amount of sugar absorbed is the same overall. This helps diabetic patients by lowering the amount of insulin needed to keep the blood glucose at a normal level.
It also functions as an adjuvant for diabetic drugs that are sometimes employed for the treatment of noninsulin dependent diabetes. The effect is to help lower blood glucose levels. Thus, diabetic patients who are taking drugs should consult their doctors before supplementing with guar gum.
I'm not sure if all or any of this applies when Guar gum is used in small amounts for baked products. It seems like when using it in a bread recipe, most of its absorption should have already taken place when mixing it into a batter liquid. In these studies quote above, they were likely done in the context of using Guar gum as a supplement (pill) form. This method of ingestion may yield a totally different intestinal effect when taken this way as opposed to eating a baked product. I'm not sure here.
The next question is, which ingredient is better in terms of baking? In most of the gluten-free recipes and websites I've read, they often speak of the two gums as being interchangeable in recipes. Xantham gum seems like it would probably be the more consistent of the two substances, since it is defined by a certain manufacture process. Guar gum's ability to absorb can depend on how fine a powder it is ground into. There are various powder grades when it comes to this and if this isn't clearly indicated on the Guar gum packaging, it might yield unexpected results. I did find one blog that claimed that Xanthan gum was the way to go and even had pictures documenting their baking trial with Guar gum. http://glutenfree4goofs.wordpress.com/2009/04/27/xanthan-gum-vs-guar-gum/
I will say that in my own search for these two ingredients, Xanthan gum was the easier of the two to find. Guar gum could only be purchased at the health food stores, none of the commercial grocery stores around here carried it. Then again, I do live in the middle of nowhere
For now I think I will stick with Guar gum unless some new information comes to light that I haven't considered. It seems to be the least toxic and allergenic of the two additives, even though the FDA has given it a bad rap.