Is Xanthan Gum Vegan? The Vegan's Guide to Understanding Xanthan Gum

We break down the vegan truth behind this bacterial mystery.

Xanthan Gum Spilled from a Teaspoon
Michelle Lee Photography / Getty Images

Vegans do an admirable job of reading labels to avoid consuming or using animal products. Sometimes, however, it can be tricky to tell if an ingredient passes muster; xanthan gum is one such ingredient. 

An industrially produced (and often accidentally vegan) food additive, xanthan gum is made from corn fermented with bacteria to create a viscous liquid that helps the texture and structure of food and personal care products. We explain the science behind this all-purpose additive and dispel the non-vegan rumors so that the next time you see xanthan gum on a label, you can give it a vegan thumbs up.

What Is Xanthan Gum?

Xanthan gum is a food additive produced by fermenting simple sugars—mainly glucose in the form of corn—with a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.

Fermentation transforms the sugars into a gooey broth, to which isopropyl alcohol is added, turning the sugary soup into a solid. The solid is then dried and ground into a powder only to be rehydrated again into a thickener and stabilizer in industrially produced products ranging from French bread to face cream to fungicides.

When mixed with water, xanthan gum forms a gel-like substance that emulsifies oil- and water-based ingredients and balances both wet and dry ingredients without giving the product a slimy texture. Xanthan gum also makes a great thickener because it maintains its viscosity at room temperature and helps products pour or squeeze well, which is why you’ll find it in toothpaste, pharmaceuticals, and even chocolate syrup. You may also encounter xanthan gum in gluten-free baked goods where its binding capabilities make up for the lack of gluten in the food. 

Why Xanthan Gum Is Usually Vegan

Since xanthan gum comes from plant-based sugars and bacteria, neither of which are animal products, it technically meets the requirements of vegan food. But questions about possible alternative cultivation and manufacturing techniques abound in the vegan blogosphere.

It’s true that xanthan gum can be cultivated on a variety of surfaces including milk-derived sugars (lactose), but research indicates that glucose performs the best in terms of quality, supply, and yield of product. It’s also less expensive to use plant-based products, and plant-based products provide more consistent results during manufacturing.

Additionally, several patents filed in the 1990s describe treating the otherwise vegan xanthan gum broth with an animal-derived enzyme called lysozyme, although there’s no evidence that any of these non-vegan foods play a role in current xanthan gum manufacturing for the same reasons as lactose. 

Lastly, some vegans cite FDA-regulated egg allergy disclosures as proof of the non-vegan status of xanthan gum. A deeper look reveals that while some xanthan gum may be produced on machinery shared with egg products, the machinery is sterilized and the risk of cross-contamination is low. Since the egg is not a part of the manufacturing process for xanthan gum itself, most vegans classify xanthan gum as vegan.

Did You Know?

Beyond its role as a food additive, xanthan gum may solve tomorrow’s engineering crises. The future of urban areas will demand building over soft or otherwise unfavorable soil, and xanthan gum is one of the possible naturally-derived solutions to this problem. Extensive research indicates that, after adding xanthan gum and waiting for it to cure, soil strength tends to increase, making it easier for engineers to construct over soft soil areas.

Vegan-Friendly Foods That May Contain Xanthan Gum

Soy bean
Xanthan gum helps thicken and stabilize liquid products including soy milk. Everyday better to do everything you love / Getty Images

Stroll down just about any center aisle of a grocery store and pick up a package—there’s a good chance xanthan gum might show up on the ingredients list. Plant-based foods that may contain xanthan gum include:

Bakery Products

Found in everything from rolls, to crusts, to dry mixes, to cereal bars, xanthan gum is a common ingredient in many processed baked goods.

Egg Substitutes

As more and more vegan alternatives hit the shelves, manufacturers are looking for ways to improve the texture of these novel foods. Xanthan gum to the rescue!

Frozen Foods

Vegan frozen meals often contain xanthan gum to give the food a better mouthfeel, especially after reheating.

Beverages

Soy milk tops the list of vegan beverages that can contain xanthan gum. You can also find it cocktail mixes and other drinks.

Salad Dressings and Sauces

Especially popular in pourable and low-fat varieties of salad dressing, xanthan gum can also be found in vegan barbecue, taco, pasta sauces.

Spreads

Your plant-based butter or margarine may also contain xanthan gum. Relish and other vegan sandwich spreads, too, can have xanthan gum.

Syrups and Toppings

Pouring chocolate or plopping marshmallow fluff on your plant-based ice cream? Those delicious ingredients likely contain xanthan gum.

Vegetable Patties

Like other processed foods, vegan vegetable patties can contain xanthan gum to prevent the patty from crumbling apart.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How do you know xanthan gum is vegan?

    Beyond contacting the manufacturer to inquire directly about their processes, it’s difficult to know for certain whether or not the xanthan gum you’re consuming was cultivated on a vegan surface. But there’s good reason to believe the overwhelming majority (if not the entirety) of industrially produced xanthan gum is vegan-friendly. The evidence for non-vegan cultivation surfaces exists mainly in old patents and in academic research.

  • What is xanthan gum made of?

    Xanthan gum is derived from sugars (mostly corn) that were fermented with the Xanthomonas campestris bacteria.

  • Does xanthan gum have gelatin?

    No, but some non-vegan bakers substitute gelatin for xanthan gum in gluten-free baking recipes.

  • Is xanthan gum dairy-free?

    In all likelihood, yes. While it’s certainly possible to cultivate xanthan gum on whey or another form of lactose, almost all industrial production of xanthan gum uses corn as the cultivation source, not a milk-derivative.