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Basel, 12 February 2010

Xanthan Gum - The Tasty Gluten-Free Experience

Xanthan Gum – an unbeatable alternative to gluten in foodstuffs

Gluten is a natural ingredient of most grain-based foods and serves as an important additive in the production of baked goods. Between approximately 0.3 and 1% of the global population suffers from gluten intolerance, known as celiac disease. Having access to a broad range of gluten-free products is very important to this group. Xanthan gum is an additive whose characteristics make it an ideal substitute for gluten. This polysaccharide demonstrates high viscoelasticity and is very stable. It has long had regulatory approval as an additive and is used in a broad variety of applications.

Imagine life without being able to choose freely between bread, cakes, pasta, pizza and beer. Even if one can pass up on one or another cereal product, it is not a pleasant thought. But this constraint is one with which people suffering from celiac disease live on a daily basis because they develop an immune response within the inner lining of the small intestine to gluten. Gluten is a general term for proteins that are found in various grains, primarily wheat, rye and barley. For wheat, the term gluten includes the gliadin and glutenin protein families. Gliadin can trigger celiac disease in those who are genetically predisposed.

Celiac disease is one of the most frequently found forms of food intolerance. Globally around one in 100 to 300 individuals is affected. There are various symptoms of celiac disease and they range from diarrhoea, through deficiencies such as anaemia to psychological changes. Untreated celiac disease increases the risk of developing osteoporosis, cancer of the small bowel and Type I diabetes. The only therapy to date is to follow a lifelong gluten-free diet.

The manufacture of gluten-free products is important as it hands back sufferers of celiac disease part of their quality of life, but it also represents a considerable challenge to food producers. Its viscoelasticity makes gluten an important ingredient in the production of baked goods as well as an additive that is often used in the production of other food products. After hydration, gluten creates a flexible matrix that provides dough with greater elasticity and improves its capacity to absorb water, which ensures that the end product swells to a greater volume.

The production of gluten-free bread differs significantly from the standard process, the mixing, fermentation and baking times are shorter than for products that contain gluten. In addition, gluten-free dough has a higher water content and therefore a more fluid structure.

Good quality gluten-free bread can only be produced using a combination of various flours and polymeric substances such as hydrocolloids and proteins that together mimic the characteristics of gluten. It is important to use the right hydrocolloid or combination thereof that will best reflect the quality and process characteristics of gluten.

Hydrocolloids stop bread from going stale, improve its water retention and the overall texture of the bread. Even if hydrocolloid gels offer a similar degree of elasticity as dough made using gluten, their rheological characteristics nevertheless differ. Xanthan gum, which combines easily with other substances as necessary, is the most frequently used hydrocolloid.

Producers of gluten-free baked goods can enjoy the following advantages of xanthan gum to improve their products:

  • The pseudoplasticity or shear thinning of xanthan gum gel makes processing of gluten-free dough easier during kneading or pumping and improves the homogeneity of the dough.
  • The viscoelasticity of xanthan gum improves the binding of air within the dough, which gives the bread lift. This enables a regular porous texture and crumbs.
  • In terms of water retention, xanthan gum is the closest to gluten of all the hydrocolloids. It provides an improved mouthfeel and shelf life as the bread is slower to go stale.
  • As the viscosity of xanthan gum is not affected by high temperatures, as experienced during baking, this hydrocolloid is particularly suitable for use in baking and ensures sustainable quality.

Xanthan gum supplied by Jungbunzlauer is particularly suitable for this use as it complies with the most stringent standards of purity and ensures a consistent level of product quality. It guarantees the absence of enzyme activity (galactomannase, amylase and cellulase), low levels of bacteria as well as minimal traces of alcohol. In addition a higher viscosity is specified in a narrower area and Jungbunzlauer xanthan gum is allergen-free and produced from non-genetically modified organisms.

Xanthan gum is not only successfully used in gluten-free bread, but also in a range of other baked goods such as muffins as well as in numerous foods such as sauces, soups and milk products.