In one of my support groups, one of the members posted that she had symptoms after eating gluten-free flour tortillas. In response, I suggested that she consider xanthan gum if the tortillas contained it since it can be wheat-based. I said that I avoided xanthan gum if I did not know the source. Someone posted in response to my suggestion that xanthan gum, if made from wheat, soy, or other top-8 allergen, would have to have that declared on the ingredients label. That was complete news to me. I know that Bob’s Red Mill xanthan gum is made using wheat, but there’s not even a suggestion of this in the ingredients list or anywhere else on the packaging.

Hey Bob's Red Mill...

Hey Bob’s Red Mill…

where's the "wheat"?!

where’s the “wheat”?!

I know corn is used primarily in the manufacture of xanthan gum, but I’ve had enough reactions recently from products containing xanthan gum, where it’s highly unlikely that something else could be the cause, to conclude that this is not always the case. I always figured since xanthan gum is one of those products that supposedly doesn’t contain any allergenic protein once the manufacturing process is complete, its source would not have to be declared, even if that source is a top-8 allergen. I decided to research to see if I could confirm what I had always thought.

Here is information from the FDA’s website concerning FALCPA and exemptions to the labelling law, emphasis mine:

FALCPA provides mechanisms by which a manufacturer may request that a food ingredient covered by FALCPA may be exempt from FALCPA’s labeling requirements. An ingredient may be exempt if it does not cause an allergic response that poses a risk to human health or if it does not contain allergenic protein.

The petition process requires scientific evidence (including the analytical method used to produce the evidence) that demonstrates that such food ingredient, as derived by the method specified in the petition, does not cause an allergic response that poses a risk to human health.

The notification process must include scientific evidence (including the analytical method used) that demonstrates that the food ingredient (as derived by the production method specified in the notification) does not contain allergenic protein.

Does xanthan gum qualify based on the above? From what Bob’s Red Mill says about xanthan gum, it may very well qualify (emphasis mine):

Most commonly, Xanthomonas campestris is fed glucose (sugar) derived from corn, soy or wheat. This glucose comes from the starch of the plant and contains no protein, which means if you have a corn, soy or wheat allergy, you can likely enjoy xanthan gum.

Additional information about xanthan gum states that its source does not need to be declared because in actuality it’s not a wheat (or soy) product itself; the starch is merely used as a food source to feed the bacteria that creates the xanthan gum:

…the FDA does require ingredient listing for the top eight and soy is one of them. The problem with xanthan gum is that it is not a soy product (or corn product), thus the manufacturers do not need to list soy (or corn) when it is used as the soy or corn would only be considered its food source.

Also, multiple sources state to contact the manufacturer to ascertain the source of the xanthan gum if you have an allergy to whatever may be used to feed the xanthan gum bacteria. None of these sites state that soy, wheat, or whatever the source may be would be included on the ingredients label if it’s a top-8 allergen.

Fooducate:

Xanthan gum may be derived from a variety of sources such as corn, wheat, or soy.  People with an allergy to one of the above, need to avoid foods with xanthan gum, or to ascertain the source.

Chris Kresser:

It can be difficult to find production info online, but just be aware that if you have a severe allergy to corn, soy, wheat, or dairy, it would be prudent to either avoid xanthan gum entirely or check with the manufacturer to see how it’s produced.

On this site, the person calls for manufacturers to include the source of the xanthan gum on the label, which is further proof that this isn’t being currently done.

…the first move would be for xanthan gum manufacturers to specify the substrate on which the bacterium was grown so that at least the allergic/intolerant consumer can choose only to eat products using a xanthan gum grown on a base that they can tolerate.

I believe the above information shows that the source of the xanthan gum does not need to be declared on the label, even if the source is a top-8 allergen. I agree with those who say to use caution when it comes to xanthan gum if a person has an allergy to the ingredient used to feed the xanthan gum bacteria. While I believe the above information is correct, I’m not an expert when it comes to food labelling laws and what is required or optional to include on a food label. I’m just a food-allergic individual trying to traverse the food-label minefield. Please do your own research and trust your own instincts when it comes to foods that may or may not be safe for you to consume.


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2 Thoughts on “Xanthan Gum on Food Labels

  1. I had a bad reaction to gluten-free tortillas myself and didn’t stop to consider the xanthan gum. I only use corn-based when I bake for myself, but somehow that one slipped by me. The food labeling laws are so confusing. I think that part of the confusion is that it used to be assumed that wheat starch didn’t contain wheat proteins, but it does.

    As for xanthan gum, I look at it in the same way that you’d add sugar to a yeast bread recipe to feed the yeast or how yogurt bacteria feeds on the sugar in the milk that’s used. Does the yeast or yogurt eat every bit of that sugar? It’s not likely, but then, like you, I don’t have any professional training in that area. The only thing I can rely on is my own common sense.

  2. retrogirl77 on October 19, 2016 at 1:04 am said:

    Yeah, I think of distilled vinegar and probiotics that way too. No way the processing “uses up” all the allergenic protein. It might be at such a low level that most might not even notice, but it causes symptoms in the super-sensitive. The person in my group could probably hold on to her misconceptions about xanthan gum because she has no noticeable symptoms from wheat-based xanthan gum.

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