Thank you for this question of the month!
Xanthan gum is used as a thickener and stabilizer for both raw or cooked foods. It is made from a tiny microorganism called Xanthomonas campestris and is a natural carbohydrate, fermented from sugar. Those with allergies should find out the source of the culture medium of each product of interest, as it is frequently allergen responsive foods such as corn, wheat, dairy, or soy. The strain of bacteria used in culturing xanthan gum is also the same type of bacteria that forms black rot on broccoli and leafy greens. But it gets yet a little more bizarre… Xanthan gum is also used in oil fracking!
From a culinary standpoint, xanthan gum is often used by those making gluten free baked goods. It helps to bind the otherwise very crumbly gluten free flour replacements. It is also used as a stabilizer or thickener in other foods and personal care products. Aside from fiber, there is not much present in nutrient density. Xanthan gum is best stored in the freezer in an airtight container, as it is an expensive powder with a limited shelf life.
For some folks, xanthan gum will not be tolerated from a digestive standpoint. Arrowroot powder which comes from a natural perennial tuber can be used in place of xanthan gum in many recipes (mix in at room temperature). The label will indicate in the ingredient list if it is from a pure source, as it is often mixed with corn products, which are used as fillers. Look for pure products. Arrowroot is superior to corn starch, which is a highly GMO crop.
And now, you know. 😉