What Exactly is Gellan Gum and is it Safe to Consume?

If you're unfamiliar with gellan gum, you're not alone. Despite its obscure name, it is a relatively straightforward substance. Gellan gum serves as a vegan thickening agent, commonly used in food products to achieve and retain a desired texture. Interestingly, it is naturally found on water lilies, as explained by Lauren McNeill, R.D., MPH. However, food manufacturers do not gather it directly from ponds. Instead, they produce it synthetically through a process known as fermentation.

What Are the Uses of Gellan Gum?

Gellan gum finds its application as an emulsifier in various food products. It is commonly added to almond milk to prevent the separation of water and solids when poured into a glass, as explained by Kathy Levin, RDN. You can also find gellan gum in yogurt, ice cream, sorbets, and jams. It's worth noting that other types of gums, such as xanthan gum and guar gum, are also used as emulsifiers in food products. The choice of gelling agent depends on the specific requirements of the thickened substance, according to Levin.

Food manufacturers adjust the quantity of gellan gum used based on their desired consistency. In almond milk, small amounts of gellan gum help bind added nutrients to the base, reducing separation. However, in jams, a larger quantity can create a gel-like texture.

Aside from its thickening properties, gellan gum also helps maintain the structural integrity of food and beverages when exposed to temperature changes. For instance, if you purchase refrigerated almond milk from a grocery store and transport it in a hot car, the gellan gum can prevent any adverse effects resulting from temperature fluctuations, ensuring product stability, as explained by McNeill.

Is Gellan Gum Safe to Consume?

Various studies conducted worldwide have concluded that gellan gum is generally safe to eat. Kathy Levin highlights that the typical amount of gellan gum present in a carton of almond milk is minimal. It is often listed as one of the last ingredients, indicating that it is used in smaller quantities compared to other more prominently featured ingredients.

While gellan gum is generally regarded as safe, it may cause side effects in certain individuals. According to Lauren McNeill, in some small studies, gellan gum has been shown to have a fecal bulking effect. This property could be beneficial for people who struggle with constipation, but for others, it might slow down digestion. However, McNeill emphasizes that gellan gum is typically used in very small amounts in food products, so the likelihood of experiencing any issues is low.

Looking for Gellan Gum-Free Plant-Based Milk Options?

If you prefer to avoid gellan gum in your plant-based milk, there are alternative options available. Certain brands, such as Elmhurst and Oatly, do not use gellan gum in their nondairy milk products. You can explore these brands or look for others that explicitly state the absence of gellan gum on their labels.

If you're uncomfortable with the lengthy ingredient lists of store-bought plant-based milks, Kathy Levin suggests making almond milk at home as an alternative. While it may require some effort, it is not overly complicated. However, if you choose to make your own plant-based milk, Levin recommends considering supplements to ensure you replace the vitamin and nutrient fortification typically found in commercially produced plant-based milks.

In summary, gellan gum is a vegan thickening agent used in nondairy milk, yogurt, ice cream, sorbets, and jams to achieve and preserve desired consistency and texture. It is considered safe to consume and is typically used in small quantities. However, if you have concerns about its inclusion in your food, you have the option to make your own alternative milk at home.