If you are an avid food label reader, you will be all too aware of weird and often unpronounceable names of ingredients that crop up, leaving you wondering what the heck they are and why they are in your food.  One of those ingredients that may have caught your attention is gellan gum.

What is Gellan Gum?

Gellan gum was first discovered in the 1970s when it was found growing naturally on lilies in a pond in Pennsylvania, USA.  Rather than harvesting this useful substance from ponds, scientists found a way to produce gellan gum through the process of fermentation by fermenting sugar and a specific strain of bacteria called Sphingomonas elodea .

What is Gellan Gum Used For and Why?

Gellan gum is often used as a vegetarian or vegan substitute for gelatin, an animal-derived product, and other gums. It is used in products, such as jams, custards, and candies to add smooth, creamy, or desired gelatinous textures.

It is also used as a stabilizer for plant-based milk and juices, helping to prevent separation or settling to occur at the bottom of the container. It allows added nutrients to remain evenly dispersed throughout the product. Because of gellan gum, when you pour your almond milk into a glass, you don’t get a translucent watery substance in your glass with a glob of gunk remaining stuck to the bottom of the bottle or carton.

Gellan gum is often used instead of gelatin in vegan and vegetarian gummy candies. An important property of gellan gum is that it is not reactive to heat, so your candies keep their shape much better than other candies that contain alternative gelling agents. This heat resistance attribute is also useful in keeping other products containing it from spoiling from temperature fluctuations .

Another benefit of gellan gum is that it is very effective in relatively small quantities, making it a substitute for other gums and gelling agents, such as agar-agar, guar gum, xantham gum, and carrageenan . It is often one of the very last ingredients to be listed .

Which Products Contain Gellan Gum?

You can spot gellan gum in your products by the generic name ‘gellan gum’, or by the number E418 . It might also be listed by a brand name, such as Gelrite or Kelcogel.

Look out for it in drinks, such as plant-based milk and fruit juices, as well as jams, jellies, marmalades, and some dried fruits and vegetables. It also shows up in vegan gummy sweets, marshmallows, and chewing gum. You’ll even find it in some salad dressings, ketchup, and mustard.

Is Gellan Gum Safe?

Gellan gum is widely considered safe to use in edible and cosmetic products and has been approved in many countries. Both the FDA and the European Food Safety Authority have given their go-ahead for its use.

In one study , ten people ate 30 times the amount of gellan gum that one would consume in a normal diet and no adverse effects were reported. However, it was noted that some of those volunteers experienced a slowing down of their digestive system. Since products that contain gellan gum use such small amounts, the chances of consuming enough gellan gum to cause this issue are very slim.

What If I’d Rather Avoid Gellan Gum Altogether?

Regardless, it is understandable that some folk really don’t want any additives in their foods and prefer to eat a clean and whole-food diet. There are a few plant-based milk products out there that do not use gums in the plant milk, such as Elmhurst and Oatly.

And, let’s not forget that you can always go ahead and make your own. Plant-based milk can be made simply from oats, nuts, and soy with very few additional ingredients.

This recipe for cashew milk calls for cashews, water, and some stevia.  With a few oats, some water, maple syrup, and a vanilla pod, you can make a batch of oat milk without the use of any gums at all. This recipe for soy milk uses Medjool dates to add a little natural sweetness.

With just three or four ingredients you can make your own plant-based milk easily, more cheaply, and with much less packaging.

You can also opt to make your own jam , ketchup and mustard , and anything else that gellan gum and its other gum cousins may show up in.

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