Gellan gum is a food additive typically used to bind, stabilize, or texture processed foods.
It’s produced through fermentation using a pure culture of Sphingomonas elodea, which is a species of bacteria in the genus Sphingomonas. First discovered in 1978, this bacteria was found by isolating the tissue of a lily plant growing in a pond in Pennsylvania, USA.
Gellan gum is often vegan and used as a gelling agent to substitute gelatin in the manufacture of vegan varieties of “gum” candies. However, it’s important to point out that gellan gum produced from the fermentation of lactose is not vegan.
Still, gellan gum is widely included in fortified plant drinks like almond milk and juice to stabilize supplemental nutrients like calcium by keeping them mixed into the beverage rather than pooled at the bottom of the carton.
In this article, we’re going to look in detail at how gellan gum is made, how it is used (including in which foods), and we’ll also determine whether or not it’s safe.
What is gellan gum?
Gellan gum is a food additive that serves the same purpose as gelatin.
According to scientific sources, gellan gum is produced through the aerobic fermentation of the microorganism, Pseudomonas elodea, which produces a highly viscous and aqueous solution with low sensitivity to heat.
This solution can then be used as a suspending and gelling agent in some of the foods we know.
Besides being a popular alternative to gelatin, it’s also a great alternative to other gelling agents like agar-agar, guar gum, xantham gum, and carrageenan because it’s effective in smaller quantities.
According to KP Kelco, the leading producer of gellan gum, no animal products or by-products are used in their production of gellan gum. In other words, they certainly produce gellan gum without using lactose as the catalyst for their fermentation process.
However, this isn’t necessarily the case for everyone else.
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How is gellan gum used?
Gellan gum can be used in different ways.
Because it’s a gelling agent, it lends a creamy texture to desserts and provides fillings (used for baked goods) a jelly-like consistency, reducing the likelihood of certain foods falling apart when subject to higher temperatures.
Gellan gum is also commonly added to fortified drinks because it helps stabilize supplemental nutrients that would otherwise be anchored at the bottom of containers.
It also has medical and pharmaceutical applications that involve tissue reparation, dental care, bone repair, allergy relief, and drug manufacturing, according to this article.
What foods contain gellan gum?
Gellan gum can be added to many foods, including:
- Fruit and vegetable products: marmalades, jams, jellies, and fruit pureés
- Beverages: fortified plant-milk and juice, as well as some alcoholic beverages
- Confectioneries: candy, marshmallows, chewing gum, and fillings for baked goods
- Packaged foods: breakfast cereals, noodles, bread, rolls, as well as some gluten-free pasta
- Sauces and spreads: ketchup, mustard, gravies, salad dressings, custard, and some sandwich spreads
- Dairy products: yogurt, fermented milk, processed cheese, etc
- Other foods: broths, condiments, powdered sugar, syrups, and others
More importantly, it is frequently included in vegan prepackaged foods because it’s the optimal replacement for gelatin. To determine whether or not products contain gellan gum, you have to check food labels for “gellan gum” or “E418”, which is a more technical term.
Is gellan gum a safe ingredient?
According to the European Food Safety Authority, it’s widely considered safe.
Gellan gum is typically one of the last ingredients listed on food labels, which means it’s used in very small amounts, especially when compared to more prominent (and also unhealthy ingredients) like sugar.
However, it’s important o mention that, in some cases, gellan gum may cause some side effects. For example, in this study, gellan gum was shown to be a fecal bulking agent. In other words, this may be useful for people that experience constipation, but for others, it may slow down digestion.
With that being said, since gellan gum is used in very small amounts, it’s unlikely to cause any problems.
Bottom line: Most gellan gum should be vegan
We have no reason to believe that most of the gellan gum is produced through a fermentation process that includes lactose (a form of sugar derived from milk).
For example, the gellan gum sold by CP Kelco is obtained through the bacterial fermentation of corn syrup, which is consisted mostly of glucose. However, we don’t rule out the hypothesis that some products may contain gellan gum produced through the bacterial fermentation of milk or cheese.
For that reason and to be on the safe side, we believe it’s a good idea to stick to products that are vegan certified.