Guar gum is a common food additive used in foods as a thickener, stabilizer, and binder. It can be purchased as a powder for home use where it can be used in place of cornstarch or other thickeners. In fact, it has around 8 times the thickening power of cornstarch. It is useful in gluten-free cooking and can be added to gluten-free doughs to help provide the stretch that would normally come from gluten.
Guar gum is a galactomannan, which is a polysaccharide composed of the sugars galactose and mannose which comes from the Guar plant (Cyamopsis tetragonobulus), a plant similar to soy. This plant grows mainly in India and Pakstan, but also to a small extent in Texas and Oklahoma in the U.S. (nearly ceased due to low prices from India). It is used as a vegetable food and for livestock feed for thousands of years. The guar bean is also known as the cluster bean.
The seeds of the plant are dehusked, milled, and screened to get rid of the germ, which is mostly protein, and obtain the endosperm, which is primarily galactomannan. When ground and processed correctly, the endosperm produces a pliable and stable gum that can be sued for many purposes.
Guar Gum Use in Foods
Guar gum is very economical and widely used in the U.S. In fact, its use is so extensive it could be considered a commodity, although its price rises and falls dramatically due to changing supplies depending on the weather. It has a variety of industrial uses including in the paper industry, the printing industry, and the pharmaceutical industry. By far its most significant use, however, is in foods, where it is used as a dough extender in baked goods, to thicken milk, yogurt, kefir, and liquid cheese products, to help maintain homogeneity and texture in ice cream and sherbert, and as a lubricant and binder in meat products. It is also used in beverages, dry mix bakery products, and water-based frozen desserts. Guar gum powder, such as the popular brand Bob’s Red Mill Guar Gumcan be easily purchased online or obtained in specialty food stores.
Fiber and Laxative Use of Guar Gum
Guar gum is sometimes used as a dietary fiber supplement and bulk laxative. It has also been promoted, along these lines, as a weight loss aid because the effect of fiber increase on satiety and hence energy intake. However, when consumed in such large amounts, guar gum is associated with a number of adverse events, including diarrhea, flatulence, and other gastrointestinal problems. It has not been shown to be affective as a weight loss aid.
When consumed in normal, moderate dietary levels, and not taken in bulk as a dietary supplement, guar gum is a safe food additive.
Guar Gum Contamination
Besides the gastrointestinal upset due to over-consumption of guar gum weight loss supplements, guar gum as a natural thickener and stabilizer poses no health threat. However, in 2007 contaminated guar gum entered the market, which generated panic and caused yet another scandal over food. The guar gum was contaminated with dioxins, which can cause serious health problems such as cancer and nervous system disorders. The origin of the dioxins was pentachlorophenol (PCP), a fungicide that is banned from use in food and feed.
The contamination happened in India, which produces around 89% of the world’s guar beans, turning out over two hundred thousand tons per year. The dioxin contaminated guar gum affected European markets, causing many foods to have to be recalled and pulled off the shelves.
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