Is Guar Gum Really Vegan? The Final Word


Guar gum is a very common additive so I get this question a lot. Guar gum, aka guaran, is a certain type of polysaccharide (complex carb) extracted from guar beans that has several useful properties in the food industry.

Is it vegan? In short, yes guar gum is vegan. It’s simply the ground up endosperm of guar beans. Seeds from the guar beans are dehusked, milled and screened to get the final product which is an off-white, free-flowing, powder.

Anyway, it is 100% vegan-friendly. However, it is sometimes mistaken for an animal-derived ingredient due to its widespread use in animal products. For example, it functions as a binder in meat and a thickener in milk, yogurt, and kefir.

Due to their use in animal products, folks can be pretty skeptical about the origin of food additives. So, to help alleviate any doubt, we’ll go over some of the main reasons guar gum is considered vegan.

Why Guar Gum Is Considered Vegan

Guar Gum Is Used in Certified Vegan Products

Guar gum tends to be used in food products as a stabilizer and a thickener, similar to tapioca flour, cornstarch, and locust bean gum. This is because it has a strong tendency to form hydrogen bonds in water.

Vegan Ice Cream

Guar gum is often added to vegan ice cream to help maintain homogeneity—it helps the ice cream ingredients to mix nicely and stay that way. Stabilization is the main purpose of guar gum in frozen products like ice cream as it contributes to the texture, body, chewiness and provides heat shock resistance.1 In doing so, it contributes to the nice creamy texture characteristic of ice creams and sherbets.

You may have noticed that commercial ice cream tends to have more body compared to homemade ice cream. This is because of the added stabilizers like vegetable gums such as guar gum, sodium carboxymethylcellulose (CMC), carrageenan, agar, acacia, furcelleran, alginate, locust bean, karaya, xanthan gum, tragacanth and gelatin.9

These gums are used by the food industry because they contribute to body, viscosity, melting resistance, and reduced ice crystal formation throughout storage.10

During storage, water molecules get freed from melting ice crystals any time the temperature is increased, such as when someone opens the freezer door. Freed water molecules attach to existing ice crystals making them larger.

Stabilizers in frozen desserts help produce a smooth body and texture by attaching to water molecules from melting ice thus preventing the storage process from adversely affecting quality.11

The stabilizers also help reduce the amount of cream that’s needed to maintain body, reducing production cost. Both vegan and non-vegan ice cream manufacturers often like to use less cream while maintaining a creamy texture as it results in fewer calories which appeals to consumers.

A good example of heavy gum use in low-fat ice creams would be the Halo Top ice cream line. Halo Top has one vegan ice cream that manages to occupy an entire pint while providing very few calories.

Plant Milks

Like with regular milk, guar gum is often added to plant milk to help achieve a nice smooth texture. It’s used to thicken up low-fat cow milk for this reason.

People often prefer whole milk to skim and 1% milk, not only due to the taste but also to the mouthfeel that fat imparts to foods. Well,
guar gum gives a nice smooth consistency to low-fat milks (skim but also plant milks like almond and cashew).

Mock Meats

The meat industry certainly likes to use guar gum to act as a binder for mechanically ground up, processed meats. Guar gum has a strong capacity to hold water so it’s very effective as a lubricant and binder in the manufacture of stuffed meat products and sausage, etc.

It performs certain functions in processed meat like:

  • Preventing syneresis or “weeping” in pastry fillings—syneresis is the contraction of a gel along with the separating out of the liquid.
  • It prevents the migration of fat during storage
  • Viscosity control during cooling and processing

Well, the ultra-realistic vegan meats also make use of additives like guar gum to help the plant proteins and other components adhere to each other.

Gluten-Free Bread

Guar gum’s thickening properties make it a great replacement for gluten in gluten-free bread products. Gluten is the name for a group of proteins known as glutelins and prolamins.

Their strength and elasticity allow the dough to adhere together by forming a web-like network that stretches to accommodate the expanding gasses during the leavening process.

Like gluten, guar gum provides an elastic-like texture that allows for expansion of the bread and imparts structural integrity making it a great replacement.

Vegan-Friendly Soups and Condiments

Guar gum helps thicken and stabilize canned soups and condiments like salad dressings, sauces, relishes, and ketchup. In salad dressings, it acts as a stabilizer via emulsification—i.e. it allows water and oil to mix.

Like other vegan-friendly additives (pectin, methylcellulose, etc.), it enhances the consistency of condiments like ketchup.2 Additionally, it too can serve as a thickener in low-fat dressings.3

We mentioned previously that fat imparts a nice mouthfeel to foods which really adds to the overall sensory experience. Well, a lot of condiments—especially those that are vegan-approved—tend to be low in fat.

While some dressings are meant to have a low viscosity—that is, they’re meant to be liquid (Italian dressing, etc.), others have the fat removed in order to reduce caloric content. These are the types of condiments that benefit from thickeners like guar gum.

Anyway, there are a lot of vegan-friendly sauces and condiments that utilize this additive and others like it.

Baked Goods (General)

In baked goods, guar gum not only replaces gluten but also offers other benefits:4

  • Provides greater resiliency to doughs
  • Increases dough yield.
  • In bread dough made with whole wheat flour, the addition of guar gum results in a significant increase in loaf volume.5
  • Improves texture
  • Lengthens shelf life
  • Syneresis control. This keeps the pastry crust nice and crisp.6,7
Vegan Cheese

Imitation cheese or cheese analogs are cheese-like food products wherein the milk fat found in natural cheeses is replaced with vegetable oil. When I think of imitation cheeses I immediately think of the vegan cheeses that have hit the market in recent years. Interestingly, imitation cheeses have been around for quite some time because they’re cheaper to make and easy to spread on crackers, etc.

Various gums (guar gum, but also carrageenan, xanthan gum, and locust bean gum) are used as additives in both vegan and non-vegan imitation cheeses. These plant-derived thickening stabilizers provide a nice cohesive, rubbery texture.

These “cheeses” are manufactured using processes very similar to the manufacturing of natural cheese—various proteins (e.g. cashew or milk proteins like calcium caseinate) are mixed with small amounts of water, vegetable oil, salt, and emulsifiers, lactic acid and/or various cultures at which point they’re heated to pasteurization temperatures for several minutes.

Guar Gum Is Used in Homemade Vegan Recipes

Guar gum is also great for homemade vegan food recipes. It’s often used in recipes that call for gelatin or a gelatin replacement.

Gelatin is a colorless, semi-transparent, flavorless ingredient used in foods. It can be the main ingredient (as in jello) or it can be used as an additive for the properties it shares with guar gum. It can also be used in medications, drugs, and vitamin capsules, cosmetics, photographic films, and even paper.

It’s obviously not vegan as it’s obtained from collagen derived from animal body parts. As such, it’s also called collagen hydrolysate, hydrolyzed collagen, collagen peptides, among other names.

One reason I bring this up to drive home the fact that, not only is guar gum okay when encountered in food products, but it’s also nice to have in your pantry for those of you who like to cook.

It can be used to replace gelatin as a thickener in a broad range of foods including jellies, preserves, pastries and other baked goods.

If you’re converting a non-vegan recipe, just follow the recipe as normal, mixing wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. The volume conversion is 1:6 gelatin to guar gum, so just note how much gelatin the recipe calls for and replace it with 1/6 the amount of guar gum.

Because guar gum turns viscous when exposed to water, make sure it’s sifted well and mixed in with the other dry ingredients prior to adding the water—otherwise, it’s a clumpy mess.

Guar Gum Isn’t Processed on Whey Protein

Xanthan gum is a popular additive that shares a lot of the same properties of guar gum.

Like guar gum, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide that has several uses in food production. It’s a common emulsifier/stabilizer as it prevents ingredients from separating. It’s also a thickening agent like guar gum.

While guar gum is derived from guar beans, xanthan gum is produced via bacterial fermentation.

Specifically, xanthan gum is made via fermentation by Xanthomonas campestris. The fermentation is typically done with simple sugars like sucrose and glucose.12

However, there are certain species of the bacteria that are able to grow on lactose, the simple sugar present in milk.13

For this reason, a lot of xanthan gum is produced with whey protein, a waste product from cheese making.

Keep in mind that foods with xanthan gum aren’t considered non-vegan by most standards in the community. Not all xanthan gum is processed on whey, and there’s often no way of knowing for sure how the ingredient was derived.

Even though xanthan gum is largely considered to be suitable for vegan consumption, it’s a bit of a grey area.

Unlike xanthan, guar gum isn’t tinged with scandal, and is always considered 100% vegan.

Conclusion

So, that pretty much sums it up. If you see guar gum on the label, fear not, it’s perfectly fine. It’s also considered healthy as this food product is completely degraded by bacteria in the large intestine—specifically, by Clostridium butyricum.8

Digestive issues are possible, but truly harmful effects are only observed when guar gum is given at very high concentrations—about 10 to 15% on a weight basis.1 It’s an extremely viscous fiber, so really high concentrations impair digestion. As an additive (as opposed to a dietary supplement) it’s harmless.1

Thanks for reading.

You may also want to check out the following related articles:

References

  1. Deepak Mudgil, Sheweta Barak, and Bhupendar Singh Khatkar. Guar gum: processing, properties and food applications—A Review. J Food Sci Technol. 2014 Mar; 51(3): 409–418.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3931889/#CR41
  2. Gujral HS, Sharma A, Singh N. Effects of hydrocolloids, storage temperature and duration on the consistency of tomato ketchup. Int J Food Prop. 2002;5:179–191.
  3. Burrell JR. Pickles and sauces. Food Manuf. 1958;33:10–13.
  4. NOW Foods. Guar Gum Nutrition Label. Bloomingdale, IL: n.p., n.d.
  5. Cawley RW. The role of wheat flour pentosans in baking. II. Effect of added flour pentosans and other gums on gluten starch loaves. J Sci Food Agr. 1964;15:834–838.
  6. Brennan CS, Tudorica CM. Carbohydrate-based fat replacers in the modification of the rheological, textural and sensory quality of yoghurt: comparative study of the utilisation of barley beta-glucan, guar gum and inulin. Int J Food Sci and Technol. 2008;43:824–833.
    https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1365-2621.2007.01522.x
  7. Klis JB. Woody’s Chunk O’Gold cold-pack cheese food weeps no more. Food Processing Marketing. 1966;27:58–59.
  8. Hartemink R, Schoustra SE, Rombouts FM. Degradation of guar gum by intestinal bacteria. Bioscience Microflora. 1999;18:17–25.
  9. Whistler RL, and JN BeMiller. Carbohydrate Chemistry for Food Scientists. Eagen Press, 1997.
  10. Martin DR, et al. Diffusion of aqueous sugar solutions as affected by locust bean gum studied by NMR.
  11. Sutton RL, and J Wilcox. Recrystallization in model ice cream solutions as affected by stabilizer concentration. Journal of Food Science 63(1): 9–11, 1998.
  12. EFSA Panel on Food Additives and Nutrient Sources (14 July 2017). “Re‐evaluation of xanthan gum (E 415) as a food additive”. EFSA Journal. European Food Safety Authority. 15 (2): e04909. doi:10.2903/j.efsa.2017.4909.
  13. Tortora, G.J., Funke, B.R., & Case, C.L. (2010). Microbiology: An Introduction, 10th edition. San Francisco: Benjamin Cummings. Pg. 801.

Drew Davis

Hi! I'm Drew and this is the place where I nerd out about vegan and plant-based diets. I have a BS in Nutrition and Dietetics from the University of Alabama and have taken dozens of classes in areas like organic and biochemistry, food science, medical nutrition therapy, nutritional genomics, and vegetarian diets. I'm still learning every day, and on this blog, I'll be sharing everything I discover about vegan diets as I go.

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