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Emulsifiers, Thickeners and Gums | What is Really in Your Food?

It hasn’t been until the past couple of decades that the public has become more conscious about what is put into their food. So, the question remains, what changed? Why are people suddenly much more conscious about what they’re ingesting?

If you fall into this category and have started reading more into what goes into the food you eat, you will no doubt have come across numerous food thickening agents such as gums, emulsifiers, and thickeners, leaving you to wonder whether or not you should be eating them in the first place.

What are Food Thickening Agents?

Different types of food thickeners can be used for different reasons. Some, such as those made by SimplyThick, are used to thicken liquids. These have major health benefits for a lot of people as it makes liquids easier to digest for those suffering from swallowing disorders.

On the other hand, some food thickening agents are used as a means to bind compounds in processed foods. While the names of some of these food-thickening agents and their sources may give off the impression of being healthy, how they are blended can sometimes mean the original source of these agents is lost in the food processor.

Should You Care If Food Thickening Agents are in Your Food?

A lot of additives in foods, such as thickening agents, gums, and emulsifiers, are worse than others. Generally speaking, given they are approved by the FDA, they are safe for you to eat; however, they may not be natural. A lot of different gums and thickeners that are used in processed food undergo complex extraction processes.

Overall, one of the most negative impacts that the thickeners and gums used in processed foods have is that they can undermine the food quality.

Commonly Used Food Thickening Agents

1. Arabic Gum

Arabic Gum can be found in the tree sap of Acacia species, which are native to both West Asia and Africa. These have not been found to lead to any kind of digestive distress in humans. They are used in stamps, letters, and paints; however, they are most commonly used to bind sweeteners and flavors in food.

2. Locust Bean Gum

Obtained by separating carob tree seeds and treating them with acid to remove the skins before splitting and milling the seeds, Locust Bean Gum is used in multiple vegan jelly candies and keeps proteins suspended in some non-dairy milks.

3. Gellant Gum

Gellant gum comes from the bacterium Sphingomonase elodea, which is unusual given most other thickeners derive from plants. It is more often than not used in vegan candies as it makes a good gelling agent. It, similar to Locust Bean Gum, can also keep proteins suspended in non-dairy milks.

4. Guar Gum

From Guar Beans, Guar Gum is used as a thickening agent that helps to improve the appearance and texture of liquids and baked goods.

Should You Be Concerned About Thickeners, Gums, and Emulsifiers in Your Food?

The short answer is no. Multiple food thickeners are used for medical reasons and can help people who have issues swallowing. In addition, other gums and thickeners that are used in food are safe; otherwise, they would not be allowed to be used in the first place.

Granted, some of these ingredients, though they may have natural sources, undergo such a complex process that they are not as natural as you may like. If you would like to keep your diet as natural as possible, you may want to ingest fewer additives, but generally, you shouldn’t experience any health deficiencies by eating them.


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