What’s the Deal With Gellan Gum? Nutrition Experts Break Down What You Need to Know

Take a look at the ingredients label on a carton of almond milk. You'll find the usual suspects: almonds, water, maybe a little vanilla. But what about these gums? What the heck are they, exactly, and what are they doing in your coffee add-in of choice?

While you might think that the presence of gums (no, they have nothing to do with chewing gum) would disqualify your favorite dairy-alternative milk from your wellness checklist, that isn't always the case.

"Oftentimes we reach for non-dairy milks as a healthier alternative, but more often than not they are full of ingredients that make them overly processed," Amy Shapiro, RD and founder of Real Nutrition NYC says. The key is sussing out which of those ingredients push the product into "too-processed" territory (and mastering that will basically make you a label-reading pro).

That's when knowing your gums comes in handy. Gellan gum is one commonly found ingredient in dairy alternative milks—as well as non-solid foods such as yogurts—that might sound foreign, but is actually a way of making a lot of your go-to healthy foods even more satisfying to eat.

"Gellan gum is a nature-based ingredient that can help stabilize, thicken, add texture, and suspend other ingredients in food and beverage products," says Shaw Gilmer, senior director of biogums at CP Kelco. "In other words, gellan gum helps make foods and beverages more enjoyable, with consistent flavor, texture, and nutrients." That means you can have your almond milk latte—and drink it too.

Keep reading for everything else you should know about gellan gum.

Photo: Getty/Burak Karademir

Gellan gum keeps things consistent

You know how sometimes you pour almond milk into a coffee, forget about it (oops), and come back to it looking separated and, well, kind of gross? Gellan gum helps to prevent that separation from happening in products you buy at the grocery store.

"When you choose an alternative dairy milk containing gellan gum, you can rest assured knowing the nutrients will be evenly distributed throughout each glass you pour," Gilmer says. "Take for example a glass of almond milk fortified with calcium—without gellan gum, the calcium and minerals would settle at the bottom, along with almond sentiment." Aka, no thanks.

It also has the same effect on foods. "It also works to prevent separation during a product’s shelf life so you don’t end up with yogurt that’s lumpy or runny when you open it," Gilmer adds. Now you finally know what to thank for your extra creamy (and Instagram-ready) breakfast parfaits and lattes.

You're covered on the "is this safe to eat?" front

When pouring yourself a tall glass of whichever dairy alternative milk speaks to you, you're likely doing so because you're opting for healthier eating choices or because your stomach has shut the door on lactose. But if the gums in those milks aren't being checked for safety, then the point becomes pretty much moot. That's not the case here.

"First and foremost, gellan gum is safe," Gilmer says. "It has been extensively studied, tested, and approved for use by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the European Union, and the World Health Organization’s Joint Council on Food Additives." Even better, certain grades of it are non-GMO verified and are compliant for use in vegan and organic foods, he adds. Who else immediately feels more at ease?

It was discovered in nature

Knowing an ingredient's origin story takes the mystery out of whatever it is you're chowing down or throwing back, and gellan gum has a very simple history. "It was discovered growing on a lily pond plant in Pennsylvania over 40 years ago," Gilmer says. Now, it's produced by bacteria through fermentation—the same process used for some of our fave foods and drinks like wine, cheese, yogurt, and bread.

A little goes a long way

Just like you're down with adding a small squirt of honey to your oatmeal and still calling it a good-for-you breakfast, just a tiny amount of gellan gum—0.1 percent, according to Shapiro—is sufficient for it to work its magic on your food (there's a reason it's usually one of the last ingredients listed on the label). So you can sip your almond milk latte knowing that it's the better-for-you alternative you thought it was.

Sponsored by CP Kelco

Top photo: LUMINA/Stocksy

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