My hubby and I enjoy the occasional splurge on ice cream. We searched high-and-low in our local supermarket and finally settled on the best option we could find at 9 o’clock at night. We bought an organic brand that looked decent enough, but there was one sneaky ingredient I had never heard of: organic guar gum. We put it in our cart anyway for a special treat, but as we were checking out – the check out girl asked us: “Do you know a lot about organic food? Can you tell me what ‘guar gum’ is?” I said, “I must Google it!”
I was surprised how little legitimate literature (alliteration!) there was on the topic, but by filtering through – here is what I have found out.
Guar Gum 101
Guar Gum comes from the seed of the guar plant, which is a low-growing legume introduced to the United States by India in 1903. The crops are mainly from India, Australia, and the United States. “Guar” means “cow’s food” in Hindi. The endosperm is composed of large amounts of galactomannan gum which is what forms a thick gel when mixed into cold water. In recent years, guar gum has been used in many products and for many purposes. Guar gum has eight times the thickening ability of cornstarch.
“In Asia, guar beans are used as a vegetable for human consumption; the crop is also grown for cattle feed, and used as a green manure crop. In the United States, highly refined guar gum is used as a stiffener in soft ice cream, a stabilizer for cheeses, instant puddings and whipped cream substitutes, and as a meat binder. Most of the crop in the United States, however, is grown for a lower grade of guar gum, which is used in cloth and paper manufacturing, oil well drilling muds, explosives, ore flotation, and a host of other industrial applications.” (source)
Guar is processed by being removed from their pods, milled down, and then put through a screen process to obtain the guar gum powder (the ground up endosperm). They do sometimes wash the guar gum with alcohols like ethanol (“colorless volatile flammable liquid C2H5OH that is the intoxicating agent in liquors and is also used as a solvent and in fuel” Merriam-Webster).
Guar gums is not only used as a thickener and stabilizer in beverages and food, but also is used as a binder in manufacturing tablets, and a thickener in things such as creams, lotions, and toothpaste.
Guar Gum and Fracking
Guar gum is also used in the process of fracking, with I know is a heated debate whenever it is brought up. To learn more about guar gum and how it is used in the fracking process, watch below:
Guar Gum in Medicine
Guar Gum is also used as a laxative. Since guar gum is a fiber, it absorbs extra liquid in the – *ahem* – stool which in turn absorbs the extra liquid when issues with diarrhea occurs; and it also helps to soften the “issue” when constipation occurs. It essentially promotes a healthy bowel movement.
It also has been linked to treating conditions such as high cholesterol, diabetes, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
Should We Consume Guar Gum?
Guar gum has been known to cause blockage of the esophagus and intestines when taken in large amounts without enough water. Guar gum also is very high in fiber and has been known to cause digestive upset in some individuals.
The World Health Organization reported in 2007 that high levels of dioxins were found in guar gum used in food products from India. They were contaminated with a pesticide, that is no longer in use, called pentachlorophenol (PCP) – which contains dioxins. These dioxins are extremely toxic and can damage a person’s hormone balance, as well as their immune and reproductive systems. They also can cause developmental issues and cancer.
“Dioxins are environmental pollutants. They have the dubious distinction of belonging to the “dirty dozen” – a group of dangerous chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants. Dioxins are of concern because of their highly toxic potential. Experiments have shown they affect a number of organs and systems. Once dioxins have entered the body, they endure a long time because of their chemical stability and their ability to be absorbed by fat tissue, where they are then stored in the body. Their half-life in the body is estimated to be seven to eleven years. In the environment, dioxins tend to accumulate in the food chain. The higher in the animal food chain one goes, the higher the concentration of dioxins.” (source)
If you are going to consume guar gum, make sure that is comes from an organic and trustworthy source as this crop can be contaminated with pesticides. Also, the processing with alcohol solvents is something I would rather avoid.
I do believe that if you enjoy a small bowl of ice cream here and there, you will be just fine (80/20 rule!). Try to educate yourself on the source of the food and the guar gum to make an educated decision.
The Best Way to Enjoy Ice Cream
While guar gum is an additive in many different types of foods and beverages, you will almost always see it in most store-bought ice creams (even the organic ones!). I have a better solution to enjoy a sweet, creamy bowl of heaven.
To get started, here is a great recipe from Holistic Squid…homemade vanilla ice cream.