The Food and Drug Administration informed ingredients firm Cargill Food & Pharma Specialties, an arm of private US agri-giant Cargill, that all xanthan gums produced using either ethanol or isopropyl alcohol may be described as 'xanthan gum' on the food product.
"Cargill urged the FDA to clarify this labelling issue and to correct any misinformation in the North American market about xanthan gum," said R. Creager Simpson, president, Cargill FPS.
In response the FDA said this month that after consulting with its "chemists and other scientific staff" xanthan gum food ingredient purified using the solvent ethyl alcohol is indistinguishable from xanthan gum prepared under the conditions described in "Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations section 172.695 in terms of safety, functionality and chemical composition."
The hydrocolloid xanthan gum, a high molecular weight polysaccharide widely used in food applications from salad dressings to beverages, is produced by fermentation of the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris.
With a total market value in the range of €230 million, xanthan volumes are approximately 40-50 million tons per year, of which about 60 per cent is used in the food and pharmaceutical market.
Growth rates for xanthan gum are currently coming in at the higher end - 5 per cent - of the generally lacklustre growth figures in the food ingredients industry.
"Xanthan is still one of the fastest growing hydrocolloids. Its versatility and, now its low price, make it a hydrocolloid of choice," Dennis Seisun from market analysts IMR International recently mentioned to FoodNavigator.com.
Earlier this year both CP Kelco, the number one supplier and recently acquired by JM Huber, and Rhodia, now part of Danisco, announced a price hike for xanthan gum, but according to Seisun, as a result of the recent Cargill, Staley and now Danisco entries into the xanthan market, it will be difficult for any price increases to stick.
UK ingredients company Tate & Lyle, which owns Staley, joined the list of xanthan suppliers at the end of last year.
In the late fifties, scientists at the US Department of Agriculture discovered that the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris found on cabbage plants produces a polysaccaride with functional properties. The hydrocolloid can be used as a rheology control agent in aqueous systems and as a stabiliser for emulsions and suspensions.
In 1980, the EU approved xanthan gum under the E-number 415, some 11 years after the FDA cleared the high molecular weight polysaccharide as a food additive for the US market.