"Do you have any tips for dispersing xanthan gum without lumping?"

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That's a question a salad dressing manufacturer asked when he called our technical support hotline recently and it's a common question in the food industry.

Whether you call them lumps, clumps, or fish-eyes, they've caused many headaches for food manufacturers. The pesky lumps can create obvious problems like clogged filters in production tanks or less obvious problems downstream like inconsistent viscosity in the finished product.

If you are having difficulty with undissolved gum, the solution likely requires making only a few minor changes to the first steps in your production process.

how to disperse gums without forming lumps

Why do gums form lumps?

Gums begin to hydrate nearly as soon as they are added to water and sometimes hydration occurs before the gum is fully dispersed. This can result in the formation of gum balls or lumps that have dry gum powder on the inside where the water couldn't penetrate.

While all powdered gums have a tendency to form lumps when added to water, some gums are more troublesome than others. Among the most difficult are the more popular, Gum Arabic, Cellulose Gum, and Xanthan Gum. These gums are prone to lumping because their hygroscopic nature means they more readily attract and hold water molecules.

Timing is everything

When dissolving any gum in water keep in mind that the most important time for the gum is the first three minutes after addition or production. Giving the gum 5 to 10 minutes to hydrate makes a dramatic difference in the level of gum needed and in the functional properties it exhibits. This is because gums must reach 50% hydration before they are "self-sufficient." The addition of other ingredients like salts and acids before this point may slow or prevent full hydration.

Ways to prevent lumps from forming

  • Switch to an agglomerated gum--In most cases, switching to an agglomerated gum like our Pre-Hydrated® or FASTir® products may be the easiest solution. These gums undergo special processing that expands the particle and creates interstices, or crevices, for the water to flow through. Pre-Hydrated Gums are then dried to retain this expanded structure.
  • Disperse gum into a vortex—If you are using a high shear mixer, slowly sift or sprinkle the gum into the vortex of liquid.
  • Blend gum with other dry ingredients--Add 1 part gum to at least 10 parts sugar or other dry ingredients in your existing formula. Mix well and sprinkle to rapidly mixing water. Beware that other ingredients such as salts, acids or too much sugar can interfere with the gums' ability to hydrate and reduce efficacy.
  • Slurry the gum with oil--Mix 1 part gum in 5 parts of your organic solvent (soybean oil, propylene glycol, etc.). This coats the gum particles and prevents them from lumping when added to your production tank. Keep in mind that you'll have to wait for your water-based ingredients to wash off the oil before the gum can hydrate.

Are you still experiencing problems with lumping after trying these suggestions? Our Gum Gurus are available to talk about your specific application and process.