Guar Gum - What it is & why it's gone from our ingredients September 15 2016
I've had a bit of a dilemma for the past year. We only use three canned products, ever, in our cooking. One is tomatoes when we've run out of what we've preserved, for about three months of the year. The second is tuna fish, and the third - and most common - is coconut milk.
We've done a lot of coconut milk research, and the Natural Value brand has come up on top in terms of trustworthiness and quality. It was one of the first in not using BPA in can linings. They're also the only brand I've ever seen that doesn't use guar gum. Then we got really excited when they offered food service sized 96 oz cans. No more fiddling with opening tons of tiny cans! Until we realized they put guar gum - less than 1% - in the big cans. The big cans are more economical and easier to deal with, so we decided to try using them for awhile. And we learned a few things.
Guar gum is not necessarily an issue for everyone. In terms of additives, it is at least naturally derived from the guar bean. It is the endosperm, or part of the seed, that is milled and sifted. (See photo below for plant).
The crop is primarily grow in northern India and Pakistan with some notable amounts grown in arid Texas. As a legume, its a great cover crop nitrogen fixer and parts can be eaten as well.
The reason you find guar gum in coconut milk and almost every dairy free - and often dairy - products and even Izzy drinks these days is that is is an excellent thickener. It has about 8 times the thickening power of cornstarch. It also emulsifies excellently - meaning brings two substances like coconut oil and water that would normally separate together. It helps keeps textures consistent. It even slows ice crystal growth, thus making your ice cream smoother and more consistent. All reasons you'll see it in all the commercial coconut milk ice cream options and even most dairy ones these days.
It's such a good thickener and emulsifier that it experienced a big boom in recent years thanks to its use fracking. (Exactly what use gets a little technical for me!).
Though having its biggest consumers in the oil and gas industry and the food industry is sort of jarring, guar gum is ultimately a powered bean product. And you know what they say, "Beans, beans, they're good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you... fart".
That's exactly the issue. For those of us with sensitive digestive systems, guar gum can make us just plain uncomfortable.
We'd rather you feel good and you have to shake your soup like our Tom Kha Gai to mix up the coconut milk than compromise your digestion. We hope you all don't mind shaking jars, either.
So from now on we'll be using the Natural Value coconut milk with no guar gum. The trade off for us is cost in both labor and straight ingredient price, as well as creating more packaging waste (though we recycle). Whenever one buys food in smaller packages, it costs more. And we're going to be spending more time opening more cans.
But we think its worth it, especially as I've experienced my own sensitivity to guar gum and heard other customers' stories. The healing properties of food are of the most importance to us (not the least of which because nourishing food also tastes as well as feels better). Everyone has different needs, and we're excited that removing this final additive means more people will be able to enjoy our foods without having to read ingredients so closely.
And on that note, any of you who just picked up and are eating our Chocolate Pots de Creme from last menu - those are guar gum free as well, as was the Tom Kha Gai from the previous week (both incorrectly listed the less than 1% guar gum in the ingredients).