Sources of Food Ingredients: Cellullose gum

From Nature

Cellulose gum is a common food additive used to thicken and stabilize a variety of foods.  Food gums harness the properties of other substances found in nature to impart useful characteristics in food.  Food gums can help keep foods and beverages stable so nutrients remain mixed, ensure that oil and water based ingredients don’t separate and help produce a consistent texture that consumers expect from certain foods.

Cellulose gum is produced from the structural parts of certain plants, primarily trees or cotton.  Cellulose gum sources are farmed sustainably and processed using a form of acetic acid and salt.  Acetic acid is a mild acid which is a main component of vinegar.  After mixing the cotton or wood with acetic acid and salt, the mixture is filtered and dried to create a fine powder—the cellulose gum.  Cellulose gum is very useful as only a small amount needs to be added to foods to maintain moisture or increase texture and thickness. As a result, you will often find it listed near the end of the ingredients list in foods.

Functionality: Cellulose Gum Keeps it Fresh and Better Tasting

Because cellulose gum helps food remain moist, particularly after cooking, it is commonly used in baked goods to help ensure a moist and delicious final product.  Keeping baked goods moist helps to keep these products fresh, ensuring our favorite baked treats are not stale when we reach for them on the store shelf or in our cupboards.

Cellulose gum is also commonly used to thicken beverages, which can reduce calories and increases options for people who want to drink reduced-calorie beverages. As consumers become increasingly more health conscious, many want to continue drinking fruit juices but with fewer calories.  Cellulose gum provides an option to produce juices that have the same texture and don’t seem watery, but have reduced calories.  You may find cellulose gum in your favorite cold treats as well, as it is particularly effective at slowing the formation of ice-crystals, which lead to freezer burn.  Let’s face it; no one wants to find freezer burn in their ice cream when they are craving that late night indulgence.

Keeping Food Safe

Cellulose gum, like many other food ingredients, has been found to be generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  It has been used for decades and has been consumed by millions of people around the world in thousands of products we know and recognize.  To be considered generally recognized as safe, scientific research must be published, generally available and demonstrate that there is a consensus among experts that an ingredient is safe for its use in food.  When the FDA reviewed the status of cellulose gum in the 1970s, they were convinced that this high bar of safety was met.

Since then, cellulose gum has continued to be found to be safe in the U.S. and around the world. Cellulose Gum (E466) is an approved food additive in the European Union and was recently re-evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).  The EFSA Panel  concluded that there was no need for a numerical acceptable daily intake (ADI) and that there would be no safety concern for the reported uses and use levels for E466 in foodstuffs.

When a food manufacturer decides to use cellulose gum in their product, the number one consideration is always safety.  Cellulose gum offers a safe option to provide a multitude of important qualities in the food we all enjoy.

It’s on the Label

Like all other food additives and GRAS substances, cellulose gum must be listed on the food label when it’s used in foods or beverages.  Because it is a very functional ingredient, very little cellulose gum has to be used in food to achieve the intended effect so it will usually appear at the end of the ingredient list.  However, we can rest assured it will be on the list if it has been used.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and other government agencies will take action against any company that does not disclose the ingredients used in its products and may order that their foods be removed from store shelves.  Consumers do not have to fear that any ingredient, including cellulose gum, is being secretly added to foods.

Making Food Better Every Day

People have benefited from food technology for millennia, beginning with the selective breeding of grain that allowed us to develop advanced societies, culture and (most importantly) leisure time.  Advances in technology have helped to make our food supply safer and more secure, and cellulose gum is no exception.  Whether it is used in your favorite baked snack to ensure you can buy a pack on Monday and enjoy it for the rest of the week or in your ice cream to prevent freezer burn, cellulose gum plays an important role in keeping delicious foods fresher longer.  Cellulose gum also helps us find healthier options without sacrificing the qualities that we love from familiar foods and beverages.  Next time you sit down and enjoy a delicious, moist muffin, you very well may have cellulose gum to thank.