Xanthan Gum Is The Secret Ingredient For Better Frozen Cocktails

Frozen cocktails are like boozy slushies, adult versions of those icy concoctions you used to get at the local 7-Eleven or movie theater. They're a fun way to mix adult and child sensibilities, but making one at home can cause more of a headache than slurping one down too fast and getting a brain freeze. The natural densities of liquid and blended-up solids like frozen fruit naturally separate, resulting in an infuriating double layer instead of an even mixture. Luckily, there's a secret ingredient that you can use to get your frozen cocktails feeling like they're straight out of a Slushie Machine: xanthan gum.

Industrial food manufacturers use xanthan gum on a widespread scale, but few may think of stocking their kitchen cabinets with the additive. Despite this, you can still purchase it in the baking aisle of supermarkets or through online retailers like Amazon as a gluten-free, vegan alternative to other thickening agents like corn starch and gelatin. Its uses are many and varied, binding together baked goods or increasing the viscosity in a sauce. For our purposes, however, it works as a way to make frozen cocktails better.

How does xanthan gum work?

Despite the name, xanthan gum isn't exactly the chewy, rubbery candy-like goo you might be imagining it is, though it does start that way. Rather, it's sold in a powder form that's the result of drying out sugars that have fermented with the same type of bacteria that causes black rot in broccoli. That may sound scary, but it causes no health risks to humans besides possibly upsetting your stomach if you start chugging large quantities. That also means it's not a synthetic substance; it's an all-natural ingredient that takes on a thicker texture once it's combined with a liquid.

Xanthan gum prevents the separation of liquids and oils, "gluing" together starches as the name implies. This ability is the reason why the powder works great in blended drinks; a tiny dash of the stuff will hold together the liquid mixers with the blended-up fruit while also inhibiting the creation of large ice crystals that can quickly form. That's because xanthan gum is an emulsifier, working some mixology magic and bringing together ingredients that usually separate. It's also the reason why it's a common additive in ice cream and Starbucks Frappuccino sweeteners.

How to make a xanthan gum cocktail

The first step in concocting a cocktail with xanthan gum is to add the powder to whatever liquid base you're using in the slushie. That could be fruit juice, milk, or even just simple syrup. Too much xanthan gum will leave your drink feeling too thick, so add a pinch at a time in a blender, or whisk a bit in a bowl. Adding a touch of sugar to the xanthan gum before mixing may prevent clumping by more evenly distributing the mix, but this isn't a necessary step.

Once the xanthan gum and liquid are blended together, add the booze, frozen fruit, and any other miscellaneous ingredients and blend once again. At this point, the thickener should have bonded and will act as a defensive measure against the separation of your cocktail mix-ins. Xanthan gum is only for texture; its taste is so mild that it's barely detectable, all but gone with the addition of fruity sweetness and a kick from the liquor. If you're hesitant, try it out with a test subject beforehand and watch how quickly the mixture thickens up. It's a fine mix-in even for vegan or gluten-free friends, and you'll quickly be known for having the smoothest margaritas in town once you try this trick.