Focus on Cellulose ethers

What is the difference between xanthan gum and HEC

Xanthan gum and Hydroxyethyl cellulose (HEC) are both hydrocolloids used extensively in various industries, particularly in food, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products. Despite some similarities in their applications, they are distinct in terms of their chemical structure, properties, and functionalities.

1.Chemical Structure:

Xanthan gum: It is a polysaccharide derived from the fermentation of carbohydrates, primarily glucose, by the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. It consists of a backbone of glucose residues with side chains of trisaccharide repeat units, including mannose, glucuronic acid, and glucose.

HEC: Hydroxyethyl cellulose is a non-ionic cellulose ether derived from cellulose, a naturally occurring polysaccharide found in plant cell walls. HEC is modified by introducing hydroxyethyl groups onto the cellulose backbone.


Xanthan gum: It exhibits high solubility in both cold and hot water. It forms highly viscous solutions even at low concentrations.

HEC: Hydroxyethyl cellulose is soluble in water, and its solubility can vary depending on the degree of substitution (DS) of the hydroxyethyl groups. Higher DS typically results in better solubility.


Xanthan gum: It is known for its exceptional thickening properties. Even at low concentrations, xanthan gum can significantly increase the viscosity of solutions.

HEC: The viscosity of HEC solutions also depends on factors such as concentration, temperature, and shear rate. Generally, HEC exhibits good thickening properties, but its viscosity is lower compared to xanthan gum at equivalent concentrations.

4.Shear Thinning Behavior:

Xanthan gum: Solutions of xanthan gum typically exhibit shear-thinning behavior, meaning their viscosity decreases under shear stress and recovers once the stress is removed.

HEC: Similarly, HEC solutions also demonstrate shear-thinning behavior, although the extent may vary depending on the specific grade and solution conditions.


Xanthan gum: It is compatible with a wide range of other hydrocolloids and ingredients commonly used in food and personal care formulations. It can also stabilize emulsions.

HEC: Hydroxyethyl cellulose is also compatible with various ingredients and can be used in combination with other thickeners and stabilizers to achieve desired rheological properties.

6.Synergy with Other Thickeners:

Xanthan gum: It exhibits synergistic effects when combined with other hydrocolloids such as guar gum or locust bean gum, resulting in enhanced viscosity and stability.

HEC: Similarly, HEC can synergize with other thickeners and polymers, offering versatility in formulating products with specific texture and performance requirements.

7.Application Areas:

Xanthan gum: It finds wide applications in food products (e.g., sauces, dressings, dairy products), personal care products (e.g., lotions, creams, toothpaste), and industrial products (e.g., drilling fluids, paints).

HEC: Hydroxyethyl cellulose is commonly used in personal care products (e.g., shampoos, body washes, creams), pharmaceuticals (e.g., ophthalmic solutions, oral suspensions), and construction materials (e.g., paints, adhesives).

8.Cost and Availability:

Xanthan gum: It is generally more expensive compared to HEC, primarily due to the fermentation process involved in its production. However, its widespread use and availability contribute to its relatively stable market supply.

HEC: Hydroxyethyl cellulose is relatively more cost-effective compared to xanthan gum. It is widely produced through chemical modification of cellulose, which is abundant in nature.

while xanthan gum and HEC share some similarities in their applications as hydrocolloids, they exhibit distinct differences in terms of their chemical structures, solubility, viscosity, shear-thinning behavior, compatibility, synergy with other thickeners, application areas, and cost. Understanding these differences is crucial for formulators to select the most suitable hydrocolloid for specific product formulations and desired performance characteristics.

Post time: Apr-11-2024
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