Xanthan is a well-known biopolymer. It is an anionic polysaccharide, whose primary structure depends on the bacterial strain and fermentation conditions. Xanthan was extensively studied in combination with galactomannans, and over 90 patents cover the technology of this preparation. Our aim was to investigate the relation between the physical properties of a xanthan matrix in the absence or presence of calcium ions and its influence on the release of pentoxifylline. The release of pentoxifylline from xanthan tablets in purified water was shown to be very slow and governed by the process of polymer relaxation. The presence of calcium ions significantly increased the drug release, changing the release mechanism into a more diffusion controlled one. Xanthan matrices showed substantially faster and more extensive swelling in water than in the presence of Ca2+ ions. Surprisingly, negative correlation between drug release and degree of swelling was obtained for xanthan: the higher the swelling, the slower the drug release. Higher ionic strength led to lower erosion of xanthan tablets, and the gel layers formed were more rigid and of firmer texture, as shown by rheological experiments and textural profiling. The results indicate that the presence of Ca2+ ions in the solution or in matrices does not cause crosslinking of xanthan polymers, but causes charge screening of ionized groups on the trisaccharide side chains of xanthan, leading to lower inter-molecular repulsion and changing water arrangement. The understanding of the parameters influencing drug release leads to the conclusion that xanthan is suitable for controlled release formulations, especially with the incorporation of certain small counterions.