With more people finding out they have gluten-related food issues like celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, living a gluten free lifestyle has become more common. This being so, many at-home cooks are discovering new ways to recreate their favorite dishes sans gluten, and one of the critical ingredients is xanthan gum.
While gluten free flour often takes the credit for gluten free baked goods, xanthan gum is the real star. So if you've heard about the magic baking powers of xanthan gum and are wondering if you should begin adding it to your gluten free pantry, the answer is yes. But before you go adding it to your recipes just yet, take a moment to review this guide covering the science behind xanthan gum and how it can take your recipes to the next level.
What Is Xanthan Gum?
So, what is xanthan gum and how do you use xanthan gum in baking? Though xanthan gum sounds like it was created in a science lab, it's an entirely natural product. Made from fermented corn sugar that has been broken down by a plant bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, the remaining residue is then dried and turned into a powder known as the food additive xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum has become a vital ingredient in gluten free baking. It helps goods made from gluten-free flours like almond flour and buckwheat flour bind together and develops elasticity—a job commonly completed by gluten. For individuals with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity, this ingredient plays a vital role in recreating traditionally gluten-full treats sans gluten. These binding properties create goods with similar textures that hold together during the baking process. Many gluten free recipes don't bind well without xanthan gum and result in baked goods that crumble. Xanthan gum recreates gluten's stickiness while ensuring that the recipe remains gluten free.
While xanthan gum powder is the most common gluten free binding agent, ingredients like agar agar, chia seeds and flaxseed meal may also be used in gluten free recipes to recreate the wheat-like texture that many gluten-free goods lack. In addition to gluten free baking, you can also use xanthan gum to thicken sauces, stews, soups, salad dressing and ice cream.
How Does Xanthan Gum Work?
Creating a light and fluffy loaf of gluten free bread can prove to be a challenging task. Because gluten plays such a prominent role in the bread's ability to bind and rise, a recipe without it rarely tastes the same. That is unless you use xanthan gum. Now, we've talked about xanthans gum's ability to mimic the binding qualities of gluten, but how is that possible? When xanthan gum gets wet, its texture becomes sticky and gelatinous. It also acts as an emulsifier, helping the water and oil in the recipe to combine. As a result of these changes, xanthan gum binds, stabilizes and thickens the ingredients in the dough, mimicking what gluten does.
And it doesn't stop there. As the ingredients in your recipe combine, carbon monoxide is created and released. Then, much like gluten, xanthan gum helps trap that air inside the dough, allowing it to rise. So, instead of making a flat and dense loaf of bread, you get a loaf that's fluffy and full of structure.
How Much Xanthan Gum Should You Use?
When it comes to xanthan gum, a little goes a long day. Similar to how baking powder is used in small amounts, only a small amount of xanthan gum is needed to help your recipes bind. Most recipes require just a tablespoon or less of the powder, which means that a bag of xanthan gum will typically last you a long time. Though xanthan gum may sound like an exotic ingredient, it can often be found in that baking section of your local grocery store and can be purchased online. Additionally, many pre-made gluten free flour blends like our Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour contain xanthan gum already, meaning that you won't have to purchase it separately.
Xanthan Gum and Baking Powder
We mentioned that xanthan gum helps baked goods rise and though this is true, it should not be used as a leavening agent or in place of one. If a recipe calls for baking powder, you'll want to make sure that you add the correct amount. If you don't have baking powder on hand, then there are some alternatives that you can use alongside xanthan gum powder to ensure that your recipe bakes as intended. Though each ingredient is unique and should be used in different amounts, some of the most popular baking powder substitutes include:
- Vinegar and baking soda—Ideal for cookies.
- Cream of tartar and baking soda
- Yogurt—Works well in waffles.
- Ginger beer
- Self-rising flour
- Whipped egg whites—Ideal when making pancakes and waffles.
Not all gluten free goods will require xanthan gum. For example, batters that are more liquid-like such as pancakes, may not require any xanthan gum. Only use xanthan gum when needed, and be sure to use the correct amount for the best results.
Is Xanthan Gum Safe?
We understand that xanthan gum's unique name might seem a bit scary to some. Even so, we're here to assure you that when eaten in small amounts, xanthan gum is perfectly safe to eat. As with most foods, when consumed in large quantities, xanthan gum may cause stomach discomfort. However, baked goods will not require large enough amounts to cause symptoms.
Additionally, because xanthan gum is made with ingredients like corn and soy, it may cause an allergic reaction in individuals who are sensitive to those ingredients. All xanthan gum goes through a processing method that leaves only trace amounts of residual proteins from these fermentation sources—yet, even still, it may be a concern for allergic individuals.
Xanthan Gum Substitutes
Though xanthan gum is a cherished baking ingredient, not everyone may have it in their pantry. If you haven't yet purchased xanthan gum and want to bake a recipe that calls for it, there are a few xanthan gum alternatives that work similarly. Here's a list of the most commonly used.
- Chia seeds
- Ground flaxseeds
- Psyllium fiber
Xanthan Gum Recipes
Now that you have a better understanding of the potential uses of xanthan gum and how you can use it to create soft and chewy baked goods, it's time to put that knowledge to the test. Whether you're just beginning your baking journey or consider yourself a professional, you're bound to love the gluten free recipes below.
Gluten Free Noodles
When following a gluten free diet the most commonly missed food group is carbs. Because many carb-heavy treats contain grains, they're not suitable for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. While enjoying a large bowl of traditional pasta noodles might not be the best idea, it doesn't mean you have to write the dish off altogether. With more people embracing the gluten free diet, more recipes have been tried, tweaked and tested to produce exceptional results—one of which is pasta. Making a homemade batch of gluten free pasta noodles is the perfect way to enjoy one of the dishes that you miss most, symptom-free!
To create a delicious bowl of pasta that will leave your taste buds and your digestive system happy, make these Gluten Free Pasta Noodles. One of the things we love most about this dish is that it's made with just four simple ingredients, some of which you may already have on hand. To make these noodles gluten free, a combination of our Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour, Xanthan Gum, eggs and water is used. Once the dough is mixed together, all that is left is to knead, roll and cut it. Leave the noodles out to dry overnight, and enjoy the next day. With a taste and texture incredibly similar to traditional pasta, you can top these noodles with everything you usually would. We love mixing them with tomato sauce, veggies and a bit of cheese.
Next to pasta, the food product that most people miss when switching to a gluten free diet is bread. Bread is used daily as a dinner side dish, an appetizer, breakfast and even lunch. Unfortunately, not enjoying bread means that many people are missing out on some of their favorite meals. Luckily, xanthan gum works alongside gluten free bread recipes' ingredients to create grain-free loaves that look and taste the same as their gluten-full counterparts.
To make a delicious everyday bread that's entirely gluten free, follow this Everyday Bread recipe. Made with a combination of our Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour and Xanthan Gum, it can be used to make toast, sandwiches, croutons and more!
Now that you understand how crucial xanthan gum is when baking gluten free goods, it's time to purchase some yourself. Xanthan gum can be bought in grocery stores or on our website and used in an endless amount of gluten free recipes. We can't see what tasty treats you whip up in the kitchen. From everyone at Bob's Red Mill, have a healthy and happy day!