We are very excited to bring you What Is It? Wednesdays! Every other Wednesday, we’ll explore a different ingredient or product in depth. We’ll be covering the benefits, uses, and common misconceptions about each. If you have any requests, leave them in the comments and we’ll work them into the schedule.
What Is Xanthan Gum & Where Does Xanthan Gum Come From?
The short, basic version is that Xanthan Gum is a coating from a particular bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris. This bacteria grows a protective coating. Think of it like an orange peel or the skin of an onion. It's a protective layer. When fed a particular food, this bacteria's coating becomes very sticky and makes a great binding and thickening agent in baking.
Most commonly, Xanthomonas campestris is fed glucose (sugar) derived from corn, soy, or wheat. The bacteria that grows our Xanthan Gum is fed a carbohydrate substrate produced from Non-GMO corn.
Why Use Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum works well in place of gluten (a protein found in wheat, rye, and barley that some people cannot tolerate). Xanthan gum helps trap the air bubbles created by leavening agents (baking soda, baking powder, yeast) to allow your breads and baked goods to rise. It helps thicken liquids, which is why it is often found in salad dressings and sauces. This thickening action helps hold gluten free baked goods together and keeps them from becoming too crumbly
, making it a popular substitute to regular flour when making gluten free goodies.
Is Xanthan Gum Gluten Free?
Yes, our Xanthan Gum is gluten free. It's grown on Non-GMO corn and packaged in our dedicated Gluten Free Facility.
How Is It different from Guar Gum?
They're made from two different sources: xanthan gum from a bacteria and guar gum from a seed native to Asia. In the kitchen, there are important differences in using xanthan gum versus guar gum. In general, guar gum is good for cold foods such as ice cream or pastry fillings, while xanthan gum is better for baked goods, especially those that use yeast. Foods with a high acid content (such as lemon juice) can cause guar gum to lose its thickening abilities. For recipes involving citrus you will want to use xanthan gum.
Read more about how they are different and similar in this post: Guar Gum vs Xanthan Gum.
How Should I Use Xanthan Gum for Gluten Free Baking?
Every recipe is different but our general recommendations are below. Note that depending on the other ingredients, you may find that the amount of Xanthan Gum needs to be increase or decreased. Too little xanthan gum and your baked goods will be crumbly, too much and they'll be rubbery.
For liquids, it is best to add xanthan gum to the oil component in a recipe, making complete mix of oil and gum before adding to the rest of liquid ingredients. Using a blender or a food processor is a great way to get the gums to dissolve properly.
Why Is Xanthan Gum Expensive?
Xanthan Gum is expensive because it is costly to produce (we're talking specialized labs that must grow, then harvest, this ingredient) and there is a limited supply. Yes, it's spendy at approximately $15 for a half-pound, but you use very little in a recipe and a bag should last you six months (depending on how much you bake).
How Do You Clean up Xanthan Gum?
We did some extensive testing on this! Read more here: How to Clean up Xanthan Gum
How Does It Affect My Body and Why Can't Some People Tolerate It?
There have not been any significant studies to determine what effect xanthan gum has on humans, but I did find a good article that talks about the studies that have been done. It appears that there is little to support xanthan gum being harmful to adults, but it should not be fed to infants.
More and more, I meet people who cannot have xanthan gum. It upsets their stomach and causes gas, bloating, and diarrhea. Most commonly, these might be people who have a corn allergy. These are not all people who follow a gluten free diet. I have heard from several gluten free customers who initially blamed their issues on gluten, but later realized it was actually the xanthan gum. The symptoms are very similar. You'll see that more and more gluten free food bloggers are not using xanthan gum and are opting to use an alternative or leave it out altogether.
What Are Some Alternatives to Xanthan Gum?
First, there is guar gum. It works essentially the same way, but you typically use more guar gum than xanthan gum. The people who cannot tolerate xanthan gum often have similar issues with guar gum. Other people are using psyllium seed husk, chia seed, flaxseed, or a combination of these. These work because of their high soluble fiber. When you add water, these ingredients gel up. This works well for binding and thickening for most recipes. Our friend Jean Layton, blogger and naturopath, swears by her Pixie Dust. Her recipe, found here, combines psyllium husk powder, flaxseeds, and chia seeds and produces marvelous results (we should know, we tested it to find out!). Depending on the recipe, you can sometimes get away with just leaving it out. Some recipes will be just fine without it. It takes experimentation, but, hey, that's what gluten free baking is all about!