When you start out in gluten-free baking there are a few unusual products you might come across.
They can seem kinda scary at first – until you know how to use them.
Xanthan Gum seems is one of those weird, scary ingredients that most people don’t know about until they start baking gluten-free.
Xanthan gum (along with the other things I’m going to tell you about in this post) is really the magic ingredient that can transform gluten-free bakes. No more flat, crumbly messes – xanthan gum helps you on your way to gorgeous cakes that people actually want to eat.
- What exactly is xanthan gum?
- Can xanthan gum affect the taste of a recipe?
- How is xanthan gum used in gluten-free baking?
- What is xanthan gum made from
- Is xanthan gum safe?
- What can you use instead of xanthan gum?
- Where do you even get xanthan gum from?
Just a quick FYI: My intentions with this blog are to help people who eat vegan & gluten-free. This is not diet, health or nutrition advice. Go and see a qualified medical professional for that sh*t, take care of yourself, & see my full liability policy here.
About xanthan gum
What is xanthan gum?
Xanthan Gum is an ingredient with many applications in the food industry, from thickening to stabilising.
In gluten-free baking, xanthan gum is used to replicate the elasticity of wheat flour in baked goods that contain gluten.
Basically, is the magic ingredient that makes gluten-free bakes actually look and feel like proper cakes, breads and biscuits.
Does xanthan gum affect the taste of cakes?
In short, No. Xanthan gum is used in such small quantities in gluten-free baking that it can’t really affect the flavour profile – that’s down to the combination of flours you use.
Why do we use xanthan gum in gluten-free baking?
Xanthan gum is used to replace the actual gluten component of traditional baking.
Look, I’m a blogger, not a scientist or a nutritionist, but here’s my best attempt at summing it up:
Gluten, for those of you who are unsure, makes up 75-85% of the protein component of wheat flour. According to the USDA, wheat flour is around 10% protein (with the remainder being most starchy carbohydrate, along with small amounts of other minerals and nutrients).
When wheat flour is mixed with water, the gluten protein reacts to form a paste that, according to Scientific American “is both plastic (it can change shape) and elastic (it can return to its original shape)”. This essentially provides structure and elasticity of doughs used for bread, cakes, cookies and other baked goods made with wheat flour.
When baking sans wheat flour, a stabiliser (like xanthan gum) is often added, in small quantities, to replace that structure and elasticity needed for the perfect bake.
How is xanthan gum made?
Because most of us haven’t heard of xanthan gum before exploring gluten free baking, it can seem kind of ‘unnatural’ and a bit scary.
Xanthan gum is made in a process that involves fermenting sugars with a bacteria called Xanthomonas Campestris (which I’m guessing is where the name comes from).
This fermentation produces a gooey, liquid product, which is then dried and ground into the white powder we see when we use xanthan in baking.
Is xanthan gum safe to use?
The short answer? Yes.
Studies (reported here) have shown that, in small quantities, xanthan gum is perfectly safe for adults to consume – gluten-free cakes typically call for just 1-1.5 tsp. of xanthan gum which, when divided into 6 or 8 pieces, is well within the recommended limit.
Xanthan gum has many culinary applications besides gluten-free baking: the sugars used in the fermentation process commonly come from corn, soy or wheat, so do be aware that not all xanthan gum is gluten-free.
As a celiac or someone with another gluten-sensitivity, you do need to be careful to always buy xanthan gum labelled gluten-free.
What can I substitute for xanthan gum?
I get it, I really do.
Xanthan gum is classed as an additive, it isn’t, strictly speaking, a ‘natural’ product. A few people have even reported a digestive reaction to small amounts of xanthan gum.
So, I can 100% see why you might be wary of (or flat-out against) using it in your gluten-free baking.
Many sources list these as good alternatives. The main alternatives to xanthan gum I’ve come across are:
- Gaur gum
- Locust bean gum
- Psyllium husk
- Chia seeds
- Agar agar
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Where to get Xanthan Gum
Most big supermarkets stock xanthan gum nowadays – it will be in the free-from aisle, or possibly with the baking goods.
You local friendly health-food store will probably stock xanthan-gum, too.
Or, you can buy it online* – I typically use Dove’s Farm or Isobel’s, but whichever (gluten-free) brand you can get hold of should work.
As I mentioned earlier in the post though, xanthan gum isn’t always gluten-free – so make sure to check for the crossed-grain symbol if you’re unsure.
Xanthan gum (and its’ alternatives) are really useful in gluten-free baking.
They are perfectly safe to use – and the range of alternative options mean that, even for people with additional allergies, sensitivities, and dietary requirements, there should be a stabiliser out there for you.
Xanthan gum is basically the magic ingredient that can elevate your gluten-free baking.