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 like one of those weird, scary ingredients.
But it (and the others I’m going to tell you about in this post) are really the magic ingredients that transform your gluten free bakes from flat, crumbly messes into gorgeous cakes that people actually want to eat.
In this article I’m going to explain what xanthan gum is, and the role it plays in gluten free baking.
I’ll also tell you where you can get hold of xanthan gum, and give you a few alternative options for anyone who doesn’t want to use xanthan gum.
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 ingredeint that makes gluten free bakes actually look and feel* like proper bakes.
* – Note, I don’t mention the taste of gluten free bakes – xanthan gum is used in such small quantities in gluten free baking that it doesn’t really affect the flavour profile – thats down to the combination of flours you use – learn more about the basics on gluten free flours in this post.
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 baker, 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 elesticity needed for a 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 reccomended 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 Else Can I use In Place Of 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.
The main alternatives to xanthan gum I’ve come across are:
- Gaur Gum
- Locust Bean Gum
- Psyllium Husk
- Chia Seeds
- Agar Agar
Though I heven’t used any of these apart from gaur gum in my own baking, many sources list the others as good alternatives.
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 secret, magic ingredient that can elevate your gluten free baking to really great baking.
To learn more about gluten free baking, download my eBook, Gluten Free Baking 101:
Here’s where you can buy the xanthan gum I use, and the other gluten free stabilisers mentioned in this post:
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