Even if you are brand-new to the gluten free life, you have almost certainly seen something called “xanthan gum” listed on labels before. Before we get into it’s role in gluten free cooking, let’s talk a little bit about the basics. First of all, xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, or string of multiple sugars. It is named after the bacteria “Xanthomonas campestris”, which is used to create xanthan gum by fermenting on a sugar, turning it into a gel that is dried and milled to ultimately create the end result we see and use – a powder substance.
Xanthan gum is important in gluten free cooking for a number of reasons. It works as an emulsifier, which means it encourages liquids that don’t normally mix well to actually do just that. It also works as a thickener, increasing the viscosity of liquids and batters. Xanthan gum can and will create a creamy texture. It is always flavorless and colorless, so don’t worry about it affecting the taste or look of your dish.
Xanthan gum is not cheap, with an 8-ounce bag usually costing more than $10 – depending on where you purchase it and if it’s on sale. But thankfully, a little bit of xanthan gum can go a long way. Many recipes only need a 1/2 teaspoon or less of it, so a bag of xanthan gum should last for months with proper storage.
In gluten free baking, xanthan gum plays the role of gluten by giving dough the stickiness it needs. It adds volume and viscosity to bread and other baked goods. One time, right after I went gluten free, I was cooking gluten free banana bread and realized I didn’t have one of the ingredients — xanthan gum. “Oh, only a 1/2 teaspoon of that xanthan gum stuff? Can’t be that important, I’ll just leave it out!”. Needless to say, the bread did not turn out well. It was crumbly and fell apart just from picking it up. Lesson learned = xanthan gum is an integral part of the recipe, don’t leave it out!
Xanthan gum is a carb with 7 grams of fiber per tablespoon.
Xanthan gum is used in ice creams to keep the product smooth and to stop ice crystals from forming.
Xanthan gum can be mixed with guar gum to create even more viscosity. Alternatively, some people replace xanthan gum completely with guar gum in recipes.
How much xanthan gum is used in gluten free recipes?
It varies depending on what you are making, but here is how much xanthan gum is used in a couple of my recipes:
- Gluten Free Vegan Banana Bread = 1/2 teaspoon
- Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Banana Bread = 1/2 teaspoon