Check out any label for store-bought salad dressing, ice cream, or bread, and chances are xanthan gum is listed as one of the ingredients. This corn-based, flavorless component is used to help stabilize foods and give them more heft. Used in home cooking and baking too, xanthan gum works to thicken gravies and sauces, bind creamy liquids together, and gives gluten-free bread a bit of chew. Xanthan gum is safe to eat, easy to use, and found in most major grocery stores.
- Main Components: Sugars, usually from corn, fermented by bacteria
- Substitutes: Guar gum, cornstarch, agar agar, unflavored gelatin, egg whites
- Shelf Life: 3 years
What Is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum is a popular food additive that works as a thickener and stabilizer. Made from corn, xanthan gum is produced when sucrose, lactose, or glucose gets fermented by bacteria, making a gummy substance. This mixture gets dehydrated and ground into a powder, which is how xanthan gum gets used commercially and in home kitchens around the world. From mayonnaise to frozen entrées to yogurt, xanthan gum is staple ingredient in most shelf-stable foods. It's a keto diet-friendly thickener, and because xanthan gum can make liquid elastic and sticky, it's often used in gluten-free foods and gluten-free baking to give breads a gluten-like texture.
Xanthan gum was discovered by Allene Rosalind Jeanes and her team at the United States Department of Agriculture in the early 1960s. It was used to stabilize foods as well as a binding ingredient in many other non-edible items. On the food side, xanthan gum was first brought into commercial production under the trade name Kelzan and garnering FDA approval and acceptance in the United States, Canadian, and European markets by 1968.
Xanthan Gum vs. Guar Gum
Xanthan gum and guar gum are food additives that work in the same way: they bind and stabilize ingredients. Guar gum is derived from guar beans, which are mainly grown and processed in India. Xanthan gum usually comes from corn and is more prevalent worldwide. Usually, xanthan gum is used in baked goods and shelf-stable salad dressings and sauces, where guar gum works best with cold and frozen foods such as ice cream, yogurt, and puddings. Another difference between these two ingredients is guar gum doesn't gel on its own, needing borax or calcium, where xanthan gum naturally gels. Xanthan gum is easier to find in major grocery stores, but both ingredients can easily be sourced online.
Xanthan Gum Uses
A tiny bit of white and odorless xanthan gum powder can go a long way in stabilizing hot and cold sauces, thickening gravies, and giving gluten-free bread the right sort of chew. To make bread, add xanthan gum during the dry ingredient stage. Xanthan gum makes a fat-free, gluten-free replacement for a classic fat-and-flour roux used to thicken sauces and soups. For ice cream, xanthan gum will help curb ice crystals from forming and lends the dessert a smooth creaminess.
In general, xanthan gum is a vegan food since it's mainly made from corn sugars and sometimes cane sugar. It's often included in vegan recipes as a binder (where normally egg would be included). However, xanthan gum can be made with dairy sugars, but using dairy to make this food additive is not a common practice, especially in regards to big companies and major brands.
How To Cook With Xanthan Gum
When using xanthan gum in recipes (except for bread), it's best to slowly incorporate the xanthan gum into the liquid, preferably with an immersion blender or in a blender to keep the ingredients moving. This can help break up any gelling clumps as they form and give the food a smoother texture.
Use 1/8 teaspoon per cup of liquid and combine the two in the blender. It's not recommended to mix by hand since xanthan gum immediately starts binding and can form clumps. No prior heating or cooling of the xanthan gum is needed to cause the gel reaction.
A popular substitution for xanthan gum is cornstarch, which can be used the same way, though it doesn't bind as well. Cornstarch is the easier-to-find and cheaper option; however, it's not approved on the keto diet.
What Does It Taste Like?
Xanthan gum works well in a variety of foods because it has no taste. Added during cooking, it allows the intended flavors of the dish to shine. It does have a thickening texture and gels quickly, but if the xanthan gum gets mixed in before clumping, no eater will notice its inclusion.
Xanthan Gum Recipes
Xanthan gum is a popular "magic" ingredient in gluten-free baking and can give bread a gluten-like texture. Try it in these recipes.
Where To Buy Xanthan Gum
Look for xanthan gum in small packets, boxes, or jars in the baking section of most major grocery stores. Sometimes it's in the gluten-free section as well. Xanthan gum is also easy to find and order online and is sometimes sold by the ounce in bulk.
Store xanthan gum in a sealed container away from heat or moisture. It can be kept in the cupboard with other baking supplies or anywhere out of direct sunlight. Keeping xanthan gum in a cool, not-too-hot spot will also help prolong its shelf life.
Nutrition and Benefits
One thing xanthan gum has going for it is its soluble fiber, meaning it digests slowly and can make the eater feel more full. It also has a viscous texture, which helps the sugars release slowly, thereby reducing blood sugar spikes. Some studies suggest xanthan gum may lower cholesterol and help with regular bowel movements. But while this ingredient has been seen as a health aid, it also has been linked to stomaches and may cause too-loose stools and excessive gas.
Because xanthan gum is sometimes made with dairy, wheat, and soy sugars, people with severe food allergies should avoid it. It can be difficult to figure out what the base ingredient in a xanthan gum product is because most labels on store-bought foods don't include this information. In general, consuming xanthan gum in foods isn't dangerous, and even though many commercial foods have this ingredient, the amount is low.
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