While many ingredients in gluten-free cooking seem at least moderately familiar, two common gluten-free ingredients are not found in most pantries.
Xanthan and guar gums provide gluten-free baked goods, including cookies, cakes and breads, the structure to make up for the absence of wheat gluten. When combined with water, these powders have a slimy, stringy texture.
Xanthan gum is a fermented derivative of corn sugar. A microbial, Xanthomonas campestris, is added to corn sugar to form xanthan gum. While you may not have used xanthan gum in your gluten-free kitchen, it is a common thickening ingredient in many prepared foods and commonly used in large-scale food production. Since xanthan gum is a corn derivative, you should avoid it if you are sensitive to corn products or have a corn allergy or an intolerance.
Guar gum, on the other hand, is a high-fiber powder derived from the seed of a legume, the India tree. Like xanthan gum, guar gum is frequently used as a thickener in industrial food production. If you have difficulty tolerating large amounts of soluble fiber, guar gum may cause an upset stomach.
How to Use Xanthan and Guar Gums in Gluten-Free Baking
While xanthan and guar gum can help you to create tasty baked goods with a texture closer to baked goods that aren’t gluten-free, too much of a good thing can result in heavy, gummy or even slimy cakes, breads or cookies.
Before you reach for these gums, check to make sure that your flour mixture doesn’t already contain xanthan gum. Many all-purpose gluten-free flours include this ingredient, saving you the expense of keeping it on hand.
If you’re using a blend of flours or making your own gluten-free all-purpose flour mixture, plan on no more than one teaspoon of guar or xanthan gum per cup of flour for bread or pizza crust. Reduce this to ½ teaspoon per cup of gluten-free flour for cakes, muffins and quick breads. Add only a very small amount of guar or xanthan gum for cookies, typically between ¼ and ½ teaspoon per cup of flour in your recipe.
What If I Need to Make Gluten-Free Baked Goods Without Gums?
If guar and xanthan gum don’t agree with your stomach, you may need to find alternatives to keep your baked goods from crumbling. Experiment with replacing xanthan and guar gums with ground flax seeds, ground chia seeds or a combination of the two.
Shauna James Ahern, the author of Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef, recommends a tablespoon of ground golden flax seeds, chia seeds or psyllium seeds in place of xanthan or guar gum in her most recent recipes.
Have any other suggestions to keep structure in your gluten-free baked goods? Would love to hear about them in the comments!