/ / What is Xanthan Gum?

What is Xanthan Gum?

Let’s talk about what xanthan gum is, why it is used in gluten free baking, and where to buy it in New Zealand.

A small jar of xanthan gum, with a jar of gluten free flour in the background, text reads "what is xanthan gum?".

When it comes to learning about gluten free baking, usually step 1 is to learn about the flour – what flours and starches are gluten free.

Then, in your travels, you’ll also likely come across a perplexing-sounding ingredient – xanthan gum.

So what is xanthan gum? And why do we use it in gluten free baking?

In this post, I’ll tell you what you need to know about it, and then you can ride off into the sunset of delicious gluten free baking… baking that doesn’t fall apart, crumble or sink, in part due to the magic of xanthan gum! ✨

What is Xanthan Gum?

Xanthan gum is a food additive made from fermented corn or soy.

In more technical terms, it is a natural polysaccharide – a complex sugar derived from the fermentation of carbohydrates, usually glucose from corn or soy (and sometimes dairy or wheat, but I’ll talk more about that below).

While xanthan gum is produced at a large scale in a lab it is, in fact, a natural substance. Like other fermented foods, such as yoghurt, it is created by bacteria. When the sugars from the soy or corn are fermented by a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, it forms a substance that is then dried and powdered, and used in the food industry.

It is generally sold to consumers as an off-white powder that has very little taste and a very slight fermented smell (if you have a super sensitive nose, like mine).

On product labels, xanthan gum may be referred to by name, or as the additive number 415.

Close up of an open jar of xanthan gum, with a small wooden measuring spoon, on a wooden board edges with mint green paint.

What is Xanthan Gum Used For?

It is widely used in the food industry as a thickening agent and stabiliser. It’s used in all kinds of products, from sauces and dressings, to ice creams, and of course, gluten free baking.

In gluten-free baking, xanthan gum works as an effective binder, and helps improve the texture and structure of baked goods.

It is added to both store-bought and homemade gluten free flour blends.

How Does It Work?

When xanthan gum is used in baking, it binds with the liquid in the dough or batter, and becomes gel-like, trapping air bubbles and helping to provide the structure that would otherwise be lacking with the absence of gluten.

It helps to prevent gluten free baked products from crumbling, providing a similar “stickiness” to gluten.

Because it binds with the liquid, it is also very effective in helping retain moisture in your baking.

As I talk about in my “Start Guide“, there is no product that is exactly-like-gluten-but-not-gluten or that works-exactly-like-gluten-without-being gluten, but xanthan gum is one of the closest products there is, and it’s a very useful ingredient to have in your pantry.

You’ll notice that most of the recipes on this website call for xanthan gum.

How to Use Xanthan Gum

Good news, xanthan gum is super easy to use! In most recipes, all you need to do is add it to the other dry ingredients. For best results, whisk it all together so the gum is evenly distributed before adding the wet ingredients.

How Much Should I Use?

This really depends on what you’re baking. Cakes tend to require more xanthan gum than biscuits or slices.

Usually, a recipe will tell you how much to add. All of the recipes on this website will tell you exactly how much to add.

If you’re modifying a recipe to make it gluten-free on your own, or if you’re using a recipe that suggests using a pre-made gluten-free flour blend with added gum, but you’re using a blend without gums, I suggest using 1/2 teaspoon of Xanthan gum for an average-sized cookie or muffin recipe, or 1 teaspoon for an average-sized cake or slice recipe.

You can always adjust the amount next time, depending on the result.

If the result is too gummy, or the dough or batter became too thick, use less xanthan gum next time. If the result was too crumbly, or the baked item sank, add a bit more xanthan gum next time.

An open jar of xanthan gum, with a small wooden measuring spoon holding a spoonful of the powder, on a wooden board edges with mint green paint.

Do I Need to Add Xanthan Gum to A Store-Bought Gluten Free Flour Blend?

Most likely no – if a gluten free flour blend you have bought contains a gum ingredient, then you shouldn’t need to add xanthan gum to the recipe. If you check the ingredients in the flour, it will likely list xanthan gum (or 415), guar gum (412) or vegetable gum or thickener (usually followed by a number).

Usually, that is sufficient to bind a recipe – those flour blends are designed to be used as-is, so if a recipe calls for xanthan gum, you can likely leave it out.

However, if you find that the baking turns out crumbly, overly dry or doesn’t rise well, you could try making it again and adding a bit of xanthan gum as well.

Is Guar Gum the Same as Xanthan Gum?

No. Guar gum is sometimes used in a similar way to xanthan gum, but it is not the same thing, and it isn’t used in the same amounts. Guar gum is generally better suited to use in cold products, like ice cream, or thickening fillings.

While there are suggestions online for swapping between the two, I personally don’t recommend doing that. You will get much better results by using a recipe that is written with the one you have.

Is Xanthan Gum Bad For You?

Xanthan gum is considered a very safe food additive. When eaten in large amounts it can cause digestive upset, however, that amount is far more than would be consumed in regular baking.

People with very severe allergies to corn, soy, dairy or wheat* may need to avoid consuming xanthan gum, as it can be produced with any of those and the source isn’t always specified on the packaging.

*Wheat allergy is different to Coeliac disease, and xanthan gum is safe for Coeliacs. Due to the way it is made, it does not contain any gluten.

Studies have been done that show that xanthan gum in larger amounts may have some health benefits although, again, those are more than would be consumed as part of a regular diet, or from eating regular gluten-free baking.

For more information on how the safety of food additives is assessed in New Zealand and Australia, visit the FSANZ website.

Long story short, it is a safe and very helpful food additive.

Where Can I Buy Xanthan Gum in New Zealand?

It is stocked in many NZ and Australian supermarkets, although it can depend on the individual store as to whether they stock it, and if they do, where it’s located.

I recommend having a look at the online shopping website for your local supermarkets to see if they sell it. If you’re in store, check the gluten free aisle (or “health food” aisle), and/or the baking aisle.

If your local supermarket doesn’t sell it, then no worries! It’s also available in most health food stores, organics shops and online. Not sure where to shop online? Yettemoosh and The Gluten Free Shop are both great places to start.

So there you have it, (hopefully) everything you wanted to know about xanthan gum! If there’s something I’ve missed or you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below.

Happy baking!

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