The Ultimate Guide for Using Xanthan Gum in Your Recipes
If you check the label on any store-bought ice cream, bread, or salad dressing, chances are that xanthan gum is listed as an ingredient. This flavorless, corn-based component helps stabilize foods to give them more substance.
It's great for use in baking and home cooking, as xanthan gum works well to thicken sauces and gravies. It gives gluten-free bread a chewier element and binds creamy liquids together.
What is Xanthan Gum?
First discovered by a team of chemists from the U.S. Department of Agriculture in the 1960s, xanthan gum is a common food additive that works as a stabilizer and thickener.
Xanthan gum is made from corn and occurs when glucose, lactose, or sucrose is fermented by bacteria, creating a gummy substance. The gooey mixture is then dehydrated and ground into powder. The powder is how the product is used in homes, food processors and bakeries worldwide.
From yogurt and frozen foods to mayonnaise, xanthan gum is a staple ingredient helping many foods.
Using Xanthan Gum
Just a tiny bit of the odorless, colorless xanthan gum goes a long way in thickening gravies, stabilizing cold and hot sauces, and giving gluten-free baking the right consistency.
This component makes a gluten-free, fat-free addition to soups and sauces and is what helps give ice cream its smooth texture.
Perhaps the best part is that xanthan gum is considered a vegan food since it's primarily made from corn sugars or cane sugar. In fact, it's often used in vegan dishes to replace eggs as a binder.
What Does Xanthan Gum Taste Like?
The reason xanthan gum works so well in various foods is that it does not have a taste. So, when added to a recipe, the intended flavors can still shine through.
It's important to note that while xanthan gum does get thick and turn to gel quickly, if it's mixed in before clumping, its inclusion goes unnoticed.
How to Store Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum should always be stored in an air-tight container away from moisture, heat, and direct sunlight. Storing it in a spot that's not too hot and not too cool will extend its shelf life. Many people keep it in their cupboards next to their other baking supplies, making it easy to grab.
How to Use Xanthan Gum in Your Recipes
Xanthan gum is very similar to gelatin in that it stabilizes mixtures. The difference is that xanthan is vegan, while gelatin is derived from animal sources.
Another benefit of substituting xanthan gum in your recipes is that it's great for people with food restrictions and allergies. For example, it works well for those who cannot tolerate soy, eggs, dairy, or gluten in their diet.
The powder requires no heating or cooling to form a gel, as it does so when it meets a liquid. And since it's not affected by heat and acid, it can be included in many juices and sauces.
When including xanthan gum in a recipe, it's recommended to use ¼ teaspoon per every cup of liquid. The powder will clump if it's not constantly in motion while being added to liquid. So, the powder should always be mixed using an immersion blender or blender rather than by hand because it does "gum" quickly.
When making sauces, blend the xanthan first using just a drop of oil before adding rice milk or soy milk for the best texture and taste. Doing so will make a sauce richer with more depth than butter, cream, or eggs would achieve. Remember, the more powder used, though, the thicker a liquid becomes.
As discussed, xanthan gum can be used in many hot and cold food recipes. That being said, let's look at the best uses for xanthan gum:
Xanthan gum is perfect for gluten-free baking because it acts as a binding agent that keeps baked goods together and improves their texture.
It gives foods flexibility, elasticity, and extensibility due to its ability to form a gel. It is important to understand that xanthan gum is not a one-to-one gluten substitution and doesn’t give the high levels of elasticity that gluten does.
However, this isn't an issue for brownies, cakes, cookies, and muffins. After all, the best sponge cake isn't supposed to be elastic!
Another benefit of xanthan gum in gluten-free baking is that it aids moisture retention, making your baked items moist for longer periods.
Xanthan Gum for Thickening Sauces
Thickening sauces with xanthan gum is simple. It's perfect for those times you don't have flour on hand or are preparing a gluten-free dish.
The process of thickening sauces with xanthan gum is similar, but not the same, as adding other agents to sauces.
For example, it can be used to thicken any type or amount of gravy. Just be sure to allow 15-minutes of thickening time after making the gravy.
Xanthan gum can be used for nearly any recipe that requires a stiffening agent. The process requires that the powder be added and then stirred constantly (or placed in the blender) until the desired thickness is achieved.
When using xanthan gum to thicken creams, sauces, and soups, the amount used will vary depending on the consistency of the food. It's generally recommended to use a ratio of 0.1% and 0.3%. Just beware that the more xanthan gum is added to a recipe, the thicker the sauce will become. So, don't add too much, or it may lead to digestive upset and a poor texture.
Xanthan Gum as a Gelatin Substitute
As we mentioned, xanthan gum is similar to gelatin, but it's not derived from animal collagen like gelatin. This makes xanthan very useful among vegans. While these two substances can be substituted for each other, they are not a direct one-to-one substitution.
The other thing to keep in mind is that xanthan gum doesn't work in place of gelatin all the time. Remember, xanthan gum is a thickening agent while gelatin is a gelling agent.
However, in most cases, xanthan and gelatin are interchangeable. Since xanthan is perfect for gluten-free baking, it replaces gelatin in a cheesecake very well. Alternatively, xanthan gum cannot be used in place of gelatin to make Jell-O®.
Yet there are some ways that xanthan outshines gelatin. One is that gelatin loses its pouring quality after it sets. Hence, when it comes to making something like marshmallow fluff, gelatin can make something like marshmallow, but it cannot be used to make the fluff, as this requires a thickening agent like xanthan.
Xanthan Gum for Stable Salad Dressing
There are very few varieties of salad dressing on the shelf that don't contain xanthan gum. In fact, it's one of the most popular emulsifiers used in this food because it helps to keep the liquids from separating.
In condiments, such as salad dressing, it helps prevent the oils from separating, thus keeping the dressing mixed well while in the bottle or jar. Due to the presence of xanthan gum, the ingredients can exist in a sort of suspension. Thus, consumers don't have to shake or re-blend the dressing before use.
Xanthan Gum for Smoother Ice Cream
As we explained, xanthan gum has many culinary uses for desserts. And just as it finds its way into gluten-free baking, xanthan gum is also required to make most types of ice cream on the market.
And while it's not added to ice cream due to its gluten-free properties, its presence is required for a smooth texture by reducing ice crystals. Though ice cream containing xanthan gum tastes like it's high in fat, it doesn’t contain heavy cream.
Xanthan gum can be added to any type of sorbet, sherbet, or ice cream to create a creamy textured ice cream that's both low in fat and suitable for vegans. The process of using xanthan in ice cream recipes is easy. The powder is mixed directly into the mixing bowl as outlined by the recipe.
In most cases, the amount of xanthan gum required is calculated by multiplying the number of liquid quarts in the ice cream by 0.25. This calculation should give the exact amount of xanthan needed for the recipe. For example, if a recipe calls for two quarts of liquid, 2 x 0.25 is 0.5 or half a teaspoon of xanthan gum.
When it comes to adding xanthan gum to ice cream, be sure to measure out the required amount and place it in a saltshaker. Then, whisk the base ingredient for the ice cream with one hand while shaking the xanthan in the bowl with the other until all the xanthan gum is dissolved into the ice cream base. After that, it's a matter of pouring the ice cream into a container and allowing it to freeze.
Ultimately, xanthan gum is a versatile, gluten-free, vegan product with no taste or odor, making it a great addition to many recipes. Just be sure to measure out the right amount and follow all instructions. Doing so will produce a tasty dish with the perfect balance of texture and flavors! An excellent source of xanthan gum is available through Cape Crystal Brands.
- Chef Edmund