Unveiling the Mystery of Xanthan Gum

From St. John’s celiac newsletter, by Carol Fenster, PH.d.
Xanthan gum, use it, and you won’t know it’s there. Forget it, and things fall apart – literally.

Most people have never heard of this mysterious ingredient; others have a vague recollection of seeing it somewhere on a label. When novices are first learning the ropes of gluten free baking, it’s not uncommon for them to forget (or intentionally omit) xanthan gum. You may be reluctant to pluck down $10 to $12 for this important little package of tasteless, white powder, particularly if your grocery bill is already skyrocketing because of other special baking ingredients you are buying. But, if you don’t want to find yourself humming Patsy Cline’s “I fall to pieces” in the kitchen, read on about this important ingredient

What is Xanthan Gum?

Xanthan gum is a common ingredient found in many commercial products. It is added to commercial salad dressings and found in snacks (like energy bars) and desserts (such as ice cream). Xanthan gum is made from a pure culture fermentation of a carbohydrate (most likely corn) with the plant bacteria. The mixture is then purified, yielding xanthan gum, a polysaccharide gum. In gluten free baking, xanthan gum performs a function similar to gluten – it’s the glue that holds our baked goods to-gether. Picture millions of tiny cells or balloons in your batter or dough. As the leavening (baking powder, baking soda and yeast) start expanding, the cells created by xanthan gum provide little containers to hold the carbon dioxide released by the leavening agent. These carbon dioxide filled cells help your baked goods rise. Without xanthan gum, gluten free baked goods would fall flat.