What Xanthan Gum Really Does to Your Bread

breadEver wonder what xanthan gum really does to your bread? If you’ve done much gluten-free shopping or baking, you’re familiar with xanthan gum. It’s an ever present ingredient in packaged gluten-free foods like bread, doughnuts, muffins, and cookies. It’s included in many gluten-free cake mixes, pancake mixes, and measure-for-measure flour blends. Gluten-free recipes often recommend the addition of xanthan gum.

Sometimes described as a thickener, stabilizer, or binder, xanthan gum is a polymer composed of sugar residues secreted by the microorganism Xanthomonas campestris — the same bacteria that creates black spots on broccoli and cauliflower. It was approved for use as a food additive in the US in 1968.

While it’s generally accepted within the scientific community that it is safe to consume up to 15 grams of xanthan gum per day, you may want to think twice before consuming too much due to its laxative effect. Many people with compromised or sensitive digestive systems report experiencing increased discomfort and bloating after consuming even minor amounts.

Now that you know what it is, let’s look at what it does. I’ve been baking bread — lots of bread. I’m trying to finish up the original recipes that will comprise Volume 1 of Cooking2Thrive’s Breads and Crackers recipe card set. I begin each new recipe by creating a gluten-free flour blend that will give me the mix of protein, starch, and texture needed to create a pleasing crumb and appropriate rise for the particular muffin, biscuit, cheese cracker or bread I’m baking.

After several tests, I baked a delicious sandwich bread with a good rise. My tasters loved it! My only concern was that the slices tended to crumble a bit on the 2nd day. Without too much thought I decided to try the traditional gluten-free solution to this problem. Don’t ask me why. I haven’t used gum in a recipe in the past four years.

Nonetheless, I went out and bought two small packets of xanthan gum and added 2.25 tsp to the bread recipe — slightly less than was recommended for a recipe containing just over 3 cups of flour. I left everything else the same. The dough immediately seemed drier and more gooey, not really more sticky to the hands, just more glommed together. The amount of rise totally changed. And the bread had a slimy texture I couldn’t stand to eat.

You may have read that xanthan gum increases the elasticity of gluten-free dough. That is not my experience. What it seems to do is function more like glue that pulls the flour grains closer together. In the case of bread, that means more density, a lower rise, and a slightly slick texture. 

Rather than abandon the idea of using xanthan gum, I baked a second variation using .25 tsp xanthan gum. The result was better, but still noticeably different from the original recipe containing no gum. Finally, I baked a loaf that included .125 tsp xanthan gum. As you can see in the illustration below, even that tiny amount changed the texture of the bread, but the result tastes good and holds together better than the original as the days go by.
When the final version of this recipe is published, I may have landed on an even better way to reduce crumbling over time, but you can benefit from my trial and error right away. Now that you can see what xanthan gum is really doing to your bread, you can explore the options of minimizing or eliminating xanthan gum for improved taste and texture.

What’s Happening at Cooking2Thrive

Here’s what’s happening at Cooking2Thrive…This weekend I’ve been baking bread. I have new neighbors, so I took them a warm loaf – gluten-free of course – yeasty, hearty, and multigrain. Nothing can make the smell of new paint seem more homey and inviting than the added smell of freshly baked bread.
multigrain bread

Yesterday’s bread didn’t rise quite as high as I wanted, so today I’m going to add a tiny bit more yeast, knead 2 minutes less and allow the dough to rise higher in the pan before it goes in the oven. I’ve baked bread off and on for over 30 years. Today’s exercise isn’t really necessary. I know I can play with the science, get the recipe perfect, and still the bread will vary.

Bread is affected by the temperature in the house, moisture in the air, really everything around it. The best bread is made by feeling your way through the process. Does the dough look moist enough? Should I let it rise a bit more even though I’m past the window in the recipe or does this height feel right? The more you bake, the easier it is to end up with the bread qualities you want even when you change things on the spot. Baking is as much art as it is science.

Nonetheless, we’re dedicated to providing you with recipes that are as perfect as possible. We put all of our recipes through a minimum of 3 levels of testing. The breads and crackers often go through many more rounds to get the taste, texture, and look just right. Of course that means we’re way behind where I’d like to be…way behind where I thought we’d be…in launching our full website.

So, where are we? I’m excited to say that we have several unique products produced and ready for the photo shoot that will give us images for the online store. We’re only 3 recipes away from having or first 2-pack ready to print. Our unique recipe boxes are on the shelves ready to fill with printed recipe cards. We’re designing the electronic version that you will be able to download or purchase on a credit card style USB drive. The educational portion of the site is built. We have several episodes of our cooking show edited and ready to post, and video interviews with a chef, MD, and life coach are ready as well. All of that feels great!
recipe box

And it feels frustrating. I feel like the closer I get to the home stretch, the further away I get. I’m familiar with the process. I’ve been a business owner for almost 25 years, but my other business feels more scientific. My clients originate the projects. All I have to do is finish out a narrow portion of each project in the manner that meets industry standards and pleases my clients. My timelines are based on their deadlines and they are rarely flexible. It is always a juggling act, but with a very routine flow.

This process felt totally organic in the beginning. It evolved naturally almost without effort because we could allow it to grow and evolve away from the public eye. It didn’t feel like a business. Now we’ve hit the point where other priorities enter the picture and I am struggling to get the art and science in balance. I have a vision for how I want things to happen and the sort of work environment I want to create. I know that as long as I keep baking, the bread will turn out fine. I’ll have perfect batches and I’ll throw some in the trash. It’s the process of all things creative.

And while I know that, I feel frustrated and discouraged and annoyed right now because I can’t wait to give you access and I have no idea what the real launch date will be. I feel bad that I’ve been so off on my estimated timelines up to this point. While I believe it’s important to have things working correctly when we launch, I feel like I’m letting you down somehow by taking so much time.

I am grateful for your patience, grateful that I’m excited about what we will offer you from the moment we launch, and grateful for all the hard lessons I’m learning in the process. I am – all foot stomping, silent screaming, frustrated tears included – grateful.

That’s the Cooking2Thrive update for today. How are things going with your endeavors? Feel free to share triumphs and trials below!