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.

Two Birds With One Stone – Gluten-Free Birds No Less!

During a weekend grocery store run, I inadvertently killed two birds with one stone. I love it when I can use a cliché! And it’s even better when I can use that cliché to refer to serendipitous discoveries that solve two major annoyances of the gluten-free world!

If you often rely on salads as the gluten-free option on restaurant menus, you probably know how it feels to have to resort to oil and vinegar as dressing because you can’t get enough information to determine if the other available dressings are safe. I’m not sure why it seems more difficult to find out about dressing than it does about entrées, but I always feel like it’s a more laborious process.

One local restaurant’s response to an inquiry was to pull out a binder filled with plastic sheets containing handwritten dressing recipes and let me read all of them. Another took me into the kitchen and pulled gallon plastic jugs off the shelf so I could read the ingredient list. My favorite barbecue restaurant has 7 different individually packaged dressings that contain too many questionable ingredients for me feel comfortable eating them. That’s just 3 of the places I frequent. Overall, the dressing dilemma is often cumbersome.

Carrying dressing with me is also cumbersome or limited to tiny packets. That’s why I was excited to see this silicone Dressing-2-Go container. First, I think it’s cute and the tops come in multiple colors. I also like that it’s soft and has a large opening that makes it easy to fill and easy to dispense without leaving much of the dressing stuck in the container. The packaging indicates this product is BPA free, top rack dishwasher safe, and safe for use in the refrigerator, freezer, and microwave.

Because of the snap shut top, I would not throw this into my purse without first putting it in a plastic bag. With all the heavy stuff I carry, I can see it bumping against an obstacle that could press on the silicone and cause the top to leak and I’d rather be safe than sorry. Nonetheless, my salad dressing options have just increased and that is a good thing! One bird down.

The same grocery shopping trip resulted in my discovery of these .32 oz packets of xanthan gum from Hodgson Mill. Even this small packet contains about 8 servings. I hardly ever use xanthan gum in a recipe so I’ve always been annoyed at the 6 and 8 oz containers that are generally available. I don’t really know the shelf life of xanthan gum, but I’ve had about 7.5 oz of an 8 oz bag sitting in my pantry for 5 years. It’s probably time to throw it away – especially now that I have this tiny packet on hand if I should encounter a xanthan gum crisis. Old xanthan gum thrown in the trash! Two birds down.
xg packet
I think that’s enough birds for today. I’m grateful for my new discoveries, the delicious salad I had for lunch, my single working air conditioner, a 95º rather than 102º day, and the beautiful begonias blooming on my porch. I hope your day is filled with fun discoveries too!

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”