Guar gum, xanthan gum and how to use them
by Laura Silber
One of the biggest challenges of gluten-free baking, especially when adapting gluten-containing recipes to gluten-free, is finding a way to duplicate or approximate the behavior of wheat flour. Gluten provides
elasticity and structure, which allows the coherent texture results we associate with the European-style baking traditions of the Western hemisphere.
Because gluten-free flours behave differently, we frequently use blends of two or more flours to achieve the right texture— a primary grain or bean flour for base and heft (sorghum, rice, garbanzo bean, etc.) combined with something starchy to provide the necessary stretch (tapioca, potato starch, arrowroot, corn starch, etc.). This is why so many gluten-free recipes provide a ‘flour blend’ base recipe ahead of the baking recipe.
Sometimes the blend itself is not enough to provide sufficient structure to the baked good for a successfully moist and chewy result, especially for yeast breads and finetextured cakes. Guar gum and xanthan gum are the easiest and most reliable ingredients used to replace the gluey stretch provided by gluten. Ground flax seeds and ground chia seeds can also be used.
Xanthan gum is a derivative of bacteria that are found in a vegetable mold, which are then processed in a grain base, usually corn. Although it is widely used in prepared foods and is an excellent and reliable source of texture in baked goods, people with sensitivities to corn frequently find they cannot tolerate products containing xanthan gum. Overexposure to xanthan gum in foods can also sometimes lead to a digestive intolerance to it. It is by far the most recommended ‘stretch’ ingredient, and I was using it in most of my baking until I did more research into it. I decided to try switching to guar gum, which is less reactive and less processed, and so far I’ve had equal success using that. It can be used one-for-one in recipes that call for xanthan gum.
Guar gum is made from the fiber of the guar bean, a versatile drought-resistant crop grown primarily in India and Pakistan. It is easy to use and does not change the flavor of the baking recipe. It does not have the tendency to cause digestive distress due to frequent use, and I like that it is not corn-based or a chemically processed derivative. One to 1½ tsp. per recipe is usually appropriate for adapting cakes, cookies, and breads to gluten-free.