Why I Don’t Bake With Xanthan Gum

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Xanthan Gum seems to be everywhere. But what is it? Is it actually bad for us? Why do we need to use it in our gluten-free baking? Can we substitute it? Here’s everything you need to know about this controversial ingredient including why I never use it.

Pin image saying What's the deal with Xanthan Gum

I blame xanthan gum for the reason that I was terrified of gluten-free baking for so many years. Everyone seemed to be using this weird gum and I didn’t know why. What does xanthan gum do? Why do we use xanthan gum in baking? It was one of those ingredients that everyone just took for granted and used in their gluten-free cakes with abandon. 

I took very small steps when beginning to bake gluten-free, using nut flours and polenta in place of flour. However when I wanted to stretch myself and bake a wider range of cakes, biscuits and desserts I found that I couldn’t find any recipes which didn’t rely on xanthan gum. But why?

It was time I learnt all about it, what it is, why we use it and if it was possible to make a gluten-free cake without xanthan gum (hint: it is!)

Lemon and Poppy Seed Muffins {gluten-free}

What is xanthan gum?

Xanthan gum has been around since the 1960s and was developed by fermenting plant bacteria to create this gummy product which has a multitude of uses in the food industry and also conversely in the oil industry and cosmetic industry.

In the food industry xanthan gum is a common additive that you will find time and time again in both gluten and non-gluten products. It is a thickening agent and stabliliser which prevents ingredients from separating and can also add viscosity to liquids.

Its use in commercial products can be in processed sauces or salad dressings to stop them splitting on the shelf. You might also find xanthan gum used in ice cream to slow the formation of ice crystals which leads to a creamier texture.

However you might know it best for when it crops up in the ingredients list for a gluten-free cake or cookie.

Side shot of a gluten-free scone filled with clotted cream and strawberry jam on a wire rack

Why do we use it in gluten-free baking?

Wheat-free cakes lack the gluten which provides structure and elasticity and is what makes your cakes soft and fluffy. Gluten-free cakes have a reputation for being dry and crumbly and so many bakers turn to xanthan gum to replicate the necessary function of gluten.

A small amount helps to bind the gluten-free flour together and add bounce. It is also odourless and flavourless so you might be non-the-wiser that you were eating a gluten-free cake.

Coconut Lime Drizzle Cake {gluten-free}

Is xanthan gum bad for you?

All studies show that it is safe to consume for adult humans. However there’s a disturbing bit of data which you can read about here regarding a milk thickener containing xanthan gum which was given to babies under 12 months which has led to it not being recommended for infants.

However most health professionals agree that for adults it is safe to consume up to 15g a day and since a little goes a long way it is unlikely that you’ll ever get anywhere near that limit.

A slice of lemon curd cake on a

Xanthan gum side effects

The studies show that an excess use of xanthan gum creates a laxative effect and troubles the digestive system. Since it is used to bind the molecules of food together xanthan gum can cement the molecules so well that the food is harder to break down in the body.

After a light bit of googling it soon becomes apparent that xanthan gum is a very polarising ingredient in gluten-free products. Coeliacs or people with a gluten intolerance tend to have very irritable digestive systems and there is a lot of reports of people experiencing the same kind of reaction with xanthan gum that they might experience with gluten.

It is also worth knowing that the original fermentation process to create xanthan gum is often begun using glucose, sucrose or lactose but in some cases a wheat based medium is used to grow the bacteria.

If you’re struggling to find an excellent gluten-free vanilla cake made without xanthan gum which still has a light fluffy texture and doesn’t crumble when slicing and serving then try this foolproof recipe for the Best Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake.

Best Gluten-Free Vanilla Cake on a cake stand on a wooden table

Xanthan gum substitutes

There are lots of alternatives if you want to start gluten-free baking without using this controversial product but still want fluffy cakes that don’t crumble on touch.

Guar gum and locust bean gum tend to have the same reputation so it might serve you well to avoid all gum products if you find you don’t react well to them. However, the following can also can help to mimic the effects of gluten:

The way I bypass the inclusion of xanthan gum in my bakes is to choose stickier flours such as sweet rice flour and tapioca flour blended with lighter flours such as oat flour or sorghum. If you are interested in going down this route then I recommend you begin with my Ultimate Guide to Gluten-Free Flours.

ginger biscuits on a cooling rack

So in a nutshell why do I not use xanthan gum?

I like to keep my baking as additive free as possible. That’s not to say that I don’t occasionally use sprinkles or food colouring or that I avoid commercially produced ingredients completely but I just like to be mindful when I do use these products. However, gluten-free recipes can rely too heavily on xanthan gum and I don’t think it serves our bakes well to use this artificial ingredient as a crutch to achieve products that resemble their gluten counterparts.

If I can use delicious and flavour deep flours that thicken and bind like tapioca flour or sweet rice flour or flours that add natural moisture like nut flours then I just see no need to introduce another ingredient into my kitchen.

Also, my digestion isn’t brilliant and I find my body can always tell if I’ve consumed a gluten-free commercial product that incorporates xanthan gum so if I can I like to avoid.

Absolutely no recipes on this website use xanthan gum. If you need a gluten-free cake or cookie or dessert. Then browse through hundreds of different recipes for inspiration.

Comments

  1. Betty Dietz says

    Than you for this info!

  2. Thank you thank you thank you for this post and your no-xanthan gum policy.

    Xanthan gum makes me violently ill, there is no other explanation. I had been ‘overdosing’ on wonderful gluten and dairy free products from the supermarket, delighted to AT LAST find food I could just pop in the oven without all the faff and bother of cooking from scratch. But I kept getting horrific bouts of sickness and worse…why? Maybe it was the million ingredients in those products?

    So I stopped eating them and began to bake my own bread, using about 5 ingredients… and I was still getting bouts of horrific sickness. The only product that was suspect was xanthan gum, the only unnatural ingredient with the eggs, GF flour, yeast, sugar. It had to be that.

    I gave up anything containing xanthan gum…and was never sick again.

    So your website is a godsend!

    • Thank you so much for sharing. I was exactly the same! I had no idea why I was getting so sick eating gluten-free bread and cakes and it wasn’t until I started isolating the ingredients and realising that the common ingredient all these products had was xanthan gum. It was a revelation and I never looked back.

      • Thanks for your reply, it means so much to me to find another ‘sufferer’. Sorry that sounds horrible but I was really getting so violently ill regularly I thought I had some terrible disease. But now I so rarely eat things with xanthan gum in, I can get away with it- just the odd cake etc.
        I look forward to the fashion of using xanthan gum to pass. Oh one tip- Warburtons don’t use xanthan gum in their bread! They use psyllium husk instead. Worth trying their loaves, I have one every so often.
        Thanks Georgina 🙂

  3. Karen Franklin says

    I plan to make vanilla paste in the next few weeks. One of the ingredients in the recipe is xanthan gum- used to thicken the paste. Have you made your own vanilla paste? Any thoughts about the how xanthan gum replacements you suggest might perform in vanilla paste?

    • Hi Karen, I have not heard of using xanthan gum in homemade vanilla paste. I suppose it is used to thicken it but I just wouldn’t have thought it was necessary. I have made it before but a ages ago and I just used vanilla beans, a liquid sweetener for viscosity (like honey, maple syrup or agave) and a bit of sugar. I would just leave out the xanthan gum.

  4. Can’t tell you how happy I am to have found your website as I’ve just begun to bake gluten free in the US with a wonderful website; however, in researching flours in the UK, where we spend the summers, I wasn’t seeing xanthan gum in the GF flours and was beginning to panic. I also read that info about xanthan gum not being especially good for wheat intolerance folks, like myself. And suddenly, there you are – in the UK and baking without xanthan gum!! How lucky could I get. Thank you for all your work in this field and your dedication to those of us in need.

    • Hi Ronni, that’s great – I’m so happy you are finding the information about baking without xanthan gum useful. I think a lot of people use it as they think if it’s gluten-free it must need xanthan gum and that’s not always the case. Thank you for your feedback!

  5. Thank you for clearly explaining Xanthum. I have always disliked gluten-free store-bought cakes and biscuits because they have so many additives. I suffer with digestion problems from time to time and prefer baking with alternative flours and I have avoided adding additives to my baking too. Well done.

  6. Thank you for the information! It was really helpful. I’m about to start baking and cooking gluten-free, and I want to avoid as many additives as possible. I’m looking forward to looking through your website for recipes after I read your Guide to Gluten-Free Flours.

  7. Thanx so much for this valuable piece of information. I would like to refer to this in a future Blog Post about my gluten free cooking/baking.

  8. Hi Georgina, thank you for this post – and the whole blog. I am not gluten intolerant, but both my husband’s daughters are. I am now learning how to bake with different flours, and frequently finding the results more delicious than previously. As a slightly tentative baker, this site gives me confidence to experiment with more faith that the results will be edible. Hurray for you.

  9. Hi Georgina, I was diagnosed with Celiac disease 2.5 years ago and I still feel intimidated and procrastinate trying gluten-free recipes the first time. One reason has been wanting to avoid xanthan gum and the other is just fear of failure. Trial and error cooking and baking has never been something I easily get past when there’s error. Thank you for your courage and tenacity in creating recipes for those of us who need or want to cook and bake gluten-free, additive free, organic, and healthier, but lack the inner drive to experiment and discover solutions on our own. And thank you for sharing them!

    • Georgina Hartley says

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. Gluten-free baking (and cooking) seems so overwhelming at first. So many different ingredients, so many ingredients to avoid. I still fail all the time, especially with my cake recipes. Most of the cakes on this blog have gone through rigorous testing and I almost never get my bakes right first time around. But that’s what I love to do and every time one of my cakes is too dry or too wet or just doesn’t taste good then I learn a bit more and hopefully I can then share what I’ve learnt. Because when gluten-free baking works – it really works. So happy you are enjoying the blog!!

  10. Emily Norman says

    Hiya:-)
    First I have to say, I’m not a baker. I don’t really understand the science of it. But I wat to bake. I have a problem with wheat, not gluten. I’d like to know if adding vital wheat gluten can help with the consistency or mouth feel in baked goods.
    Thanks so much
    Emily

    • Hi Emily, I don’t know much about vital wheat gluten other than it is hydrated wheat which has had all starch removed so only the gluten remains. It’s also the main ingredient in Seitan beef which is an interesting fact. However, vital wheat gluten is still wheat and so if you are intolerant of wheat then this would not be a product I would recommend. I have also not used this product at all as I am gluten-free so it’s definitely not something I would use in my baking. Sorry I can’t be of more help!!

  11. Faith Ukwuomah says

    I’m personally not a fan of xanthan gum myself. But I do use other binders such as gluten-free cereal flakes (e.g.: quinoa flakes) and psyllium husk.

  12. This article is brilliant as having been diagnosed as Ceoliac several years ago I found I was sometimes in more discomfort than previously probably due to xantheum gum. I have avoided it since and found things to be fine….thank you

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