Substitutes for Xanthan & Guar Gum – What to use instead
Whether you chose not to use gums because you are allergic to them (xanthan gum is made from corn), their high cost or you simply dislike their texture in baked goods, there are some alternatives you can use.
However before you substitute xanthan gum or guar gum, you first need to understand what it does in your baking recipes.
When gums are mixed with water, they turn into a gloopy, viscous mixture, mimicking those similar properties of gluten.
To see for yourself the texture that is created (and to make a great slime for a Halloween party!), place 1 1/2 cups cold water in a tall container and insert an immersion blender (you really need the power from an immersion blender or Vitamix style blender for this experiment to work).
With the machine running, quickly pour in 2 1/2 tsp of xanthan gum. Within seconds it will thicken, and the longer you blend the thicker it will become. This is only to show you visually the properties of gums – when added to recipes they are used in their powdered form and mixed in thoroughly with the flour(s) before the wet ingredients are added. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a gloopy mess in your batter that won’t blend smoothly.
That fun little experiment showed us a few of xanthan gums ‘glutinous’ properties – its thickening ability, and how the mixture expanded, almost doubling in size.
Now let’s review what the real stuff (gluten) does…
High-rising cakes with a smooth texture and delicate crumb, beautifully shaped (even braided!) bread loaves that are soft and tender, crunchy pizza crusts with pillowy soft insides, are just a few of the delicious baked goods that can be created with wheat flour…and more importantly, gluten.
Above describes the outcome of baking with gluten, so let’s understand the structural functions gluten preforms during the mixing and baking process that enables it to create such wonderful baked goods:
- Binding – keeps ingredients combined together in a smooth, thick & viscous mixture.
- Elasticity – dough can be stretched and shaped, allowing its form to be maintained as it bakes. Batters are able to stretch significantly and rise as they bake.
- Structure – allows the air pockets that are created by the leveners to hold its shape while the mixture bakes, thus creating loft/rise.
- Retains moisture – keeps baked goods fresher longer, prevents a crumbly texture.
When baking with gluten-free flours, all of those functions need to be replaced with something else or you will end up with baked goods that are dry, flat, crumbly and very dense. Which brings us back to adding gums, like xanthan and guar gum to replace the gluten.
Before you completely dismiss the idea of using gums, here is one last attempt at changing your mind (since it really does produce a better tasting and textured gluten-free product)…
Xanthan gum acts as a thickener, a stabilizer, an emulsifier and a foaming agent – and it’s able to maintain all these properties at a wide range of baking temperatures. Its strong network of protein enables trapped gases and steam to form pockets (and be maintained), thus creating a better rising product. In comparison, gum substitutes are generally gel-like in consistency and are much weaker in their structure. This lack of structure produces baked goods that are denser because they aren’t able to rise as well.
For more information, you can read our article What’s the Difference Between Xanthan & Guar Gum (contrary to their names they are natural!).
Simply omitting gums from your recipes is an option, however, gums not only affect the appearance and texture of your baked goods but also taste. So if you want to avoid gums, then you really need to replace it with something else.
Keep in mind there is not one substitute that is right for every recipe – each substitute has its own properties, taste and texture, and reacts uniquely with different ingredients. A substitute that works well for one recipe, may not work the same for another.
Try One of These Xanthan & Guar Gum Substitutes…
1. Agar Agar
Derived from algae or seaweed, it is a flavorless product sold in powdered form, flakes and sheets. It is a vegan alternative to gelatin.
How it works in gluten-free baking: acts as a binder and thickener. Produces stretchy dough, chewy breads and moist cakes. If too much is used it will cause excess moisture to be retained in your baked goods, making them soggy.
How to prepare: in jelly-like dishes, it first must be dissolved in a liquid, boiled for 3-5 minutes, cooled (see agar’s package for more detailed instructions). However to use in baked goods, it can be used in its dry form.
How to substitute: For breads use 1 tsp powder for each cup of gluten-free flour. For cookies, cakes, and muffins use 1/2 tsp powder for each cup of gluten-free flour. Add in with the dry ingredients.
2. Chia Seeds
Harvested from a plant in the mint family, these flavorless seeds are extremely high in fiber and omega-3.
How it works in gluten-free baking: helps to bind and thicken.
How to prepare: in a small dish mix together 1 part chia seeds to 2 parts boiling water, stir vigorously then let sit about 5 minutes until thickened. Allow to cool to room temperature before using. Ground chia seeds are best, but whole can be used as well.
How to substitute: For breads use 1 tsp prepared chia seed mixture for each cup of gluten-free flour. For cookies, cakes, and muffins use 1/2 tsp prepared chia seed mixture for each cup of gluten-free flour. In place of xanthan gum, replace at a 1:1 ratio (dry). Prepare seeds as directed above before adding in with wet ingredients.
3. Egg Whites
How it works in gluten free-baking: acts both a binder and a riser. Best in cakes and breads. Egg whites alone might not be enough for certain recipes to achieve the desired results. In those cases it is best to add in another substitute like chia seeds for a cake recipe or psyllium for bread.
How to substitute: In addition to any other eggs called for in the recipe, whip 1 egg white and fold into the batter at the very end.
4. Ground Flax Seed
Because of their thick outer shell, they must be ground before using. You can buy them already ground, or use a coffee/spice grinder to grind your own.
How it works in gluten-free baking: used to bind ingredients together, add moisture and softness.
How to prepare: in a small skillet mix together 1 part ground flax seeds to 2 parts water. Stir and let simmer about 5 – 10 minutes until thickened. Allow to cool completely before adding to recipe.
How to substitute: For breads use 1 tsp prepared flax seed mixture for each cup of gluten-free flour. For cookies, cakes, and muffins use 1/2 tsp prepared flax seed mixture for each cup of gluten-free flour. In place of xanthan gum, replace at a 1:1 ratio (dry). Prepare seeds as directed above before adding in with wet ingredients.
Derived from the collagen in animal tissue (mainly pig skin), it forms a thick jelly-like mixture and is most commonly used in Jell-O type recipes and aspics.
How it works in gluten-free baking: helps mixtures to bind, creates stretchy dough and helps to retain moisture. Great for bread recipes. If too much is used it will cause excess moisture to be retained in your baked goods, making them soggy.
How to prepare: when using in jellies or mousse the gelatin must first be dissolved in cold water then left to thicken. Once set, gently warm the mixture to liquefy it again before adding to the recipe.
How to substitute: in bread recipes it can be added directly to the dry ingredients in its powdered form – 1 tsp per 2 ½ cups of gluten-free flour. For all other baking recipes add the liquefied mixture in with the room temperature wet ingredients.
Derived from a complex carbohydrate naturally found in many fruits (like in citrus peel), it is a vegan alternative to gelatin. More commonly used in jam and jelly making to thicken, it can also be used in making gluten-free breads.
How it works in gluten-free baking: helps mixtures to bind and retain moisture.
How to substitute: in bread recipes it can be added directly to the dry ingredients in its powdered form – 1 tsp per 2 ½ cups of gluten-free flour.
7. Psyllium Fiber/Psyllium Husk Powder
Psyllium is the husk from the seed of the Plantago ovata plant (also called ispaghula). It is most commonly used as a laxative and fibre supplement – it is the main ingredient in Metamucil. Besides using as a gum substitute, you can add it as a supplement to any bread recipe to improve its texture.
How it works in gluten-free baking: helps to bind and improve structure.
How to prepare: in a small dish mix together 1 part psyllium husk powder to 2 parts boiling water, stir vigorously until thickened. Allow to cool to room temperature before using.
How to substitute: When using as a dough improver for bread, add 1 Tbsp in its powdered form to the dry ingredients. When using in place of xanthan gum, in bread recipes add 1 tsp psyllium husk powder for each cup of gluten-free flour, prepared as above, added to the wet ingredients. For cookies, cakes, and muffins use 1/2 tsp psyllium husk powder for each cup of gluten-free flour.
Time to Start Baking (& Testing)!
Just like substituting wheat flour for gluten-free flour, the overall taste, texture and appearance of your baked goods will be affected – which is why xanthan and guars gums are added.
Gums are your best chance at producing successful gluten-free baked goods, so when you further substitute the gums for another product, be aware the results will be affected once again.
But with a little trial and error on your part, you are sure to find a substitute that you like the taste and texture of, as well as what works best for your recipe!
Ciabatta Slices – Vincent Talleu, Wikipedia
Agar Agar – Unkky, Wikipedia
Psyllium Husts – Cary Bass, Wikipedia
This is an extremely informative report. Thank you. I still remember some of my initial attempts
at gluten free baking. I thought,”I KNOW HOW TO BAKE.” Resulting in some dismal results. I
think i still haven’t recovered completely.Really thanks, and keep informing and reminding us,
Thanks so much for letting us know. It’s totally not fair that gluten free baking is so much about trial and error, especially when you’re trying to convert traditional recipes into gluten free. My goal is for me to make all the errors then pass along to you only the good trials 🙂 Have a great day!
I am new to all of this Celiac fun so I am glad there are alternatives to my only options. Can’t wait to try. Thanks.
Thank you for the information. I think I will continue to keep using Xanthan gum in my gluten free baking! Much easier. I really enjoy your recipes and all the information you give us. My Neurologist suggested I try gluten free October 2014 to see if it would help my migraines. I still have one or two a month but not every week! Thanks again for the great job you do!
Marla, do you have a recipe using Chia seeds in a bread that a child would eat. My son is very picky about his bread needing to be fluffy and white.
Thank you for the info on the alternatives.
his article states that xantham gum is made from corn, but I read an article not even a week ago that states it’s made from soy. Can anyone clear this up for me? I am trying to keep soy out of my husband’s diet, and I am celiac. Finding out that xantham gum and guar gum were both made out of soy is making my life unbelievably difficult. I would be very grateful!
Xanthan gum can be made from corn, wheat, dairy, or soy. Although the majority of the time it’s corn. Just be sure to read the label, and it will tell you what source it was derived from. Guar gum is made from guar beans, although some brands can add soy proteins during their manufacturing process. Gums are definitely a product you need to read the label to check if contains any other allergens you’re sensitive to.
Are you wanting to use chia seeds in the recipe to replace the xanthan gum or the eggs?
If the xantham gum or guar gum is made from soy will it be indicated on the label “contains soy”?
The FDA and Canadian labeling laws have a number of food allergens they have identified that must now be listed on food labels, aside from wheat/gluten, soy is one of them. So yes, if soy is contained in product that was made in the US or Canada, it will be noted on the label.
Dennis’ wife here, I am allergic to all of the vegetable gums. Therefore, most gluten free items I buy for him (he is highly allergic to glutens), I can’t consume. This list might help me some. Thanks
Robin…I’ve been doing this for over 13 years now and found not everything works well with every recipe. So many recipes now use bean flours to replace the fiber missing from wheat. I don’t like the taste it gives the recipe…There are other ways of getting fiber…you can add some flax seed that doesn’t add the bad taste as some of the bean flours…or…get your fiber elsewhere…never mind in your baking products!!! I have several containers with different mixes…but one works the best with most recipes. My first try at a gf recipe, I didn’t have any binders, so I baked a cake without it…then learned my lesson…The cake fell apart. Do yourself a favor…when you try a recipe and it doesn’t work, don’t throw it out..Keep it on file with a big X through it, so you don’t make the same mistake again. I used to try a lot of recipes from the Internet and they were terrible…and then down the line, I ended up making the same or similar recipe that was terrible..So now I check my records to make sure I don’t make the same bad recipe again. I have tried both guar and xantan gum and found xantan gum works best in all my ingredients. Guar is less expensive, but doesn’t work as well. I do a lot of baking now…everything….bread, rolls, pizza crust (which I’m selling to a restaurant) cookies, cakes, pies, which a lot of people purchase from me……you name it…My kitchen became a chemistry lab..and believe me…I was never a fan of baking!!! …This is really trial and error…Hang in there…there are a lot of good recipes out there…I have tried many ‘real’ recipes…just replacing the flour with a gf mix..and you do need a mix…One gf flour does not work!!!…So save every recipe you like..Eventually, you’ll have your own cookbook: :)..Hope all goes well for you.
Your informative report on use of gums was very helpful. What do you do when a GF all purpose flour has the gum in it. Should you use more? The banana bread I baked said there was guar gum in the mix. However, it didn’t rise like I expected it to. Thanks,
No don’t add more. Too much can make baked goods dense and gummy in texture, and since we don’t know the ratio of xanthan gum they add per cup of GF flour in their mix, best not to mess with it. Next time try increasing the leaveners (baking soda/powder) that are called for in the recipes by 25%, and/or add an extra whipped egg white (beat the white until firm peaks form, then fold into the finished batter). Those things will help to get a better rise. Hope it helps! Have a great day 🙂
If I substitute guar gum for zanthum gum what is the substute rate? Anna