Xanthan Gum: The Gluten-Free Baker's Secret Weapon

One of the trickiest things about gluten-free baking is creating new versions of traditional recipes that still taste and feel the same as the original.

Think about pizza crust, for example. The fact that you can stretch, roll, bend, and shape a traditional pizza crust into almost every shape imaginable is due in large part to the development of the gluten in the flours. If we were to follow the same ingredient proportions, simply substituting gluten-free flour, we’d end up with a huge mess on our hands.

So when we’re using gluten-free flour in our baking (like with the Gluten-Free Chocolate Cake-Pan Cake pictured above), we need to somehow re-create that binding nature of gluten without actually using gluten itself.

The secret? Xanthan gum.

We add xanthan gum to many of our gluten-free recipes, and you’ve probably wondered what the heck it is and why we need to use it. In today’s post, we’re taking a deep dive into the world of xanthan gum, explaining what it is, how to use it, and why it makes a difference in our gluten-free baking.

 What is xanthan gum via @kingarthurflour

What is xanthan gum?

Xanthan gum is a common food additive that you find in everything from sauces and dressings to ice cream and yogurt and, of course, gluten-free baked goods. In most cases, it’s used as a thickening agent, or as a stabilizer to prevent separation of ingredients (like yogurt).

Without getting too scientific, xanthan gum is produced through the fermentation of sucrose, glucose, and lactose. After the fermentation period, the resulting moist residue is dried, and then ground into a fine powder. When mixed with liquid, this powder becomes viscous and almost turns gel-like.


Why do we use xanthan gum in gluten-free baking?

In gluten-free baking, we rely on xanthan gum to provide elasticity and stickiness in our doughs and batters. Since we don’t have gluten present, we need something that acts as the binding agent for the flour, helps hold onto some moisture, and helps give the baked good some structure.

If you’ve ever forgotten xanthan gum in a recipe, then we bet you know the feeling of having that delicious baked good just crumble in your hands. That’s why xanthan gum is so great for GF bakers: it helps keep our baked goods from falling apart on us!


How to use xanthan gum in gluten-free baking

When using xanthan gum in gluten-free baking, a little goes a long way.

Before you start a recipe, or consider adding xanthan gum, your first step is to check the ingredients on the side of your bag of gluten-free flour. If the mix already contains xanthan gum, you likely won’t need to add any more, as those flours/mixes have been specifically formulated to take that into account. Our gluten-free baking mixes, for example, include xanthan gum. We’ve done this so that you can simply make the recipe straight from the box without having to worry about finding specialty ingredients.

If your flour mixture doesn’t contain xanthan gum, then you’ll most likely want to add some to your recipe, especially if you’re making something like bread, pizza, cake, etc., that traditionally relies on the development of gluten. Our gluten-free flour doesn’t contain xanthan gum, as we developed it to be ideal for a wide range of baked goods; you can use it for almost everything.

While there’s no specific formula per se, we start with 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum for every 1 cup of flour in a recipe. That ratio might increase slightly if we’re working with something that needs more elasticity (like Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls), or will decrease for something that doesn’t need as much structure (like Gluten-Free Shortbread Cookies).

In general, you should never need more than 1 tablespoon of xanthan gum for a gluten-free recipe (unless you’re baking commercially). And actually, adding too much xanthan gum can compromise the texture of your baked goods, making them too sticky and gummy. If you’ve ever had a recipe that simply won’t bake through no matter what you try, we recommend checking the amount of xanthan gum you’re using – that could potentially be the culprit.


Xanthan gum and allergies

Looking for a substitute for xanthan gum due to allergies or other issues? You can use guar gum 1:1 in most recipes.


Recipes that use xanthan gum

We’ve pulled together five of our favorite gluten-free recipes that use xanthan gum to achieve a perfect texture. Check them out below and be sure to leave us a comment if you have any questions about using xanthan gum in your GF baking!


How to make Gluten-Free Bread in a Bread Machine via @kingarthurflour1. Gluten-Free Sandwich Bread

You know a piece of sliced sandwich bread has the perfect crumb, with holes just big enough to catch your mayo? Xanthan gum helps you get that with gluten-free bread. It locks in moisture to the dough, while also providing structure, so your loaf will hold its shape while baking and slice up perfectly when cooled. For those looking to store their bread, check out our gluten-free sandwich bread blog post, complete with storage tips – and a crouton recipe!


Gluten-Free Pizza Crust via @kingarthurflour2. Gluten-Free Pizza Crust

Traditional pizza is rolled out and sometimes even tossed overhead. On the other hand, gluten-free dough is much stickier and must be shaped with your hands. We add xanthan gum to the dough so that when spread thinly across a pan, it will hold its shape and won’t crack when baked.


Gluten-Free Pumpkin Cake Doughnuts via @kingarthurflour3. Gluten-Free Pumpkin Doughnuts

Check out these perfectly shaped donuts: they spring back lightly when you touch them, and hold together nicely when bitten into. Xanthan gum helps make for one fabulous doughnut-eating experience.


Gluten-Free Carrot Cake via @kingarthurflour4. Gluten-Free Carrot Cake

Want a cake that won’t crumble on you? Xanthan gum is your partner in crime. Adding it to cakes like this gorgeous carrot cake binds the ingredients and result in a most tender, moist cake.


Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls via @kingarthurflour5. Gluten-Free Cinnamon Rolls

See those luscious swirls of cinnamon in the bun? Xanthan gum makes the dough elastic enough to roll, creating a delicious spiraled bun that holds its shape while baking.

Alyssa Rimmer

Alyssa grew up in Vermont, attended the University of Vermont and now lives in New York City, where she bakes and writes recipes for her blog Simply Quinoa. She's been living gluten-free for over four years. Alyssa also authors her own food blog and enjoys ...


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Xanthan gum is used in ice creams to smooth texture, and in salad dressings to maintain an emulsion. In gluten free bread, it helps to keep the structure. In wheat based bread, the gluten provides the structure, so as a general rule, it’s not needed in non-GF recipes. Happy baking! Laurie@KAF

  1. Norma

    Hi—I want to make fresh pasta for a gluten-intolerant friend. Should I add xanthan gum to the gf flour, or is it only needed for baking things that need to rise? Thanks!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      I would still use the xanthan gum, Norma. It will allow your dough to roll more easily and it will help with the mouth feel. Jon@KAF

  2. Parul

    Hi ,

    Good info on Xanthan gum , as i reside in India , its very difficult to find guar gum or xanthan gum, can u please tell me proportionate substitute for it?

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Parul,
      It’s a bit hard to give a substitute, as we don’t know quite what you do have available to you. If you send along an email to our bakers hotline, along with what types of thickeners and binders you do have access to, we can make a recommendation or two. ~ MJ

  3. Jonda

    I have sourdough started I’ve used for years: lives in my fridge: I feed it every 5 days: 3 T. instant potato flakes, 3/4 c. white sugar, 1 c. HOT tap water. I’d like to start making gluten-free bread and have experimented a little with different flours (not wheat). The finished product turns out less tasty, though not bad; half the risen size; tighter, not light and fluffy like my regular sourdough. What is the secret for higher, lighter, gluten-free, wheat-free bread?
    Thanks so much.

    1. Susan Reid

      Honda, take a peek at this post. Alternate flours don’t have the structure of wheat flour’s gluten, and you need to make up for that with other ingredients. Xanthin gum is one, often eggs are another. We have lots of information on the site about baking gluten-free, as well as many bread recipes that have been extensively tested. Check out our gluten-free baking guide for more. Susan

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Store the xanthan gum cool and dry in a pantry cupboard for best baking results. Irene@KAF

  4. Syza

    These cookies are bnakig now.=) My husband and 2 year old already named them yummy and not gluten-free tasting . What I love so far is the ease of the recipe, very straight forward ingredients, and the cookies didn’t fall apart when I moved them from the cookie sheet to the cooling rack. I have had that happen plenty of times. I just have to tell you that your recipes are very consistent and I have learned to always search your blog first when I’m looking for a specific recipe. I have made a few muffins, most recently your pumpkin cream cheese that were so yummy and your sunrise rolls that were SO delicious! Thank you for being consistent and making easy recipes. There is another gf blog that I regularly follow and though her recipes LOOK amazing, I have had far too many fail and I feel that they’re for a more advanced baker, which I don’t claim to be.=) anyway, thought I’d share some encouragement!

  5. Cary

    I am making Christmas sugar cookies for my step daughter who is visiting and is celiac. Never having cooked or baked gluten free I do not know very much about it and have never heard of xantham gum. My first batch (having just replaced regular flour with gluten free and kept the rest of the recipe the same) has resulted in a very crumbly, tough cookie that just breaks apart on the spatula as they are moved from cookie sheet to cooling rack. My question is (now that I know what xantham gum is and how it’s used) can I just knead it into the other half of my dough and carry on or should I scrap it and start over?

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Cary,
      We’d suggest beginning at the beginning again, you’ll be much happier with the results. ~ MJ

  6. Claire McDonnell

    My gluten-free popovers didn’t rise. Do I need to use Xanthan Gum? I made another batch with lactaid and used real butter. This batch came out beautiful, but I need to replace the butter with something, as I am lactose intolerant. Can I use Coconut Oil instead of the butter?

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Claire, for best results we recommend following a recipe for popovers that’s written to be gluten-free. Here’s a recipe you might enjoy. I would recommend substituting a non-dairy margarine, such as Earth Balance, for the butter and a non-dairy milk for the milk. Barb@KAF

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Guar gum is a good 1:1 substitute for xanthan gum in baking, so that may do the trick, Diane. ~MJ

  7. Robin

    Would you add more xanthine gum for binding if you cannot have eggs?
    I use en-er-ge for an egg replacer in most recipes because it works so well. I was just curious.

    1. MaryJane Robbins

      Hi Robin,
      You shouldn’t need to increase the xanthan gum when using Ener-G to replace the eggs. ~ MJ

  8. Sannie

    Hey there! I’m new to being gluten-free, but an avid cook. One of the things I’ve made all my life have been biscuits; I’m from the south, so they’re kind of a way of life. I’ve always used the 1 2 3 method: 1 cup buttermilk, 2 cups flour, 3 tablespoons lard. Given GF flour’s lack of stretchy gluten proteins, I gather I’ll need to add the xanthan gum (with my leavening, of course, since the GF flour’s all purpose) or they’ll probably just be crumbly hockey pucks. But this should be the only real addition I’ll need to make, yes? Thought you guys might have a good suggestion. Thanks for any input!

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi- there might be a few more changes to make when making a GF biscuit, since you won’t have the same structure. We’ve got a great recipe with clear directions to get you started: http://bit.ly/1WrX0KD Laurie@KAF

  9. Cathleen

    I have been baking a full sized oaf of GF bread and although it rises perfectly, gets a nice brown color and crusty finish, the sides and bottom always cave as it cools. Will too much xanthan gum cause this? any solutions? it is a bean flour/starch base.

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We are not familiar with the recipe you are using. But, we recommend 1/4 t. – 1/2 t. of xanthan gum per cup of g-f flour blend. We have found that the internal temperature should be close to 210 degrees F. Try removing the loaf from the pan a little sooner and place the loaf back in the oven (oven off) directly on the oven rack for about 10-15 minutes. This will help the bread to dry out a bit more as it cools. Do not leave it in the oven too long, though. Gluten-free baked goods are susceptible to being dry to begin with! Good luck! Elisabeth@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      This is a question you’ll want to ask your doctor or nutritionist, as we aren’t able to make health recommendations. However, if you find out what sort of ingredients will work for your dietary needs, we’d be happy to help you incorporate them into your baking. Feel free to give our Baker’s Hotline a call at 855-371-BAKE(2253). Kye@KAF

  10. Petra

    To make tortillas, how much xanthan gum should I had to 1 cup gluten free flour (contains no xanthan gum)? TIA

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      If you’d like to make gluten-free tortillas, try using our recipe for best results. It calls for 2 1/2 cups of flour total and 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum. Check out the recipe here. Happy baking! Kye@KAF

  11. Jerrie Fisher

    I’m making pumpkin bread using your gluten free flour, do I really need to use xanthan gum to make it taste right?

  12. Lisa Gay

    I am making homemade yogurt and was wondering if I could use xanthan gum to thicken it a bit? If so, do you have any suggestions on the best way to do it? Thanks

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Lisa, xanthan gum can be a miracle ingredient when it comes to thickening homemade yogurt. You’ll only need to a add a small amount (start with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon to see how you like the results), and whisk it in after the milk has come off the stovetop. Beware of adding too much — it might get a slightly slimy texture. Other options to thicken include adding more dry milk powder, using a higher fat milk, or using another thickener like gelatin, tapioca starch, arrowroot, or guar gum. Hope that helps! Kye@KAF

  13. Lori-Jean

    Hi there! Thank you for answering so many questions. I love reading them through as it teaches me as well. I am wanting to make royal icing for sugar cookies, would I add xanthan to it to give it some fulness so it isn’t runny since I can’t use meringue powder? Thank you. ☺

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We’re worried about the texture of your royal icing without the meringue powder, Lori-Jean. We think you’ll have better luck using our Simple Cookie Glaze recipe and using the lesser amount of milk (only 1 tablespoon) if you’re looking for a thick consistency. This glaze dries hard and shiny, so it should still work well for your decorating needs. Enjoy! Kye@KAF

  14. Kay

    Great info. I make cakes without eggs and they often crumble. Would Xanthan gum help fight that issue? If so, how much should I use if the recipe calls for 2 cups of AP flour. Will I compromise the texture of the cake by using Xanthan gum?


    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Kay, while xanthan gum may improve the texture of your cakes slightly (by adding about 1/4 teaspoon per cup of flour), we don’t recommend using xanthan gum as an egg replacer. Instead, you might want to try using Golden Flax Meal blended with water. We have full instructions on how to do this most successfully on our blog, here. Give that a try and see if it helps. Good luck! Kye@KAF

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