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
About

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 ...

comments

  1. S. Cates

    I have the most delicious apple bread recipe. When I make it using your measure for measure flour I get some of the result you mentioned in this post. It never seems to get done. If I use your gluten free flour without xanthum how much should I add? Would guar gum be better to stop this result? please advise.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, that’s a good question! Not having seen or made your recipe, we can only guess at the details, but as a general rule, using 1/4 teaspon of either xanthan gum or guar gum should help. That being said, gluten-free baking typically requires a lot of experimentation to get a recipe exactly right, so be prepared to try things out several times and take good notes. It’s the same trial-and-error process we use here in our test kitchen, so we know it can require a lot of patience, but the rewards are definitely sweet. Happy baking! Kat@KAF

    1. The Baker's Hotline

      We haven’t experimented with using xanthan gum in non-culinary applications, Ernesto, so we’re not sure if it would work to sufficiently thicken your ink. You’re welcome to give it a try, mixing it into a small portion of the liquid and then mixing that slurry into the rest of the dye. (This process of incorporation should prevent it from clumping.) Good luck! Kye@KAF

  2. Judy

    I recently asked a question re. the KAF sourdough english muffins I made that were crumbly and an answer came back saying I may have added too much flour. Could I have added some xanthan gum to the recipe to make the muffins less crumbly? This recipe was not a gluten-free recipe.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hmm, we’re not sure if it would make much of an impact, Judy, but you’re welcome to try. The xanthan gum might help things have a slightly stronger structure but having too much flour in the dough is tricky to combat with anything other than extra liquid. It’s worth some experimentation! Annabelle@KAF

  3. venty

    “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.”

    I bought the gluten-free flour thinking it was the baking mix. this says I can use it for “almost anything,” except, y’know, the baked goods that I want to make. that’s not what’s bugging me. what’s bugging me is that I can’t find any recipes on this website that tell me how to use the gf flour on its own without xantham gum! all of the recipes say to use gf flour AND xantham gum, which I do not have! you need to put something like *xantham gum recommended as an additional binding agent or SOMETHING on the box bc people like me sometimes make poor choices. i just needed to vent

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Thank you for your valuable feedback, Venty. We’ve shared it with our packaging team for future consideration, and hope that our recent post on Gluten-Free Flours will answer any lingering questions you may have. The Gluten-Free Measure for Measure Flour may be a great option for you as it already has xanthan gum added and is designed to work in traditional recipes calling for regular all-purpose flour. Please reach out if we can assist you further! Annabelle@KAF

    2. The Baker's Hotline

      Hello, JoAnn! We’ve found that you can easily substitute almond flour for up to 25% of the flour in a non-yeasted recipe, and up to 33% of the flour in a yeasted recipe. Two of our cobbler recipe already call for using almond flour in them, Almond Flour Berry Cobbler and Easy Fruit Cobbler. While you’re more than welcome to experiment using almond flour for all of the flour in either of these recipes or any other cobbler recipes we have, we’d recommend keeping the almond flour amounts as is or follow the 25% rule in other recipes. Use Gluten Free Measure for Measure Flour in place of the All-Purpose Flour if you need it to be gluten free. Cobbler is a great type of recipe to experiment using different flours in because it doesn’t necessarily rely heavily on gluten for structure. It’s meant to be kind of crumbly and messy, so even if it weren’t holding together all that well, who would know? Happy baking! Annabelle@KAF

    1. PJ Hamel

      Yes, Jane, though xanthan gum has a lot more thickening power than cornstarch or flour, so use it sparingly. For the typical pot of soup, try stirring 1/2 teaspoon into a bit of the hot liquid, then stirring that back into the pot. If it’s not as thick as you like, repeat. Good luck – PJH@KAF

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