Xanthan Gum vs. Guar Gum

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in Basics, General | 3 comments

… Guar Gum is a Good Substitute for Xanthan Gum at Daily Forage!

Xanthan Gum vs. Guar Gum

Controversies in the World

There are controversies in the world … and then there’s this one, which I can’t claim is the biggest one we as a People need to worry about (but still worth mentioning) – debating which is better for gluten-free baking and cooking, Xanthan gum or guar gum? These little, white, powdery substances look the same, and feel very similar in texture, so what’s the fuss? Shouldn’t they behave the same? What does it matter which one I choose?

Silly thought process, I realize, but I’m hoping you’ll go with it while I’m trying to set up a point here. This dilemma and ultimate decision may not be one you’ve ever even contemplated or thought really mattered, but for us here at Daily Forage it was (almost) an earth-shattering day (in a good way) when I made a discovery. Was it life-changing and deserving of some (silly perhaps) dramatic intro here? You bet it was! (I know, drama, drama, drama, but when you’re trying just about anything and everything to heal someone, the small things that turn out to be “not so small” permit drama from time to time. Don’t you agree?)

Let me say up front that I’m not here to try to convince you which one is better for your gluten-free cooking. Today, I’m simply sharing a story of how I came to use guar gum instead of xanthan gum in all of my gluten-free cooking, and how life as we knew it became so much better. It was an “A-ha!” moment for me. Perhaps it will become an a-ha moment for you too.

A Pivotal Moment

Oh how I remember that moment of revelation well. I was at a food bloggers conference in April 2012. There was a speaker sharing baking tips, ingredient performance, and how perfecting gluten-free baking requires due diligence. Boy, is that an understatement. We can’t have thin skin when we’re trying to make something that inherently doesn’t have binding tendencies, or chewy, doughy qualities, but we’re trying to make it behave as though it does, right? (But that’s a topic for another day.)

But these points weren’t what I came away with from that conference – the concept of how a certain ingredient should behave or cause other ingredients in a recipe to behave. Nope! What I gleaned from that particular presentation was that Xanthan gum, with all its wonderful qualities for making gluten-free baked goods believe and behave as though they’re “the real thing”, is actually created from bacteria. Wait. What? Yep, you read that right. Xanthan gum gets its name for the bacteria, Xanthonomas campestris, which grows, ferments, and becomes a gelatinous substance on a string of sugars (in very unscientific terms ‘cause I’m no scientist). At this point, this gel is dried and turned into a powder. This powdery substance is known as Xanthan gum. Wait … process … Yep, you’ve got it. Xanthan gum is actually a dried bacteria product. And, this was my a-ha moment!

I was adding a bacteria to all of my gluten-free baked goods … my gluten-free cookies, gluten-free cakes, gluten-free biscuits and muffins, and, well you get the point. Everything that my son (and the rest of us at DF) consumed with a binding agent, had a bacterial component. Oh, yay! (Sure hope you hear the sarcasm in that!)

Now for some people, perhaps you, this is not a problem. After all, it is in countless products on the market, gluten-free and not, and it is tolerated by the majority of people.

But seated in that room filled with over 100 conference attendees and fellow food bloggers, when I heard the explanation of how Xanthan gum is made, suddenly I felt as though I was in a movie scene, that I was the only one in focus or making a noise, and all the other characters in the room had completely faded out – much like the scene from the 2005 movie Pride and Prejudice when Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy are dancing at the ball. When they strike up conversation during the dance, suddenly they’re the only ones present on the dance floor. I could only hear the sound of my thoughts racing around in my head, processing this, comparing that, analyzing past reactions my son had had to some of my “treats”. I couldn’t break free from that room fast enough to collect myself, mentally regurgitate what I’d just heard, and make chicken-scratch notes so I could carry home with me this newly acquired, and all-important, knowledge. This explanation made perfect sense for my son’s situation, and yes …

This was Going to be a Game-Changer

My son had been dealing with mild but ever-present (and annoying as hell) congestion since he’d been put on a gluten-free, dairy-free diet (always hate that four-letter word) 15 months earlier, even though his overall health had improved immensely. By the way, he’d had this type of congestion prior to going g-f and d-f, and it had greatly improved but never vanished. We could never figure out what was still causing these relentless symptoms.

Then, upon my return from my conference, my a-ha moment turned into reality! Game-changer? You bet! With the simplest switch of one gum to another, substituting guar gum for Xanthan gum, we eliminated these symptoms he’d not been able to shake. Gone! (Score: one for Mom, Zero for Xanthan gum). By the way, guar gum is made by grinding guar seeds, native to dry regions of Africa and Asia, and is part of the pea family. The ground seeds become a fine powder known as guar gum. (I’ll write a post soon on all the characteristics of the various gums and binding agents available to our gluten-free world. Stay tuned.)

The Pros of Guar Gum

The oh-so-pro side of this story is that without Xanthan gum exposure, my son doesn’t have any of those symptoms any longer. Yay, yay, yay! Another pro? Guar gum is less expensive than Xanthan gum, so we win at the checkout counter too. And if you’re not familiar with guar gum, it can be substituted (in most cases) one-for-one for Xanthan gum with reliable results. (Some people don’t tolerate guar gum well so proceed with caution until you know how it affects you.) How simple is that?

The Cons of Xanthan Gum

The oh-so-bummer side of this is that there’s Xanthan gum is almost everything gluten-free. Packaged cookies, pancake mixes, most gluten-free all-purpose flour blends, dairy-free “ice cream”, and on and on typically contain Xanthan gum.

For these reasons (and a few others), we use very few gluten-free packaged products, and since mid-April 2012, you won’t find a recipe here on Daily Forage containing Xanthan gum in the ingredients list (though it is sometimes mentioned as an option for you). Fortunately, I don’t have a problem with it, so I am able to still able to test out and review all the new and fun gluten-free products for you.

Persuasive Argument?

As I said earlier, I’m not here to try to persuade you into using guar gum instead of Xanthan gum. If it works for you and you maintain a symbiotic relationship with Xanthan gum as a perfect gum or stabilizer in your gluten-free baking, we’re all good here. If I’ve raised a question in your mind of a possible connection between Xanthan gum and a persistent health issue that’s not been resolved by living a gluten-free, dairy-free lifestyle, then I’m glad I am raising awareness.

Disclaimer: I’m not doctor so I’m the first to remind you that this information is my opinion and experience only and is not being shared as medical advice. Your doctor or nutritionist would be a great consultant for more info.

Has your health journey seen a-ha moments too? Did they include Xanthan gum or guar gum, or something else? Be sure to share in the comments below. I love hearing your discoveries! And others can learn from you too!

Safe food is a journey … Thrive!™

3 Comments

  1. Thank you for such important message
    Masingu@

  2. I have had horrible reactions to xanthan gum, which as you say, is in almost all g-f baked goods and many other foods which are naturally g-f. Then I found out that xanthan gum is grown on maize/sweetcorn. That was my lightbulb moment, as I know that I need to avoid maize.

    • Hi Allison! I completely understand about the horrible reactions with xanthan gum. Guar gum was a good alternative for us initially, but we discovered it too was still causing belly upset. My most recent recipes (and even the ones I’ve not yet posted but have been perfecting for the past year) replace these two gums with psyllium husk. I absolutely LOVE the results … and zero belly issues! You can replace any xanthan gum or guar gum in a recipe with equal portions of psyllium husk with unfaltering results. (Hope I didn’t just jinx us! ;)) Thanks for stopping by and sharing your experiences and thoughts. We all benefit from those who share! x Connie

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