Xanthan Gum?

Melissa asks what the heck does xanthan gum do and why is it so expensive?

Well, Melissa, x-gum is the glue that holds all kinds of stuff together, including baked goods lacking gluten. This little bottle to the right is what sits on my shelf (for now).

X-gum is a nasty little marriage of controlled man-made bacteria that is fermented with sugar and derived from corn.  According to WebMD, x-gum is used therapeutically to help constipation, diabetes, dry mouth and cholesterol.

And yet it thickens stuff.  It is what chemistry geeks would call a foaming agent in baking and a structural cornerstone once baked.  It mimics gluten in GF baking and stabilizes the baked good.  Keeps the gluten free cookie from crumbling, actually.

There are numerous products that have x-gum as an ingredient.  Look on that shampoo or other beauty product and you might find x-gum listed.  In salad dressings and other items that need stabilizing, you will probably find x-gum listed.  And just to round out the applications – x-gum is used in paint, paper, polish, ceramics and agriculture.

I was very pro x-gum for a long time because it seemed to make my gluten free baked goods really come out quite like regular gluten based items.  But after a while I started to feel like I’d eaten things contaminated with gluten and eventually realized it was the x-gum.

There are some side effects from using x-gum that are very similar to feeling like you were gluten contamined.  According to WebMD, flu like symptoms can occur, and since it used for a laxative, sometimes even a small amount might annoy your guts.

I’ve made a commitment after baking with it like crazy over this past holiday, to go cold turkey and rework every recipe to do without.  I no longer suggest or recommend using x-gum.  In people who are already gluten sensitive, adding an item that is known to cause some interesting side effects at less than 12g per day makes it way too risky.  At least to me.

As to the cost – I’ve no clue.  I suspect that food-grade x-gum is more expensive than the other industrial use x-gum.  I also suspect that like most specialty items in the retail market, we pay more than if we were say, a commercial enterprise buying from a distributor.

The good news?  We can absolutely bake gluten free without x-gum.  It will take a little bit of trial and error, but I will happy to report the results right here in the GFCanteen.

I know others are doing the same.  Gluten Free Girl is now baking sans x-gum.  You can read about that here.

UPDATE 2/7/2011 :  GFG posted about using flax and chia instead of gums and I wanted to make sure you had the link because it is just the information you need.  Click here.

Thanks for asking!

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