June 26, 2012 by Suzanne
I don’t think xanthan gum is something that most people keep in their pantry, if only because they don’t know what it is, where to get it, or how to use it. If you are a label reader, you’ll see xanthan gum on a wide variety of foods. Xanthan gum is a thickener and stabilizer, and it’s useful in the home kitchen as well as in the food industry. If you are cutting gluten or starch out of your diet, it is a must have.
What is it?
It is made from the fermentation of grain by a specific bacteria, but it is all sterilized so this is not an active culture product. It is a carbohydrate, but it is 100% fiber, which is not generally counted by people managing their carbohydrate intake, and it shouldn’t have an effect on blood sugar.
If gluten is something you must avoid completely, even in trace amounts, check that the brand you buy is not cultured with wheat.
What does it do?
It looks and acts a lot like corn starch; it’s a fine white powder, with no noticeable taste of its own, that reacts when it’s mixed with water. However, one of the great things about xanthan gum is that its thickening effects don’t change with temperature. If you thicken a soup with it, the soup will be the same texture even when you refrigerate it, where as a starch thickener can turn food into a solid mass until it’s re-heated.
It can provide thickness to soups or sauces in place of flour or corn starch. In runny casseroles, it can provide cohesion to the finished dish. It is used in salad dressings to make the oil stay mixed with the other ingredients for longer and to add some body to the dressing. It is also used in place of gluten in gluten-free baking to provide some elasticity and cohesion to non-wheat flours.
How do I use it?
Xanthan gum reacts instantly when it touches water. Dumping it in and then trying to whisk it out just won’t work. What works is to sift some into the liquid with one hand while whisking or stirring with the other. I have a mesh spoon tea infuser that I use that is basically a miniature sifter. Whatever you use, the finer the layer you can put down, the better. If nothing else is handy, you could put it in a spice jar with fine holes and shake it. For cooking, measuring xanthan gum is not necessary, as you will just continue to add it until the thickness is where you want it to be.
If you use it in baking, mix it in thoroughly with the dry ingredients before adding the wet ingredients.
Where do I get it?
You should be able to find it at a health food store. The health food store closest to our house has several brands to choose from, and as far as I know, they are all pretty much the same. If you can’t find it locally, you can order it on-line with no difficulty.