There is one ingredient that is commonly used in baking that you may not have been aware of but it is used in far more things than you may have known. That ingredient is xanthan gum and it is something that you might even consume multiple times per week.
What you may not have known is that xanthan gum is also found in a wide array of industrial products. Unfortunately, it has also been linked to things such as digestive and respiratory issues too. This gives many a real concern about the safety of ingesting this ingredient.
Xanthan gum is an adhesive; it creates something of a gel that is meant to bind the other ingredients together during the baking process. Thankfully, adhesives can be interchangeable depending on what you use.
So while the Food and Drug Administration considers xanthan gum safe to be consumed as a food additive, there are more and more people looking for alternatives in their baking. That begs the question: what can be used in place of xanthan gum when baking?
Thankfully there are several things that can be used in place of this ingredient to recreate your favorite baked goods so that you can enjoy them with peace of mind instead of having to worry about the ingredients being used.
1 – Chia Seeds and Water
When the chia seeds have been soaked in water, they form a gel-like substance that is very similar in nature to xanthan gum. The positive here is that not only is it safer to ingest the chia seeds but they also have a lot of fiber and some important nutrients that are very good for you.
You can use the chia seeds whole, too, so that they add some crunch and a little bit of a natural nutty flavor to your recipe. If you want a smoother, less rough texture, try to grind them up before you implement them into your mixture and do so with the same amount of chia seeds as you would xanthan gum.
All you have to do to implement chia seeds into your recipe is use two parts hot water for every part that requires chia seeds. Keep stirring your mixture until it becomes more viscous; this could mean adding 10 to 15 minutes to your total baking time so that you can make your chia gel but it is a quality substitute for xanthan gum when baking.
2 – Konjac Powder
This ingredient is also known as glucomannan. Made from the konjac root, this is a common ingredient in Asian cooking. Because it is high in fiber, it helps to thicken dishes in much the same way that xanthan gum does.
As you would with the chia seeds, it requires a 1:1 ratio of konjac root to xanthan gum. This will recreate the binding, gel-like effect of the xanthan gum.
But if you want to create something that is a bit chewy in nature, as you would with flatbreads or tortillas, you want to up your konjac content to about 1.5 times the amount of the xanthan gum content.
Getting more of your daily fiber while reducing the possible negative health impacts of xanthan gum can be a great idea, especially if you bake on a somewhat regular basis. With its ease of use, it can be a great substitute for the traditional xanthan gum.
3 – Agar Agar
Agar agar comes from red algae. It acts in much the same way that xanthan gum does in that it is an unflavored gelatin and is meant to be used as a thickening agent in your dish while also forming a texture that is similar to jelly in nature.
Agar agar is plant-based in nature so it also makes a really great vegetarian or vegan replacement for any gelatin that is used in baking. You can get agar agar in the form of sheets, flakes, or powder — whatever suits your particular baking needs the best.
Use it to replace the xanthan gum that you would normally use in your baking with the same amount of agar agar. The thing to keep in mind is that using this ingredient takes a little bit more work than simply using xanthan gum.
The first thing that you need to do is to dissolve the agar agar in water that is room temperature. For every tablespoon of flakes or teaspoon of powder, you will want to use around four tablespoons of water in response.
The next step is to set your heat to low and allow the agar agar mixture to heat up until it has dissolved. Make sure that you give it enough time to cool before you use it. If the mixture is still a little too thick, you should use something such as an immersion blender in order to make it more liquid in nature.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the agar agar will generally make a mixture that is a little denser or stiffer in nature. You might be able to offset that with a little more water or by tinkering with the amount of other ingredients in your mix; it takes some testing to get the exact mixture that you want to achieve.
4 – Egg Whites
If you want to replace the xanthan gum in your baking mixture but need something in a pinch, egg whites can make a fantastic substitute in this instance. Egg whites are naturals when it comes to acting as a binding and leavening agent.
Even better, egg whites will help the dish to both firm and rise up. Plus, egg whites are also a great source of high-quality protein with few calories. This makes the use of egg whites a fantastic alternative to xanthan gum.
Egg whites are particularly good for baking things such as batter breads, quick breads, and even cakes. Using egg whites can create a light, fluffy texture so you won’t want to use them when baking something such as a kneaded bread because they just won’t hold up.
Keep in mind that if you are looking to create a vegan-friendly product, using egg whites keeps it from being that. It is, however, a great vegetarian option that can provide you with high levels of protein and low-calorie options too.
All you do to use it in your baking is to implement one egg white for every tablespoon of xanthan gum that you would have been using. It’s an easy fix that can provide a lighter, airy texture that packs a whole lot of protein into one dish.
5 – Cornstarch
Another fairly common ingredient in baking, cornstarch is actually very similar texturally to xanthan gum.
Cornstarch is a great natural binding agent in that it has naturally absorbent qualities and helps to thicken up your mixture. This includes things such as gravies and stews in particular.
In its natural form, cornstarch is actually gluten-free for those looking for that option. Just be aware that there are some products that use protein in their cornstarch so check the label before you implement this into your mixture if you are trying to avoid any gluten intake.
What’s great about cornstarch is that, unlike most of the other substitutes, you don’t need to mix it with water before you use it. Just replace every tablespoon of xanthan gum with the same amount of cornstarch and you will be good to go.
6 – Flax Seeds and Water
These are very similar in nature to chia seeds in that they can create a fairly thick paste when ground and mixed together with water. Even better, flax seeds are very easy to find and quite cheap as well so you can grab what you need from the store without so much as a second thought.
One thing to keep in mind (and where there is a major difference from chia seeds) is that using whole flax seeds isn’t a good idea because they aren’t good at binding in their whole form.
You can either grind down the flax seeds on your own or buy them previously ground, which is sometimes referred to as flax meal.
When you mix the ground flax seed with water, this is what activates its natural binding abilities. Another thing to be aware of is that, generally speaking, flax seeds will likely add a nutty flavor to your mixture so keep that in mind.
Additionally, ground flax seed mixtures will also produce a little bit of a gritty texture within your mixture so if you don’t like that grit in your food, keep that under consideration.
As with all of the other mixtures, you would want to match your flax seed implementation at a 1:1 ratio with what you would have used for xanthan gum.
All you do here is just use two parts hot water for every part of flax that you plan to use and you will have an effective binding agent without the negative health impacts that xanthan gum seems to have.
Sarah is the founder of Baking Kneads, LLC, a blog sharing guides, tips, and recipes for those learning how to bake. Growing up as the daughter of a baker, she spent much of her childhood learning the basics in a local bakery.