In recent years, Xanthan gum has become integral to the food industry and many private kitchens.
When you buy gluten-free or low-carb baked goods, you will usually find the additive on the packaging.
However, there are better substitutes to xanthan gum for nutrition-conscious hobby cooks and bakers, which you can learn about here.
What Is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum is a famous binding agent in baking. Since it also ensures a soft but chewy texture, it usually replaces gluten in baked goods.
Moreover, it holds baked goods together. Therefore, it is a popular alternative to sticky wheat protein, especially in low-carb cooking.
Like gluten, it binds ingredients in a way that allows air pockets, which can impart a tart flavor to baked goods.
Xanthan gum is a complex exopolysaccharide secreted in bacterial fermentation (Becker et al. 19981).
Accordingly, this polysaccharide forms when the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris is added to a growth medium containing sugar and other nutrients.
Because of its binding property, xanthan is referred to as gum. In addition to its binder, xanthan gum is a thickener and emulsifier.
For example, it is used in the ketogenic diet to thicken sauces, soups, and smoothies. Doing so replaces carbohydrate-rich ingredients such as bananas or arrowroot flour.
Although xanthan gum also consists primarily of carbohydrates, these all represent dietary fiber. Therefore, xanthan gum contains no net carbs and is considered keto-friendly.
As an emulsifier, xanthan helps fats combine with water. This property is used, for example, in salad dressings or ice cream.
In addition, the heavy industry uses natural emulsifiers as an additive for various fracturing and drilling fluids.
Furthermore, this stabilizer becomes increasingly essential for the food industry, as xanthan gum can substitute for allergens such as eggs and wheat.
Against this background, the binder’s range of applications covers a broad spectrum, including the following products:
- Baked goods
- Effervescent powders
- Food supplements
- Ice cream
- Jams and jellies
- Salad dressings
Why Should I Replace Xanthan Gum With a Substitute?
When producing xanthan gum, manufacturers add a growth medium containing sugar to the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. The following foods, in particular, are used for this purpose:
- Dairy products
Since some producers use dairy for xanthan gum production, it does not necessarily have to be vegan.
Likewise, the binder is not always gluten-free; some manufacturers use wheat or barley as substrates.
Lastly, all the growth media mentioned above contain other lectins. Plants use these large proteins as toxins to defend themselves against predators (Dolan et al. 20102).
Although gluten is the best-known lectin, it is far from the only one. These toxins can cause a leaky gut, transport pathogens to organs, and promote inflammation (Sturgeon et al. 20163).
Besides, they promote weight gain and can cause autoimmune diseases (Saeki et al. 20144).
For these reasons, it makes sense for many people to use substitutes for xanthan gum, especially since not all producers are willing to disclose their substrate used.
Additionally, obtaining information about the substrate becomes even more challenging for other products containing xanthan gum.
Xanthan Gum Side Effects and Risks
In addition to lectins, however, the choice of growth medium can pose even more significant risks that may necessitate substituting xanthan gum.
Although xanthan gum is generally considered safe, studies indicate various potential side effects, creating substitute demand.
If you suffer from soy, gluten, lactose, or corn intolerance, you should avoid products that contain xanthan gum or ask the manufacturer for more specific information in advance.
With this in mind, wheat- or gluten-free baking does not necessarily mean allergen-free baking.
Xanthan gum is the product of a fermentation process that typically uses closely planted row crops such as wheat, soybean, and corn (Rosalam et al. 20066).
These three crops top the list of allergens, each of the genetically engineered foods.
About 90 percent of the world’s soybean and corn crops are genetically modified organisms (GMOs), also produced in the United States (USDA 20147).
Since xanthan gum is a product created in a laboratory, it is nearly impossible to discover more about the substrate used.
Such a processed product is ideal for the use of cheap genetically modified plants.
Intestinal problems are probably the most common side effects of the binder.
According to a study conducted on humans, regular consumption of xanthan gum results in the following effects:
- Increased stool volume
- More flatulence
- More frequent bowel movements
For this reason, according to researchers, xanthan gum can also be a very efficient laxative (Daly et al. 19938).
In addition, the thickener can increase the fluid content of stool and contribute to diarrhea (Edwards et al. 19959).
Xanthan gum is sometimes used as a thickener to give breast milk or infant formula consistency to counteract swallowing problems and reflux.
But infants, in particular, can be sensitive to the food additive.
Since xanthan gum causes many short-chain fatty acids, an underdeveloped intestinal tract of infants may not handle them properly (Lin 200412).
For these reasons, children under one year should not consume xanthan gum.
Substitutes for Xanthan Gum
Now that we know the negative aspects of xanthan gum, it raises the question of what substitute can provide the desired food textures while eliminating possible risks.
Although there are alternatives for processed foods, they usually contain other additives we want to avoid.
For this reason, finding the proper xanthan substitute for the right purpose is crucial, especially when baking at home.
Low-carb, gluten-free and vegan baking are the main focus here. So here are the best alternatives to xanthan gum, including important information on how to use them.
The 3 Best Xanthan Gum Substitutes for Keto
Xanthan gum is the preferred binder that low-carb and keto manufacturers use to give baked goods the consistency they’re used to without adding carbohydrates.
Even though fermented powder dominates finished products, some fantastic keto-friendly xanthan gum alternatives still exist for baking at home.
1. Egg Whites
In the first place is the most straightforward xanthan alternative for athletes and low-carb enthusiasts. Egg white not only binds ingredients but also adds protein to the meal at the same time.
Furthermore, it helps bread rise when baking, which is difficult without gluten. However, too much egg white can also make the result too fluffy.
In my opinion, egg whites are a healthy and straightforward substitute for xanthan gum, as long as you don’t have an intolerance or a vegan diet.
For best results, use one egg white to substitute for every tablespoon (4.5 grams) of xanthan gum in baking.
Like egg whites, gelatin is 100% carbohydrate-free, making it an excellent xanthan gum substitute for keto baked goods (*).
Gelatin is a broken-down form of collagen, the protein that holds our bodies together. Therefore, it’s no surprise that gelatin is a great binding agent.
In addition, the structural protein is the essential building block for teeth, joints, bones, skin, and hair (Stefanovic 201313).
You may add gelatin as a dry powder to any recipe, whether soup, smoothie, or baked goods.
Therefore, in cooking and baking, gelatin powder can replace xanthan gum in a 2:1 ratio.
3. Konjac Powder
Konjac powder or glucomannan is made from konjac root, exotic in Western society but widely used in Asian cuisine (Keithley et al. 201314).
Because of its high fiber content, the powder can thicken foods like xanthan gum.
Moreover, recent studies attribute positive health effects to konjac powder, such as lowering triglycerides, blood sugar, and blood pressure (Devaraj et al. 201815).
Glucomannan is a pure dietary fiber product. Therefore, it contains no net carbohydrates, proteins, or fats (*).
Thus, the xanthan gum substitute is ideal for low-carb diets.
In principle, konjac powder replaces xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio. Only chewy baked goods such as tortillas require a 1.5:1 ratio.
4 Vegan Xanthan Gum Substitutes
Because of the substrate, the thickener is not always vegan. Fortunately, there are numerous plant-based alternatives for xanthan gum, some of which may also be keto-friendly.
1. Ground Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are a rare plant source of omega-3 fatty acids, so they play a significant role in vegetarian and vegan cuisine.
Moreover, flaxseeds are incredibly low in carbohydrates, making them ideal for the ketogenic diet. Thus, each tablespoon of ground flaxseed contains only 0.1 net carbohydrates (*).
Besides, flaxseeds can improve blood clotting, blood pressure, blood lipid levels, and the risk of inflammation and diabetes (Faintuch et al. 200716; Mandaşescu et al. 200517; Kawakami et al. 201518; Bloedon et al. 200419).
After using flaxseed to add moisture and binding to foods, it makes an excellent substitute for xanthan gum in baked goods.
However, the seeds must be ground beforehand to produce the desired binding and structure.
To do so, you can put flax seeds in a pepper mill, buy them ground, or buy them as flour for bread recipes.
Add two tablespoons of water to one tablespoon of seeds to use flax seeds as a xanthan gum substitute for baking.
Generally, this prepared mixture can replace xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio.
2. Psyllium Husks
Psyllium husks are composed primarily of soluble fiber, which produces a gummy texture when combined with a liquid.
Therefore, psyllium husks absorb water, developing a thickening and binding effect. Consequently, they can also hold ingredients together in recipes.
However, psyllium husks are so absorbent that they permanently remove a large amount of liquid from a dish unless you add more water.
For this reason, always add psyllium husks in conjunction with liquid to dishes.
With only one net carbohydrate per two tablespoons, psyllium husks are among keto-friendly thickeners (*).
To make baked goods a success, replace each tablespoon of xanthan gum with two tablespoons of psyllium husks.
3. Arrowroot Flour
Arrowroot flour is a less common gluten- and grain-free powder. It is made from a starchy substance extracted from a tropical plant called Maranta arundinacea.
Baking recipes mainly use powder as a substitute for wheat flour. However, it is also predominantly composed of carbohydrates, so it is not keto-friendly (*).
Moreover, you can use the versatile flour as a thickener too. Also, many people use it with almond or coconut flour for baked goods.
However, if you want to bake extra crispy, it is best to use arrowroot flour exclusively.
To achieve the same binding effect, you may use arrowroot flour as a 1:1 substitute for xanthan gum in recipes.
Agar-agar is an excellent option to replace xanthan gum’s stabilizing or thickening function without gelatin or eggs.
It can replace xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio. In addition, because one derives it from red algae, agar-agar is suitable for vegan cooking.
However, agar-agar is not a good alternative for ketogenic and low-carb dishes, primarily because the algae consist predominantly of carbohydrates with hardly any fiber hiding underneath (*).
3 Xanthan Gum Alternatives to Avoid
This last section includes foods replacing the binding agent due to their specific properties.
However, as xanthan gum substitutes, I prefer the above alternatives. In short, health objections exist to the following options, which are substantiated here.
Additionally, it contains fructose and is not conducive to weight loss or health. Therefore, the food industry uses it to make high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which plays a significant factor in the obesity epidemic in the United States.
For this reason, it is not a plausible alternative to xanthan gum for me. Nevertheless, cornstarch is a very absorbent thickener, which one may use as a 1:1 substitute for xanthan gum.
2. Chia Seeds
Like psyllium husks, chia seeds form a gel when added to a liquid.
Unlike psyllium, you must soak the seeds in water for 10 to 15 minutes before taking that texture.
Thus, chia seeds can add thickness and moisture to baked goods and stabilize smoothies or shakes.
To use chia seeds, add three spoonfuls of water for every spoonful of seeds to soak.
Since chia seeds are very absorbent, they can easily give liquid dishes like smoothies a texture that is too gel-like. If that happens, add more liquid and mix the drink well.
Chia seeds do have drawbacks. Besides known water-soluble and fat-soluble allergens, researchers have detected unknown allergens in chia seeds (Garcia Jimenez et al. 201520).
After our ancestors did not consume foods from the New World, these new foods kept bringing unknown substances into our bodies.
A randomized study of 90 overweight women and men attempted to prove that chia seeds’ fiber and omega-3 content can reduce body weight, fat, and disease risk.
However, contrary to this hypothesis, the researchers found an increase in the inflammatory markers of their subjects (Nieman et al. 200922).
Accordingly, lectins in chia seeds prevent the presumed positive benefit against inflammation.
Furthermore, chia seeds contain another anti-nutrient, phytic acid. It can insolubly bind those minerals that chia seeds provide in the digestive tract and prevent their absorption (Gibson et al. 201023).
Ultimately, the superfood is not as super as its reputation. Those looking for a vegetarian anti-inflammatory alternative low in lectins are better off reaching for flax seeds.
3. Guar Gum
Like xanthan gum, guar gum contains no net carbohydrates. Although it comprises 86% carbohydrates, it is exclusively dietary fiber (*).
Guar gum is made from the extract of the guar bean and serves as a substitute for xanthan gum in many recipes because it has similar functionality.
However, when combined with hot water and acidic solutions, these properties aren’t as beneficial, so you’re better off choosing another option for soups and salad dressings.
Because it is not fermented, guar gum has a significant advantage over xanthan gum. For this reason, it doesn’t require sugar-based substrates derived from soy, wheat, or corn.
Guar gum is usually a better alternative to xanthan gum if you are allergic to these plants. Nevertheless, people can also be sensitive to this gum.
Accordingly, one study found that in addition to xanthan gum, guar gum, locust bean gum, or mastic also cause hidden food intolerances and sensitivities (Vojdani et al. 201524).
Because the guar bean is a legume, it stands to reason that it could contain many lectins.
Accordingly, individual studies suggest that guar gum may have the highest lectin content of all binding gums (Datta et al. 198825).
The bottom line is that guar gum is not a great alternative to xanthan gum. If you don’t want to upset your intestines, reach for gelatin or flax seeds instead.
If you want to use guar gum, use three tablespoons of guar gum to substitute for two tablespoons of xanthan powder.
You Can Replace Xanthan Gum With Substitutes
Xanthan gum is a widely used binder used as a food additive in low-carb and gluten-free baked goods.
While its thickening effect holds baking ingredients together and gives the ice cream a better texture, xanthan gum is often unsuitable for sensitive people.
Since manufacturers use soy, barley, wheat, corn, or dairy products to produce the binding agent, allergy sufferers must be careful.
Furthermore, it is not unlikely that substrates such as soy, wheat, or corn originate from genetically modified plants.
Fortunately, xanthan gum has many excellent substitutes that you can use in a ketogenic, gluten-free, or vegan kitchen.
Therefore, you don’t have to avoid the binder all the time. However, it’s easy to improve your diet with these alternatives.
Substitutes for Xanthan Gum FAQ
Can I omit xanthan gum from a recipe?
By omitting xanthan gum from a recipe, you could lose the authentic texture of the dish. Instead, it’s better to replace xanthan gum with gelatin, egg white, ground flaxseed, konjac powder, or psyllium husks to keep the texture.
What is the difference between xanthan gum and cornstarch?
While cornstarch is full of carbohydrates and fructose, xanthan gum consists of dietary fiber only. Since there are no net carbs, xanthan gum is a low-carb alternative to other binding agents.
Can I substitute xanthan gum for baking powder?
If you are out of baking powder, you may substitute it with xanthan gum since it offers similar effects. Additionally, it helps to hold baked goods together.
How do you make xanthan gum at home?
Xanthan gum is usually created in a lab when the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris is added to a growth medium containing sugar and other nutrients. Hence, it’s not easy to make it at home. Instead, you can use one of the healthy and straightforward substitutes in this article.
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Stephan is a writer and a true man of science, holding multiple diplomas and master's degrees in different research areas. His greatest passion is closing the gap between the conventional perception of health and the latest scientific evidence – always following the data.