Gluten Free Baking with Gums
“Baking with gums?” you say. “Why on earth would you bake with GUM!??”
Good question. I’m glad you asked.
We gluten free bakers have to know all about these mysterious “gums” because they replace the gluten in our gluten free recipes. I know it sounds peculiar, but it’s really just a lesson in baking chemistry.
No individual gluten-free flour can replace wheat flour on its own, so we bakers blend several together to mimic wheat’s qualities. One of the trickiest wheat flour attributes to replicate is its stickiness. Its gluten holds food together; without it, you typically wind up with a crumbly mess.
That’s where the gums come in.
This additive is most often used to stand in for the glue-like qualities of gluten. You might have also noticed xanthan gum on ingredient labels of other foods like ice cream, salad dressing, gravies and even toothpaste.
Xanthan gum is a natural soluble fiber carbohydrate that is produced by fermenting a microorganism (Xanthomonas campestris, in case you need to know) with sugar, most often from corn (no corn remains in the gum). Xanthan gum is valued because it helps to keep oil and water mixed (hence its benefit in dressings) and also provides binding structure to hold carbon dioxide bubbles inside the food as it is cooking, keeping products like gluten-free bread from falling when removed from the oven.
Xanthan gum is pricey – running $10-$14.00 or so, per 8 ounces. Luckily, we only need a pinch in gluten-free recipes (see chart below).
Another option is Guar Gum – a powder derived from the seeds of legumes (guar beans) that can add a gumminess to gluten-free baked goods. It has laxative properties though, and some find that they are sensitive to it, or even feel more full from eating products containing guar gum. I find that guar works best in cake recipes, but see the chart below for recommended amounts.
If your all purpose gluten-free flour does not already contain a gum, use this chart as a guide to how much to add in a given type of recipe. If your all purpose gluten-free flour already contains gums, then they have been added in the appropriate general purpose amount — do NOT add more gum – more is not better here! Adding too much gum to your recipe can make it gummy (go figure!).
- Yeast Breads & Pizza Recipes: 1 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum or 2 tsp. guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour blend
- Cookies: 1/4 tsp. xanthan gum or 1/2 tsp. guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour blend
- Cakes: 1/2 tsp. xanthan gum or 3/4 tsp. guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour blend
- Quick Breads & Muffins: 3/4 tsp. xanthan gum or 1 tsp. guar gum per cup of gluten-free flour blend
Psyllium is a natural fiber derived from the psyllium plant. When added to liquids, psyllium becomes gelatinous and helps baked goods retain moisture. Its ordinary use is as a colon cleanser, but when used in small amounts (2-4 tablespoons), it can offer binding properties in gluten free baking without the tummy upset.
Purchase psyllium in whole husk or powder, but the two are not equivalent; do add powder if a recipe calls for powder, not husk. If a recipe calls for xanthan gum, you may substitute 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum for up to 2 to 3 tablespoons of psyllium powder, depending on the type of recipe.
Psyllium tends to work best in yeast applications like breads and pizza, as well as in homemade pasta recipes. For more information on using psyllium husk or powder in yeast breads, consult this article from my friend Annalise Roberts.
You’ve probably made Jell-O before, or used Knox unflavored gelatin in a recipe. Gelatin has amazing binding properties and can make a good replacement for gluten in certain applications. Use the amount called for in any given baking recipe, and add in with the dry ingredients.
It is NOT vegan or vegetarian, as gelatin is made from animal bones, hooves and connective tissue. There are some products which are called gelatin and are labeled “vegetarian” or “kosher.” See “pectin,” below.
A vegetarian substitute for gelatin is Pectin. Unlike traditional gelatin, pectin is derived from the peels of apples, plums, cranberries and other citrus. Like gelatin, it can tenderize breads and add stability to baked goods, as well. Add pectin powder with dry ingredients in baking recipes.
Another vegan alternative to gelatin, Agar Agar is a flavorless combination of dried algae that can be substituted in equal amounts where recipes call for gelatin. Agar agar is used to thicken, gel, stabilize and texturize baked goods, sauces, dressings and some beverages. It comes in powders, flakes, sheets and bars (1 bar equals 4 Tablespoons of flakes or 2 Tablespoons of powder). Generally, 1 Tablespoon agar agar flakes OR 1 teaspoon agar agar powder will thicken 1 cup of liquid. For baking, add with dry ingredients.
Other options to consider for binding: Mung Bean Flour, Pre-Gelled Potato Flour, new Flax-Based Gum Replacers; Modified Tapioca Starch.