Xanthan or Guar Gum: What's the Difference?

When I was first diagnosed with coeliac (celiac) disease , I remember flicking through gluten-free cookbooks and feeling overwhelmed at the number of unfamiliar ingredients listed. More often than not, xanthan gum or guar gum appeared on the ingredients list. To me, these names sounded more like martian ID cards and left me thinking, where on earth was I supposed to find such ingredients!

When I finally clicked that my local health food store stocked them - I was relieved. Relieved but also confused. So many thoughts were crossing my mind...

·       Is Xanthan gum the same as Guar Gum?

·       If not, how are they different?

·       Are they natural or artifical ingredients?

·       What are they made from?

·       Can they be substituted for each other?

My mind was running a muck. I started researching and testing these ingredients in different recipes... here are my results!

GUAR GUM vs. XANTHAN GUM

Guar Gum Pronounced 'gwar gum'

Guar gum has a distinct earthy odor. It is beige in colour and has a thicker type of powdery texture than xanthan gum. In fact, guar gum reminds me of the traditional drink used in Fijian ceremonies, made from the roots of the 'kava' plant. And I am not far wrong.

Guar gum is made from guar beans, which are seeds of the guar plant. The guar plant is primarily grown in India and Pakistan. The seeds from the plant are dehusked, milled and screened to obtain the guar gum.

Guar gum has mutiple benefits. It has almost eight times the water-thickening potency of cornstarch - which means that only a very small quantity is needed to create a 'sticky' quality. If you use too much guar gum, your baking is likely to be heavy and stringy in texture. When used according to recipe directions, guar gum increases dough yield in baking, gives greater resiliency, and improves texture and shelf life; in pastry fillings, it keeps the pastry crisp by preventing the water in the filling from 'weeping'. Guar gum is often used in hypoallergenic recipes to improve the thickness of non-wheat flours, allowing them to rise as wheat flour would. In addition, guar gum has many purported health benefits. These include: treatment of constipation, diarrhoea, irritable bowel syndrome and obesity. Guar gum also adds fibre (the soluble type) which helps to balance blood sugar and reduce cholesterol levels. The Guar Plant

Xanthan Gum Pronounced 'zanthun gum'

By contrast, xanthan gum has no odor, is creamy in colour and has very fine texture - it is almost like powdered dust. Usually this is achieved by fermenting corn sugar with a bacteria, Xanthomonas campestris. This is the same bacteria that creates black spots on broccoli, cauliflower and other leafy vegetables. The result is a slimy paste that is then dried up and ground into a fine white powder. It may be that this elaborate process explains why xanthan gum is so much more expensive than guar gum.

Xanthan gum is an emulsifier, which means it helps ingredients blend more effectively and stay blended while waiting on a shelf. This is especially useful in gluten free products, xanthan gum is used to give the dough or batter a "stickiness" that would otherwise be achieved with the gluten. However, if you use too much xanthan gum in a recipe you may notice a heavy, gummy or even slimy texture in your baked goods- so measure carefully!

My research did not find that xanthan gum had any additional health benefits, despite it costing twice as much as guar gum.

Regardless of whether you choose to use guar gum or xanthan gum in your gluten free baking, the desired effect is the same in my opinion. Ultimately it comes down to personal preference and how much you want to spend!

How to use Guar Gum or Xanthan Gum when Baking Gluten Free

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