Turn over a gluten-free or low-carb baked good and one of the ingredients is sure to be xanthan gum. This emulsifier, thickening agent, and binder is a go-to for many low-carb and keto companies to help give foods the right consistency without adding carbs.
It’s also used in foods like salad dressing and ice cream, helping fat-based ingredients bind with water. In smoothies, soups, and other liquids, xanthan is used as a thickener, often to replace higher-carb ingredients like bananas or tapioca. And in gluten-free bread and baked goods, xanthan is used as a binder to replace ingredients like gluten.
Can you avoid xanthan and still get the textures you want from processed and packaged foods? What about at-home baking? The answer is yes. Read on to find out the best xanthan gum substitutes and exactly how to use them.
The Downside To Xanthan Gum
While xanthan gum does a terrific job of cutting carbs while helping your food maintain the textures you know and love, there is a downside to this ingredient — its origins.
Xanthan gum is made through a fermentation process, which typically uses row crops like wheat, soy, and corn. These three ingredients are not only some of the top allergens, but most of the wheat, corn, and soy produced in the United States are genetically modified[*][*][*].
Some people also have a hard time digesting xanthan gum, resulting in gut issues — mostly diarrhea or loose stools[*].
Luckily, there are some fantastic xanthan gum substitutes. Depending on the type of product you’re looking for (or cooking yourself), you can replace xanthan gum with any of the substitutes below.
#1 Ground Flax Seeds
Flax seeds are a rich source of fiber, as well as omega-3 fatty acids. Flax is also incredibly low-carb, with one tablespoon coming out to only 0.10 net carbs[*].
Due to flax’s ability to bind ingredients together while also adding moisture, ground flax acts as an excellent replacement for xanthan gum in baked goods. Simply add water along with your flax seeds, with a ratio of 2:1. For instance, if you are using one tablespoon of flax, add two tablespoons of water. You can also use that same water to flax ratio to replace eggs in baked goods.
#2 Psyllium Husk Powder
Psyllium husk is rich in soluble fiber, which provides a mucilaginous (or gummy) texture when combined with a liquid. In other words, when you add psyllium to water, it soaks up the liquid and has a thickening effect. It also serves as a binding agent in your food, holding ingredients together.
At only one net carb per two tablespoons, it’s also one of the best keto-friendly thickeners[*].
Be aware that if you add psyllium to your recipe without adding extra water, the psyllium will soak up whatever liquid is already present in the mix. Therefore, unless you’ve accounted for its sponge-like behavior, always add psyllium with some extra liquid.
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One of the added benefits of using psyllium husk is its positive impact on digestion. Psyllium not only enhances the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut but can also ease symptoms of constipation[*].
#3 Guar Gum
Guar gum is virtually net-carb free, with 9 grams of fiber per one-tablespoon serving[*].
Made from an extraction of the guar bean, guar gum serves as an excellent replacement for xanthan gum in most recipes as it has similar functionality. It doesn’t work quite as well in hot water or acidic solutions, however, so you may want to choose another option for salad dressings and soups.
The benefit of using guar over xanthan gum is that it is not fermented, and therefore doesn’t require sugar-based substrates coming from crops like soy, wheat, and corn. If you’re sensitive or have a lot of food allergies, gaur is a much better alternative to xanthan.
#4 Egg Whites
If you’re looking for an ingredient that can replace xanthan’s binding functionality while adding some protein, egg whites are the way to go. Egg whites are 100% carb-free and come with a small dose of protein[*].
In baked goods, they also help bread rise, which can be tricky when you’re working without gluten. If you add too many egg whites, however, your baked goods may actually become too fluffy — so don’t go overboard.
The typical substitution for xanthan gum is one egg white per tablespoon of xanthan.
#5 Chia Seeds
One tablespoon of chia seeds has only one net carb and four grams of fiber, making it a fantastic low-carb choice[*].
Similar to psyllium husk, chia seeds create a mucilaginous texture when added to a liquid. However, unlike psyllium, chia seeds need to soak in water (or any liquid) for 10 to 15 minutes before they begin to transform into a thicker gel-like substance.
Chia seeds are excellent for adding thickness and moisture to baked goods and are a great option if you use xanthan gum as a stabilizer in smoothies or shakes.
To prepare your chia seeds, soak them in a ratio of 3:1 where you add about three tablespoons of water for each tablespoon of chia seeds.
Chia seeds will continue to soak up liquid over time, so if you use them in a smoothie recipe and leave the smoothie for 30 minutes or an hour, you may come back to find your smoothie has turned into gummy jello. If that happens, simply add more liquid and shake or stir.
#6 Gelatin Powder
Much like egg whites, gelatin is primarily protein and contains zero carbohydrates, making it a great substitute for keto dieters[*].
Gelatin is a broken down form of collagen and is another excellent ingredient for binding, especially if you have an egg allergy or are avoiding egg products.
You can add gelatin as a dry powder to any recipe, whether liquid (like a soup or smoothie) or baked like bread or muffins.
To substitute xanthan gum with gelatin, simply add twice the amount of gelatin as a replacement. For example, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of xanthan gum, add two tablespoons of gelatin.
Agar-agar is obtained from red algae and can replace xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio. This is a great option for vegans looking to replace the stabilizing or thickening functionality of xanthan without using gelatin.
The one thing to be cautious of with agar-agar is the carb count. Although in small quantities, it should be fine (two tablespoons is only 0.7 grams of carbs), it’s mostly carbohydrate, so you won’t want to use it in a recipe that calls for a large quantity[*].
Xanthan gum is an incredibly common food additive used in keto and gluten-free recipes.
The benefit of xanthan gum is that it can enhance gluten-free baking, making products like almond flour bread less crumbly, and creating more texture in foods like ice cream and soups.
The downside is that it’s also often made with GMO ingredients like corn, wheat, and soy.
If your goal is to clean up your diet as much as possible, there are plenty of options that you can use in place of xanthan gum. This doesn’t mean you need to avoid xanthan gum at all costs; just be informed and aware of the potential downfalls.