Xanthan gum is becoming a more and more common ingredient, not just in the processed foods you buy at the store, but even in your home cooking as well.
Of course, some people avoid foods with this ingredient, while other people are just looking for something a little easier to use and keep around than Xanthan gum.
Fortunately, there are plenty of good substitutes for Xanthan gum for your home cooking. Here’s what you need to know to pick the right Xanthan gum substitute for any dish.
What Is Xanthan Gum?
Xanthan gum is a common food additive that has a couple of different roles. For the most part, Xanthan gum works as a thickener, and also as a stabilizer.
It’s one of the most popular food additives in processed foods, and, unless you do all of your own home cooking, you probably eat a few different products that contain Xanthan gum. It’s also a common ingredient in gluten-free foods, because it can help bring the texture of the food closer to the original recipes.
It can be used to make gluten free baking feel softer and fluffier, for instance, by helping to stabilize the dough and give it a better texture.
Xanthan gum is a bit of an odd ingredient though. It’s the product of a bacterial fermentation, specifically the bacterium Xanthomonas campestris. The bacteria ferment sugars, which produces a gooey broth. Adding alcohol can solidify the broth, which is then dried out and powdered to create Xanthan gum.
Xanthan gum contains soluble fibers, or carbs that your body cannot fully digest. That means that it does not provide any additional calories or nutrients. However, that fact also makes it a popular additive for low-calorie foods and snacks, since it can add some bulk without increasing the calories per serving.
Unfortunately eating too much Xanthan gum can have digestive consequences. A small amount of Xanthan gum works like any other soluble fiber, slightly slowing digestion. That can be a good thing, at times, especially if you’re having problems with fast digestion or diarrhea.
Eat too much of it though, and you might notice a constipated and bloated feeling. If you have a sensitivity to this ingredient, you might also get an upset stomach.
The Best Xanthan Gum Substitutes:
Here are some of the best Xanthan Gum substitutes you can use at home. Even better, a lot of these options are actually easier to find than Xanthan gum, which can make them more affordable as well.
Psyllium husks are made from mushrooms, and are a common way to add fiber and bulk to cooking. They work as a thickener, and can create a gel texture in liquids.
The trick with psyllium husks is that they absorb more moisture over time, which means that it’s easy to add too much too quickly. It also takes a little longer to tell that you need more, compared with other thickeners.
However, the nice thing about using psyllium husks is they can actually help improve digestion and fight constipation. This a great Xanthan gum substitute to use if you’ve noticed that Xanthan gum causes constipation for you, or if you’re having trouble keeping regular and want to add more fiber to your diet.
On the other hand, this quality can make this substitute a little harder to use if you have a touchy digestive system, because the extra fiber can cause problems if your digestion is already irritated.
Corn starch is one of the most common thickeners, and probably the one you’re most likely to have already in your kitchen.
Xanthan gum works to add structure as well, corn starch really doesn’t do the same. However, it can still be used in baking, and can help give you more of a pillowy texture in baked goods.
In soups and sauces, corn starch is popular because it creates a luxurious and slightly shiny thickener.
If you’ve ever enjoyed hot and sour soup, or other thickened Asian soups here in the United States, you might have had corn starch as the thickener.
Of course, there are plenty of other ways to thicken, and some are better than corn starch, especially if you want a clear broth. Corn allergies are also getting more common, and corn starch can cause an allergic reaction in people who have that particular allergy, or develop it.
Can’t use Corn Starch either? Check out our list of the best corn starch substitutes!
Ground Flax Seeds
Flax seeds aren’t quite as common as some of the other thickeners we’ll talk about in this article, but it’s a great all natural option.
Flax seeds work a little like chia seeds, absorbing moisture to create a gel layer around the seed. When you grind the flax seeds into a powder, the fragments still have the same property, which makes them a potent thickener.
They aren’t a structural element in baking, unlike Xanthan gum, but they can be added to baked goods to add protein, fat, and nutrition to the finished bake.
In soups and sauce, ground flax seeds might feel slightly grainy, but you can get around that problem by adding the flax seeds and then blending a little while later to break up the seeds and gel even further.
Unfortunately, this option only works if you’re making a smooth soup or sauce, since it removes all of the chunks in the soup up to that point.
Chia seeds are a common option to thicken desserts and puddings, while also adding a bit of protein and fiber to help make them a little healthier as well.
They can also be used in baking but are less common in sauces and soups since chia seeds, like flax seeds, can feel a little lumpy or grainy because of the seeds and the circle of gel around them.
Unflavored gelatin is a good substitute for both Xanthan gum and corn starch, if you need a thickened but clear broth and don’t want to use Xanthan gum.
The main downsides to using gelatin is that it can be a challenge to get the thickened food truly smooth if the gelatin sets while the liquid is still. The other issue is that gelatin usually isn’t vegetarian, and vegetarian versions, while possible, often cost more than the kind made from bone.
This Xanthan gum substitute works far better for soups and sauces than for baking.
Want more soup in your life? These 26 crockpot soup recipes make it easy!
Egg whites are a classic way to thicken and add volume to foods. The best use of this Xanthan Gum substitute is in cakes and other baking, where whipped egg whites can add a lot of durable volume to your food.
In other applications, like soups and sauces, egg whites can improve the texture and thicken, but they need to be handled with care to make sure the egg whites cook thoroughly and don’t get lumpy. Or you can make it intentionally a little lumpy or streaky for things like egg drop soup.
Speaking of baking, try these 24 low calorie dessert recipes to indulge while still meeting health and weight goals!
Agar agar is a slightly new Xanthan gum substitute for most home cooks. It’s been used for a long time in bacterial and cell culture, and is a standard growing medium in a lot of biology.
That said, it’s perfectly healthy, almost flavorless, and can thicken liquids anywhere from a slightly runny broth to a solid similar to Jello, but even thicker.
Guar gum is one of the most common substitutes for Xanthan gum, and it's also slightly cheaper than Xanthan gum, making it a more affordable alternative.
The nice thing is the guar gum doesn’t have the same digestive consequences as Xanthan gum either, while providing almost the same thickening properties.
This is an ideal substitute, though some people will still be wary of guar gum because of the odd name.
Arrowroot powder is a preferred thickener for people who are gluten free or allergic to corn starch. It’s also a classic thickener native to North America, and starting to be standard stock for most grocery stores, which makes it easy to find.
This is a good option for both adding baking structure and for helping to thicken soups and sauces.
Tapioca starch is another common substitute for Xanthan gum and corn starch both. It doesn’t quite mimic the thickening effect of either, instead creating a texture that people familiar with the starch will recognize. Also used to create culinary pearls, tapioca is probably best known in the United States for Tapioca pudding, but the starch can be used for a much broader range of purposes.
This option is fairly standard stock in grocery stores, and also used in corn-free versions of powdered sugar and other products for people who are allergic to corn.
Konjac powder is a common ingredient used in Asian cooking, and acts as a strong thickener in foods. It can help make soups and sauces thicker and richer, and can also provide a bit of structure to baked foods like pita breads and naan.
This is a plant based Xanthan Gum substitute, and is perfect for vegan and vegetarian cooking.
However, unless you have an Asian specialty grocery store nearby, you might have a hard time finding this particular Xanthan gum substitute. It is getting a little easier to order online, but you might not have much control over the size of the package you order with most retailers.
You can use konjac powder as a 1:1 replacement for Xanthan gum in most recipes. However, for flatbreads and other soft doughy baked foods, it’s better to use 1.5 times as much konjac powder as Xanthan gum.