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Xanthan gum and guar gum are two ingredients often used in cooking and baking as a way to hold together wet and dry ingredients to form a more solid mixture, especially for dough or batter. These gums are often used by people who are allergic or otherwise intolerant to gluten, a protein found in grains. Gluten is often the main binding and thickening ingredient in carbohydrate bases, such as breads, crusts, pastas, and baked desserts. While xanthan and guar gums serve a similar purpose, they differ in many areas including ingredients, texture, and cost.
Xanthan gum is derived from extracted corn kernels. The starches from the individual corn kernels are processed in order to form sugar. The sugar is mixed with Xanthomonas campestris, a bacterial microorganism, and then allowed to ferment. The fermented mixture is dried and ground to form a light yellow powder.
Guar gum is made from the seeds of the legume plant known as cyamopsis tetragonolobus. The plant is grown most often in Pakistan and India, but is occasionally harvested in parts of North America and Europe. To form the gum, the seeds are removed from the plant and cracked open. The insides of the seeds are scraped out, then ground into a cream-colored powder.
While both xanthan or guar gums can be substituted for gluten products in recipes, xanthan tends to produce a texture that is more similar to gluten. Dough made with xanthan is usually more pliable because it can hold more air. Lack of air will make a food item dense and tough instead of light or flaky. Guar gum can result in a thinner, more stringy mixture.
Although xanthan tends to be more successful at creating a product reminiscent of gluten, it is often avoided in favor of guar gum by people who have corn allergies or diets that limit corn. Guar gum is also more affordable than xanthan gum, which can be up to triple the price. Since guar is derived from legume seeds, it contains more soluble fiber than corn-based xanthan gum, making it a healthier alternative.
Xanthan and guar have separate potential side effects. Xanthan may irritate the lungs or cause inflammation inside the nose or throat. Guar may cause irritation of the gastrointestinal tract because it often acts as a mild laxative. Neither of the gums are recommended for pregnant women or mothers who are breastfeeding.
Even though guar and xanthan have different properties, they are often used interchangeably in recipes. They are added to breads, cookies, pastas, or pizza crusts to make the dough or batters thicker without the use of gluten products like flour or eggs. The gums are added in small amounts, usually no more than one teaspoon. Too much of either of the gums can result in excessive moisture formation, making the dough or mixtures too wet to handle or bake properly.