Xanthan & Guar Gum: The Unusual Gluten Substitutes and Their Side Effects

May 20


Bruce Scott Dwyer

Bruce Scott Dwyer

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Celiac disease and gluten intolerance affect approximately 1% of the global population, necessitating the rise of the gluten-free industry. Gluten, found in wheat, rye, barley, and oats, is often hidden in many foods. Its primary role in cooking is its binding property, which must be replaced in gluten-free diets. Xanthan and guar gums are popular substitutes, but their origins and side effects are worth exploring.

The Real Culprit: Prolamins

Contrary to popular belief,Xanthan & Guar Gum: The Unusual Gluten Substitutes and Their Side Effects Articles gluten itself isn't the main issue for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance. The problematic component is the prolamin portion of the gluten molecule. In wheat, this is called gliadin, which makes up 40-50% of the protein. In rye, it's secalin (30-40%), in barley, it's hordein (35-45%), and in oats, it's avenin (10-15%). Prolamins in rice and corn do not contain the toxic tetrapeptides responsible for the villous damage and rash experienced by celiacs.

The Drawbacks of Gluten

When gluten enters the digestive tract, it breaks down into peptide chains. These chains are longer than those from other proteins, triggering immune responses that cause celiac disease. Other conditions that benefit from a gluten-free diet include irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, dermatitis herpetiformis, and ulcerative colitis.

Hidden Gluten

Newcomers to a gluten-free diet should be cautious. Many "wheat-free" products still contain gluten. Always read ingredient labels carefully.

Natural Gelling Agents

Several natural products can replace gluten's cooking properties. Here are a few:


Found in apples, quince, plums, and citrus fruits, pectin is primarily used as a gelling agent in jams and marmalades. However, people with fructose intolerance should avoid it.


Derived from brown algae, alginate is used in dehydrated products, paper, textiles, and even as a detoxifier for poisonous metals.


Extracted from red seaweeds, carrageenan is used in desserts, ice cream, milkshakes, and even toothpaste. It acts as a thickener and stabilizer.


A gelatinous substance from seaweed, agar is used in Japanese desserts and can be found in powdered form.

Gluten Replacement Options

While the above agents have various uses, they don't offer the combined properties needed to replace gluten in flours. This is where xanthan and guar gum come in.

Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is a substitute for wheat gluten in gluten-free breads, pastas, and other flour-based products. It is derived from the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris, which causes black rot on broccoli and cauliflower. The bacteria produce a slimy substance during fermentation, which acts as a natural stabilizer or thickener.

Xanthan gum is a long chain of three different sugars, all present in corn sugar. It is used in dairy products and salad dressings as a thickening agent and stabilizer. It prevents ice crystals in ice creams and provides a 'fat feel' in low-fat dairy products.

Interestingly, xanthan gum is also used in cosmetics and the oil industry. It is highly concentrated, meaning only a small amount is needed, keeping costs down. However, some people may be allergic to it.

Guar Gum

Guar gum is derived from the guar plant, primarily grown in Pakistan and northern India. It is a natural food thickener and is highly concentrated, reducing the amount needed in foods.

Guar gum is also used in non-prescription diet pills, but its use was banned in the early 1990s by the FDA due to potential intestinal blockages. In regular foods, it is not considered harmful, but excessive use can have a laxative effect.

How Xanthan and Guar Gum Are Used

Xanthan gum (E415) and guar gum (E412) are often blended. When added to gluten-free flour, they trap gas from yeast, causing the dough to rise. They are essential for gluten-free baking.

Wendy Wark's Gluten-Free Flour Mix

For those looking to make their own gluten-free flour, Wendy Wark's mix is a popular choice:

  • 2-1/4 cup brown rice flour
  • 3/4 cup sweet rice flour
  • 2/3 cup tapioca starch flour
  • 1/4 cup potato starch flour
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tsp xanthan or guar gum

Use one cup of this mix for one cup of regular flour in recipes. Add xanthan gum to the batter in the following proportions:

  • Bread: 3/4 tsp per cup of flour mix
  • Cake: 1/4 tsp per cup of flour mix
  • Cookies: No additional xanthan gum needed if the mix contains it.

Substitutes for Xanthan

For those with corn or soy allergies, alternatives include:

  • Agar agar
  • Carrageenan
  • Milled flax seed with coconut
  • Glucomannan flour (yam-based)
  • Unflavored gelatin (animal-based)
  • Methyl cellulose and hydroxypropyl methyl cellulose


While many natural gelling agents exist, xanthan and guar gum remain the most popular gluten substitutes in flours. Their versatility extends beyond food, making them valuable in various industries.


  1. Celiac Disease Foundation
  2. FDA on Xanthan Gum
  3. WiseGeek on Guar Gum
  4. Christine's Kitchen

This article provides a comprehensive look at xanthan and guar gum as gluten substitutes, their origins, and their side effects. It also offers practical advice for those on a gluten-free diet.

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