Read The Label: Guar and Xanthan

 

Sorry guys, I said Guar, not Gwar!

Sorry guys, I said guar, not Gwar!

Discerning consumers read the labels to find out exactly what they’re getting, and sometimes it seems like you need a PhD in chemistry to figure out what’s actually in your food. Still other times it seems like the ingredients hail from another planet. Take Guar and Xanthan, for example. What are these duelling rivals from another galaxy doing hiding out in our ice cream, salad dressings and baked goods? Today we have a look at these two food additives that are showing up more and more in our cosmetics, toothpaste and in our processed foods.

Let’s party!

Both Guar gum and Xantham, are emulsifiers and binders that are used to thicken, bind and stabilize products like oil and vinegar based salad dressings that would otherwise separate, and in frozen dairy desserts, to make things creamy and keep ice-crystals from forming. In baking it is used in fruit fillings, for thickening and for keeping the water from separating out from the filling and soaking into the pastry, and may be used in gluten-free breads, pies and cakes. Both guar gum and xanthan are efficient in their duties; guar gum for example has eight times the thickening power of cornstarch.

 

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Despite their unusual names, they are derived from natural products. Guar gum is the less processed additive as it is derived with a minimum of fuss from the guar bean, whereas Xantham requires a little more tinkering.The guar plant, also known as the cluster bean or guwar is a legume that has been cultivated for centuries in India and Pakistan. The long pods are harvested and dried in the sun and the seeds are removed, polished and roasted, de-hulled and de-germed. The resulting endosperm, known as split is milled and ground into powder. When rehydrated it forms a sort of mucilaginous gum that works well for thickening, stabilizing and and binding, so it is often used in baking instead of eggs and is ideal for gluten-free baking. In addition, it acts as a bulk-forming laxative and has been shown to reduce cholesterol, and slows the absorption of sugars into the bloodstream, helping to reduce sugar “spikes.”

 

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Xanthan gets its name and is produced by fermenting corn sugar with bacteria known as xanthamonis campestris, the same bacteria that causes those black spots on cauliflower. The fermentation produces a gooey substance, the gum, which is then dried into powder and used much like guar gum. Like guar gum a little goes a long way. In gluten-free cooking, ¼ teaspoon per cup of non-wheat flour is recommended for cakes, and 1 teaspoon per cup in bread-making.

Now you know all about emulsifiers, wasn’t that fun?

School’s out, now crank the Gwar!

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