It's the glue that holds your gluten-free baked baking together.

By Briana Riddock
Updated August 10, 2017
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Credit: Getty Images/ Jesper Mattias

With the popularity of embracing a gluten-free lifestyle, more and more home cooks are venturing to try their hand at making gluten-free versions of their most-loved dishes. Thus, we need to take a moment to recognize the ingredient that has really made gluten-free glory possible: xanthan gum. The binding magic of xanthan gum allows bakers and cooks to thicken, emulsify, and stabilize with just a sprinkle (and without gluten), preventing the separation of ingredients.

Xanthan gum doesn’t exactly sound like a natural ingredient; so what is it? This food additive is made from fermented corn sugar broken down by a plant bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. The remaining residue is dried and turned into a powder.

Xanthan gum is an important ingredient in gluten-free baking as it helps these baked goods hold together and develop elasticity (jobs normally performed by gluten). For those that have a sensitivity to gluten or suffer from Celiac's disease, this stabilizing agent is a key ingredient in enjoying a wide variety of fave foods, with similar textures as the traditional (gluten-filled) version. If this additive were left out of the gluten-free baking experience, many of your final products would simply crumble in your hands. The gum provides the tackiness that gluten lends to doughs and batters. However, there are viable substitutes to using xanthan gum in certain applications, such as chia seeds, agar agar, flax seeds, and psyllium fiber. Outside of baking, xanthan gum is also used to thicken sauces, gravies, dressings, and ice cream.

Similar to baking powder and baking soda, a small amount of xanthan gum is typically enough to do the trick. Many recipes won’t call for more than a tablespoon of the powder total. You can typically find this mighty ingredient on the baking aisle of your supermarket, or you can easily order it online. There are all-purpose flour blends that already contain xanthan gum so that you may not need to purchase the powder itself. (Going with a good all-purpose gluten-free flour will also help you to avoid purchasing a million varieties of gluten-free flours that are often call for.) In most cases you can use these flour blends as you would in recipe that calls for traditional AP flour in a 1:1 ratio, with the exception of yeast-based recipes like breads.

Ready to get cooking? Here are a handful of great recipes that deliciously utilize the binding power of xanthan gum:

Sausage and Black Olive Pizza

Take this gluten-free crust recipe to make any pizza topping combination your heart desires. The crust is thin and crispy, and perfect for any night that calls for pizza, which is basically everyday. We highly recommend trying this pairing of sausage with black olives for an out-of-this-world savory-salty flavor profile.

Credit: Oxmoor House

Salted Caramel Brownies

Warm this gluten-free brownie and serve it with a huge scoop of vanilla ice cream topped with whipped cream. It’s the only proper way to enjoy this chocolatey and perfectly salty dessert.

Cherry Tart with Almond Streusel Topping

Credit: Oxmoor House

This has to be one of the best uses for fresh cherries, especially when they are in season over the summer. This sweet-tart dessert is made with a combination of flours to achieve a crumbly and buttery crust that holds the cherry filling flawlessly.

Oatmeal-Raisin Cookies

Credit: Oxmoor House

No one can beat a favorite family recipe for oatmeal raisin cookies, but this gluten-free version might just become your new favorite. You get the same great spice combo of allspice, nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, as well as the signature chewy-crunchy texture.

Banana-Toffee Cupcakes

Next time you find yourself with slightly over-ripe bananas, give these cupcakes a go. The delicately spiced batter, pairs deliciously with crunchy toffee pieces sprinkled over the sweet frosting.

Chocolate Layer Cake

This stunning dessert is also delicious using unsweetened almond milk in both the cake and frosting.Recipe: Chocolate Layer Cake
| Credit: Oxmoor House

This stunning dessert is also delicious using unsweetened almond milk in both the cake and frosting.

Recipe: Chocolate Layer Cake Photo: Oxmoor House

Never miss out of your favorite dessert again because we have the most decadent gluten-free chocolate cake that you can imagine. Melted semi-sweet chocolate chips in the batter gives that cakes its deep chocolate intensity. The accompanying cocoa frosting is equally delightful, no worries.

Spiced Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Credit: Oxmoor House

The richness offered by this spiced carrot cake is unbelievable. The addition of applesauce in the recipe locks in moisture and lends a wonderful texture to this gluten-free take on the classic.

Buckwheat Belgian Waffles

Credit: Oxmoor House

Make breakfast a meal to get excited for with these hearty waffles, made with buckwheat flour and spiced with a hint of cinnamon and vanilla extract.

Spinach, Bacon, and Cheese Quiche

Credit: Oxmoor House

Get the buttery, flaky crust you crave with this easy-to-handle gluten-free dough, that cradles all of your baked egg goodness. This brunch-worthy quiche is filled with salty bacon, plenty of cheese, and bright green spinach.