August 26, 2011

Gluten Free Bread Baking & The Xanthan Gum Trials

The Quest for Gluten Free Bread with, with less and without Xanthan Gum: First things first, What is Xanthan Gum? To many it is simply the god of gluten free baking, helping to pump up, keep moist, and create binding for gluten-less creations. It is in loads of packaged gluten free foods and it is an ingredient in almost every bread recipe I read in cookbooks dedicated to gluten free baking. It certainly aids a good photograph but I tend to think that taste and texture are more important than appearance. In addition, it just doesn’t sit right in my stomach. I hate the rubbery texture, the strange, raw moisture and the digestion process of this ‘binder’. It feels artificial to me and it always leaves me a bit queezy when I use it in my own gluten free baking.
My mom and I have been debating the use of Xanthan Gum lately and have decided that perhaps it is just being over-used (quantity-wise)? Her exact thoughts on the topic are closer to positive hatred towards the rubbery texture and the artificial moisture highlighted with derisive remarks at how it ‘blows up’ the bread. (Unlike me, who only refrains from excessive gluten in consumption, my mom is completely wheat and gluten free). So I decided to put our thoughts to action...

After a few loaves of Gluten Free Bread with varying quantities of Xanthan Gum, I found that:

100% of the recommended quantity of Xanthan Gum blew up the bread so much that I had to raise the oven rack! It made a lovely looking loaf (although a bit honeycombed on top) but on cutting it was so rubbery and moist that it almost seemed under cooked. It also made my stomach queezy after eating.
Above: I sprinkled chopped seeds on top to aid the appearance, as recommended in my recipe (millet or buckwheat flakes were the actual recommendation, but I didn't have any on hand).
Above: the honeycombed top which I didn't really like.
Above: I think that the loaf looked nice enough but it had a very rubbery and moist inside, despite the thick crust.

25% of the recommended quantity of Xanthan Gum held the bread together without having overkill of rubbery moisture. It was a bit crumblier than desired but not to a point of contention and the rubbery-ness was still present but not to a point of derision. The bread was ‘heavy’ to eat and I still felt slightly queezy after eating but not as bad as with the 100% loaf.

In the pictures above the 25% Xanthan Gum is on the left and the 0% Xanthan Gum is on the right. You can see that although both loaves raised, the 25% Xanthan loaf is higher/plumper.

0% of the recommended quantity of Xanthan Gum was a disaster. The bread was too crumbly, having no real binder (as expected) and it was really dense (like a brick!) making it cakey in texture and way too heavy.

Above: you can see the difference of density. The 25% loaf is on the left and the 0% loaf is on the right. (Note: Part of the crust fell off the top of the 0% loaf just after cutting! lol!)

Big Note: For the above Xanthan Gum Trails I used a modified recipe for Gluten Free White Bread from How to Cook for Food Allergies by Lucinda Bruce-Gardyne. Her Gluten Free ‘Genius’ bread is meant to be one of the best so I thought that it would be a good base to start from.
My modification was relating to the corn flour. I substituted the required 4oz Corn flour for 2oz Gram flour and equal parts Rice, Tapioca and Potato flours to make up the remaining 2oz.
I did this because I wanted to make the bread corn-free and then much to my (aghast!) discovery, I read that Xanthan Gum is derived from corn!? ...damn. So finally I started to question exactly what is Xanthan Gum, beyond just our opinions and found...

In the words of Wikipedia:
‘Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide, derived from the bacterial coat of Xanthomonas campestris, used as a food additive and rheology modifier,[2] commonly used as a food thickening agent (in salad dressings, for example) and a stabilizer (in cosmetic products, for example, to prevent ingredients from separating). It is produced by the fermentation of glucose, sucrose, or lactose by the Xanthomonas campestris bacterium. After a fermentation period, the polysaccharide is precipitated from a growth medium with isopropyl alcohol, dried, and ground into a fine powder. Later, it is added to a liquid medium to form the gum.’

Elsewhere on the www. I found references stating that:
- although Xanthan Gum is derived from or grown off of corn but that ‘all corn sugars are removed in the processing’ and therefore it is considered corn-free
- Xanthan is usually derived from corn in the States but can sometimes be made from soy or other plants
- either way, supposedly ‘the least amount of corn we can currently test for is 50 parts per million, whereas people seem to react to less than that if they are very sensitive’
- and whether it is corn containing or not, Xanthan Gum is a somewhat common allergen all on it’s own - yay! right?


So is Xanthan Gum Corn free? I think not, but it is probably one that you will have to decide for yourself, according to your own food allergies & digestion.

Then at the very end of my trials I saw on Gluten Free Girl's blog that she too was having trouble with Xanthan Gum and she was recommending ground flax seeds or chia seeds instead of Xanthan Gum or Guar Gum. Soooo, I though why not give it one last go and opted for Psyllium Husks...

3 generous teaspoons of psyllium husks instead of Xanthan Gum later gave me this:
It's still not really suitable for something like a closed sandwich but the consistency was moist and sufficiently elastic without seeming rubbery.The loaf was still a bit too cake-y and the crust was still on the crumbly side when slicing but overall, it is definitely my favourite of the four.
Above: Although the cross-section still looks quite dense, the texture was softer and perfectly moist. But you can also see at the top where the crust is still a bit fragile

Above: you can still see the a bit of the honeycomb exterior but it doesn't seem as 'pulled'

I image that the corn flour would make a notable difference but I would love to try it all again another day with a substitute for the potato flour. I just hate the smell when I go in for a bite... but maybe I’m being too picky on that one... maybe

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this! I too have found it sits in my gut and feels artificial.