It keeps ice crystals out of ice cream, keeps oil and vinegar from separating in bottled salad dressings, heck, it even gives your toothpaste that nice, thick, stick-to-the-brush consistency. It’s xanthan gum, and if you’ve ever tried gluten-free baking, you know it’s basically the only thing keeping those goods together as well.
Xanthan gum is a powdered substance made from corn sugar produced with a bacterium called Xanthomonas campetris, which adds thickening properties. It’s difficult to dissolve by hand, so a blender or electric mixer is best when incorporating it into a recipe. Any recipe that could use a boost of gluten (or a gluten-like thickening substance to begin with) can benefit from xanthan gum. It makes custards creamier, gelatin better at setting, and adds fluffiness to mousses and cakes.
Xanthan gum works by strengthening the cells that hold air inside the bubbles that form in leavened baked goods and allow them to rise and become fluffy — gluten’s job exactly. It also keeps baked goods’ oil and water emulsified (like it does with salad dressing) so it becomes “stabilized” and doesn’t fall apart. Best of all, you only need a tiny amount of it to get the job done, so get ready to finally use that 1/4-teaspoon measurer. You’ll be thickening desserts and salad dressings for a while.
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