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Are guar gum or xanthan gum really necessary in gluten-free breads  RSS feed

 
Adrien Lapointe
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A friend lent me a book which has a few gluten-free bread recipes. All the recipes call for guar gum or xanthan gum. Are those really necessary?
 
Casie Becker
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I don't know about in the specific recipes in that book; but in the Resilient Gardener, Carol Depp has included several bread, pancake, and even angel food cake recipes that don't. She has specific cooking processes to develop binding agents from non-wheat flours.
 
John Weiland
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@Adriene L: "...guar gum or xanthan gum. Are those really necessary?"

I've been amazed at the ability for Chia seed protein to be used in baking as a binding agent and/or gum substitute. Even used it to replace an egg in a muffin mix. To be fair this was a standard wheat flour recipe, but the chia seed protein added to the mix gave all the binding characteristic that the egg would have provided.

The product that I used is here: http://www.amazon.com/Foods-Alive-Protein-Powder-8-Ounce/dp/B0087BF6K8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1456332435&sr=8-1&keywords=chia+protein

....but you may just be able to grind chia seed to get the same effect.
 
Casie Becker
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That's actually exceptionally useful for me to know. The chia plant (if I remember correctly) is actually one of the native plants in parts of Southwest Texas. I've also seen pictures of it in bloom. I'm gonna have to put it on a future list for the front yard gardens. We've some wheat sensitivities in my family.
 
Adrien Lapointe
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I'll have a look at Carol Depp's book. It is at our public library.
 
Dave de Basque
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I find it really depends.

I have done a lot of gluten-free baking and experimenting, not because I'm a celiac, but because it's fun, and who needs gluten, anyway?

Usually I find that "quick breads" and muffins and cakes etc, the kind that are leavened with baking soda, powder or egg, do just fine without the gums: xanthan, guar or locust. You don't want those things to be too come out tough or sticky anyway, light and fluffy is normally what you're shooting for. If you try the recipe and they come out crumbly and you dont want them to be, some ground up chia seeds (or even whole) are a great choice. Chia takes a while to work its magic, you want to let the dough sit for at least 15 minutes once you mix it. The chia *really* thickens it up and can make it very sticky if you don't get the amount right, so you may need to experiment a lot. Too little does pretty much nothing. It's a Goldilocks thing, you need to get it just right. And adjust the amount of liquid too.

Keep in mind chia isn't bulletproof. Most thickening agents you might want to substitute for gluten, like say agar agar, lose their thickening powers and their effect at very high temperatures, like the ones you bake at. Chia loses its intense stickiness but still has some effect at baking temperatures.

Another hero, that, like chia, is also really good for you, is psyllium husks. This can work for even bread recipes that are leavened with yeast (and I imagine with sourdough too but I haven't tried). Bread baking is kind of the Paris-Dakar of gluten-free baking because it's so demanding on the dough, what with the elastic texture and kind of impermeability of the little air pockets it needs, and at very high temperatures. Honestly, even using psyllium husks just right (and you do have to do it just right with no cutting corners), bread recipes are still helped out by a little bit of xanthan/guar/locust gum and the addition of some kind of starch, but you can get the psyllium option right and forego the other gloop if you work on it. (Btw if you do use the gums, they say it's often more effective if you mix them, e.g. xanthan and guar instead of just xanthan. Not sure if this is true, just passing it on.)(Btbtw I also really try to avoid using the starches that gluten-free recipes almost always call for -- who needs the empty carbs? might as well go back to eating gluten! But I must admit they make it easier to get your bread to rise successfully and come out with a good texture. I'm not bothered by constant experimentation, though, so I enjoy the challenge, YMMD.)

The secret to using psyllium husks is grinding them up really, really, really fine -- yes, finer than you got them from the store. I use a cheap coffee grinder and it takes maybe 5-10 seconds. AND you MUST use BOILING water when you add the wet ingredients, and the rest of the wet ingredients should be as warm or hot as possible. Otherwise the magic does not work.

If you're interested in the psyllium husk thing, here is a recipe for "paleo submarine bread" that started me experimenting, and here is another article about all of these ingredients and how they work together that I found pretty interesting.

Have fun!

Edit: PS - Forgot to mention that psyllium husks soak up liquid like nobody's business!! You will need to adjust the amount of liquid in any recipe you are converting to psyllium-hood. In fact, they're so absorbent and binding that you can even use psyllium husks to make kind of burrito-style tortillas out of your whizzed up garden vegetables if you have a dehydrator and peel-off sheets. Just toss your stuff in the blender, psyllium makes it stick together and removes the wateriness, spread it onto sheets, dehydrate, flip and peel off the sheets, dehydrate more, and presto! It doesn't get any healthier. If you have a solar dehydrator and bike-powered blender, it's great for the planet too!
 
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