Those with Celiac Sprue disease or gluten intolerance may have already found themselves pondering the names of common gluten free thickeners found in their pre-made food or gluten free recipes. Xantham Gum, Guar Gum, and Corn Starch are relatively cheap substitutes for flour in everything from pastries to soups and salad dressing.
Let us discuss the differences between Xantham Gum, Guar Gum, and Corn Starch. All three of these ingredients are used as thickening agents, commonly in gluten free recipes to replace gluten itself. Gluten, the springy, large protein molecule commonly found in wheat and other grains lends to that wonderfully moist, chewy quality in bread and the wonderfully full bodied effect in soups and dressings. Thus for the gluten intolerant, we turn to the Gums and corn starches to recreate this effect.
Corn starch is generally cheap and easy to come by, yet many people exhibit sensistivity to corn, and thus experience gastro-intestinal disress similar to the effects of celiac disease and gluten insensitivity. Xantham gum is a similar agent in the polysaccaride family (translated “many sugars”, this agent contains 5 different types of sugars), however it is often derived from common allergen proteins such as corn, wheat, dairy, and soy, it too can lend to gastro-intestinal distress. It has also not been recommended for use in infant products. Additionally, it was linked with respiratory issues in workers exposed to xantham gum dust.
Guar Gum is derived from the guar bean and has almost 8 times the amount of water thickening ability of corn starch. It can be used medicinally to treat constipation and flare ups in diverticulitis, Crohn’s disease, and irritable bowl syndrome. It has also been shown to increase calcium absorption in the large colon, which lend to a more efficient storage of the important element. Due to the fact that it is not linked with derivation of common allergens, it is commonly more easily digested, and thus a more attractive choice when considering food thickeners.
Guar gum and Xantham gum are commonly found in the baking section of a health foods or whole foods store. Surprisingly I found both in the “healthy foods corner” of a local thrifty grocer. Corn starch is a more common ingredient and often found in the baking isle of most grocers.