Found in everything from cosmetics to ice cream, xanthan gum — which is made by fermenting corn sugar with a bacterium — is a common additive that acts as a thickening agent, binder, and emulsifier.
Whereas a thickener does just that, a binder holds ingredients together and an emulsifier blends those that would otherwise remain separate, such as oil and vinegar. This makes xanthan gum a popular ingredient in salad dressings.
It’s also popular in baking — especially gluten-free goods, which lack gluten’s binding capacities.
However, many people may not have it on hand.
Whether you’re in a pinch or would simply rather leave it out of your baked goods, here are 9 substitutes for xanthan gum.
1. Psyllium husk
Psyllium husk is made from the husks of Plantago ovata seeds and is sold ground for baking purposes. It may help lower blood sugar, as it acts much like xanthan gum in your gut — making it a great substitute.
While large amounts of xanthan gum may be linked to digestive and respiratory issues, several small studies indicate that sizable doses may help lower blood sugar.
Although more research is needed, this effect may be since xanthan gum and psyllium husk are soluble fibers, which your digestive tract can’t break down. Instead, they form a gel-like substance and help slow absorption.
When baking, substitute every 1 part of xanthan gum with 2 parts of psyllium husk.
Summary: Like xanthan gum, psyllium husk is a soluble fiber — a non-digestible starch that forms a gel-like substance in your gut. In recipes that call for xanthan gum, you’ll need to use twice as much psyllium husk.
2. Chia seeds and water
When soaked, chia seeds form a gel much like xanthan gum. What’s more, these seeds pack lots of fiber and important nutrients.
While you can use chia seeds whole, they add a bit of crunch and mild, nutty flavor to your recipe — so you should grind them if you prefer a smoother texture.
Chia seeds replace xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio.
Add 2 parts of hot water for every 1 part of chia seeds, then stir until the mixture becomes viscous.
You may need to add 10–15 minutes to your baking time to accommodate for using chia gel.
Summary: Chia seeds form a gel when mixed with liquid and can help thicken and bind baked goods. Use the same amount of ground or whole seeds as you would xanthan gum, and be sure to stir in water.
3. Ground flax seeds and water
Like chia seeds, flax seeds create a thick paste when combined with water. They’re also easy to find and fairly cheap.
However, whole seeds aren’t good at binding, so you should either grind the seeds on your own or buy ground flax seed, which is sometimes called flax meal. Mixing it with water activates its binding capacity.
Bear in mind that ground flax seeds may lend your recipe a nuttier, slightly gritty quality.
Use ground flax seeds in place of xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio, mixed with 2 parts hot water for every 1 part flax.
Summary: Ground flax seeds replace xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio but need to be mixed with hot water.
Cornstarch has a texture similar to that of xanthan gum. It’s highly absorbent, making it a great thickener in stews and gravies.
Though it’s naturally gluten-free, some products may be contaminated with this protein. If you avoid gluten, be sure to check the label for certification.
Unlike some of the other substitutes, you don’t need to mix it with water before use.
Its ratio is also easy. Just replace xanthan gum with the same amount of cornstarch.
Summary: Cornstarch makes an excellent thickener and is popular for stews and gravies. Swap it with xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio.
5. Unflavored gelatin
Gelatin helps firm up many dishes because it’s derived from animal collagen, a jelly-like protein that provides structure to connective tissues.
You’ll need 2 parts of gelatin for every 1 part of xanthan gum.
It’s an excellent choice for baked goods like bread and muffins.
Suggested read: 13 effective substitutes for eggs
However, gelatin isn’t vegan or vegetarian. Given that most gelatin comes from pig skin, it’s also inappropriate for anyone observing kosher or halal dietary practices.
Summary: Gelatin can help thicken almost any dish, but it’s important to note that it’s unsuitable for vegans, vegetarians, or anyone following kosher or halal guidelines.
6. Egg whites
Egg whites act as both leavening and binding agents to help dishes rise and firm up. This makes them a great substitute for xanthan gum.
They’re especially suitable for quick bread, batter bread, and cakes. Since they produce a light and fluffy texture, they’re not ideal for kneaded bread.
Because they’re an animal product, egg whites aren’t vegan-friendly.
Use 1 egg white to replace every tablespoon (4.5 grams) of xanthan gum.
Summary: Egg whites create a light, airy texture in baked goods and act as both a leavening and binding agent. Use 1 egg white to replace every tablespoon (4.5 grams) of xanthan gum.
7. Agar agar
Agar agar is derived from red algae and acts much like unflavored gelatin, thickening a dish and forming a jelly-like texture.
Because it’s plant-based, agar agar is a great vegan replacement for gelatin. It’s typically sold as flakes, sheets, or powder.
You can replace xanthan gum with agar agar in a 1:1 ratio.
You’ll first need to dissolve it in room-temperature water. Use 4 tablespoons (60 mL) of water for every 1 tablespoon (5 grams) of flakes or 1 teaspoon (2 grams) of powder.
Next, heat it over low heat for 3–5 minutes or until dissolved, then let it cool slightly before use. If it’s too thick, use an immersion blender to liquify it.
Note that agar agar may generally produce a slightly stiffer or denser texture.
Summary: Agar agar is an algae-based thickener that acts much like a vegan form of gelatin. It requires a little more prep than most replacements, but you can swap it with xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio.
8. Guar gum
Guar gum, also called guaran, is derived from guar beans. Like xanthan gum, it’s a white powder that functions as a binder and thickener.
Suggested read: 6 smart tapioca starch substitutes
Use 3 parts of guar gum for every 2 parts of xanthan gum in your recipe.
A good rule of thumb is to blend guar gum with the oils in your dish first, then add this mixture to the rest of your liquids.
Summary: Guar gum is a binding agent that replaces xanthan gum in a 3:2 ratio.
9. Konjac powder
Konjac powder, also called glucomannan, is made from konjac root, which is common in Asian cooking.
Its high fiber content helps thicken a dish much like xanthan gum.
Swap konjac root for xanthan gum in a 1:1 ratio. When making chewier foods, such as tortillas or flatbreads, you’ll generally want to use 1.5 times the amount of guar gum.
Summary: For most baked goods, you can use the same amount of konjac powder as you would xanthan gum. For chewier foods, you’ll want to use about 1.5 times the amount.
Xanthan gum is a popular ingredient in everything from cosmetics to food products, as it’s an excellent thickening agent and emulsifier.
However, if it’s not available or you prefer not to eat it, you can choose from several alternatives.
You may want to consider a few factors, such as any dietary restrictions and the desired texture of your baked goods, before settling on a substitute.