Ask the ChefsJun/Jul 2013 Issue

In the Kitchen: Xanthan Gum, Food Sensitivites, Celiac Disease & More!

Beth Hillson answers your questions

Beth Hillson

Photo of Beth Hillson by Oksana Charla

Thank you so much for using more nutrient-dense flours in your recipes. I’d love to get away from using xanthan gum and guar gum in my baking. What would work?

We’re glad you enjoy our recipes featuring gluten-free whole grain flours. Xanthan and guar gum deliver beneficial baking properties—they help bind ingredients together and provide elasticity, improving texture. There are several options for substituting either xanthan or guar gum in gluten-free baking but there’s no one-size-fits-all formula. It may take some experimenting on your part. Try these suggestions in familiar recipes first so you know what kind of results to expect.

For yeast breads, try gelatin, pectin or agar; add 1 teaspoon per cup of flour blend used. For pie crusts, try gelatin or agar; add 2 teaspoons per cup of flour. I don’t recommend using gelatin or agar in recipes for muffins, cakes or cookies. For general-purpose baking, try potato flour (not potato starch) or modified tapioca starch. To start, use a maximum of 2 tablespoons per recipe. You may need to add a little extra liquid, 1 to 2 teaspoons at a time, until the batter looks smooth.

In the absence of gum, you can boost baking properties by adding 2 tablespoons of chia seeds or flax seed meal; this promotes better texture and structure in baked goods and helps prevent them from drying out.

Nutrient-dense, high-protein flours—amaranth, chickpea, quinoa, millet—can improve texture and structure, too. Add 4 to 8 tablespoons to the dry ingredients in your recipe. I sometimes add coconut flour (2 to 3 tablespoons per recipe) to improve texture and reduce crumbling. Coconut flour absorbs liquid so use only a small amount to keep from altering the outcome of the recipe.

I have many food sensitivities, including corn and rice. When using gluten-free recipes or flour blends that call for corn, I find that millet flour works quite well. Most flour blends and gluten-free recipes call for either white or brown rice flour. I've been substituting sorghum flour for brown rice flour and millet flour for white flour. This works great for cookies but not for anything that needs to rise, like cakes and yeast breads. Sorghum flour seems to make my cakes fall and millet flour makes things crumble. Do you have any suggestions on what to use to replace white and brown rice?

Great question. Since the properties of cakes and yeast breads are quite different, you might need two separate substitution strategies. Cakes require a light, delicate crumb. My inclination would be to add a blend of half tapioca starch/flour and half almond flour (if tolerated). Use 1 cup of this mixture to replace 1 cup of rice flour in your cake recipes.

For yeast breads, I suggest using up to 30 percent chickpea, amaranth, buckwheat or quinoa flour in your flour blend. This means for every 3 cups of flour blend, use less than 1 cup of any one of these flours (or a combination). These flours are nutrient-dense and contain a lot of protein, which adds elasticity to the bread. They also create an excellent environment for yeast to expand, producing a nicer rise.

Since my diagnosis of celiac disease, getting my digestive system back on track has been a slow journey. One thing that’s helped is keeping FODMAP foods to a minimum. Honey and agave are major offenders but they pop up in all sorts of recipes. I sometimes substitute maple syrup, which is allowed on the FODMAP diet, but it alters the taste quite a bit. Do you have suggestions for how to modify a recipe to use plain, old white sugar instead?

This is an unusual conversion as most readers are looking for ways to limit their intake of white sugar. The formula for replacing sugar with honey/agave is

2/3 cups honey/agave for every 1 cup sugar; reduce liquids in the recipe by 1 fluid ounce (about 2 tablespoons) for every 2/3 cup honey/agave added. To convert to sugar, I suggest you add 1 cup of granulated sugar for every 2/3 cup of honey/agave used in your recipe. Add 2 tablespoons of extra liquid for each 2/3 cup honey/agave replaced. Use a liquid already called for in the recipe rather than introducing a new ingredient.

In addition, read "Road Map for IBS" at

I want to convert a blueberry muffin recipe to gluten-free using my own flour blend. How much xanthum gum do I need to add? The recipe calls for 2 cups of flour.

Generally, I add ½ teaspoon xanthan gum for each cup of flour used in recipes for quick breads and muffins. Turn to Substitution Solutions on page 71 for suggested amounts of gum for each baking category.

I want to make my own gluten-free self-rising flour. Is there a general rule about adding baking powder to a regular gluten-free flour blend?

To create a gluten-free self-rising flour blend, add 1¼ to 1½ teaspoons baking powder and ¼ teaspoon salt per cup of flour blend. This self-rising flour blend is a good one to use for all your quick breads and muffins. (If your recipe calls for baking powder and/or salt, don’t add them again when using this formula.)

I have a recipe for cupcakes that calls for a "full-size" muffin tin? What’s the measurement for that?

A full-size muffin cup measures about 2¾ inches across the top. Don’t worry if yours are a little smaller (or larger). Just check for doneness 3 to 4 minutes before (or after) the recipe suggests.

What’s the best substitute for eggs in a recipe? Is there a limit to how many eggs I can replace before my recipe doesn’t turn out?

Replacing more than 2 eggs will change the integrity of a recipe. The texture and rise of your baked goods will be impacted. However, we have successfully replaced 3 or more eggs; you can find egg-replacement instructions following most of our recipes. For custard-based recipes, like quiche, that call for a lot of eggs, try replacing each egg with 4 tablespoons pureed silken tofu mixed with 1 teaspoon baking powder; add 2 tablespoons cornstarch or tapioca starch to the mixture. You may have to increase baking time slightly.

For a list of egg alternatives, turn to Substitution Solutions.

My daughter has celiac disease and she had a bad reaction to bread I made with xanthan gum. She read on the Internet that people with celiac disease shouldn’t eat xanthan gum. Is that true?

Xanthan gum is gluten free and safe for people with celiac disease. However, some people are sensitive to xanthan, evidenced by gastrointestinal symptoms, such as bloating, gas and diarrhea. For these folks, consuming even a minor amount can prompt trips to the bathroom. A xanthan reaction can mystify celiacs, making them think they accidentally ingested gluten. If your daughter is sensitive to xanthan, use guar gum instead. It makes a good substitute and is also less expensive.

My natural food store doesn’t carry sweet rice flour. Can I make it by grinding up rice and adding sugar to it?

No, the name is misleading. Sweet rice flour is made from shorter-grain rice that’s more glutinous (not to be confused with gluten) than other rice. It’s often used in Asian cooking and in gluten-free baking, especially cakes and cookies. If you can't find it locally, order it online from Bob's Red Mill,

I’m confused. Do I need to avoid MSG on a gluten-free diet?

No. MSG and its close cousin, autolyzed yeast extract, are common flavor enhancers. Both are gluten free.

Some of your recipes call for brown sugar. Doesn’t brown sugar contain caramel, which has gluten?

Brown sugar sold in the United States is gluten free. The caramel color is made from corn.

My son is allergic to corn in addition to gluten and dairy. It’s difficult to avoid corn when baking. Help!

Yes, corn is hidden in a surprising number of ingredients—sorbitol, maltodextrin, most baking powders, confectioner’s sugar and monosodium glutamate (MSG), to name a few. Even xanthan gum, which is used in many gluten-free prepared foods and mixes, is produced from the fermentation of corn sugar. Unless your son’s corn allergy is serious, however, xanthan gum may not pose a problem. If it does, guar gum may be a safe alternative.

To replace corn syrup, substitute an equal amount of honey, agave nectar, tapioca syrup or rice syrup. You can purchase corn-free baking powder online ( To make your own, blend together 1/3 cup baking soda, 2/3 cup cream of tartar + 2/3 cup arrowroot starch.

To make corn-free confectioner’s sugar, combine 1½ tablespoons tapioca starch/flour or potato starch + enough granulated sugar to equal 1 cup; process in a blender on high speed for 45 seconds or until powdered. Store unused portion in an airtight container.

Gluten-free bread recipes often call for cornstarch, corn flour or cornmeal. I’m allergic to corn. What can I do?

Not to worry. Use tapioca starch/flour or potato starch in place of cornstarch. Replace the corn flour with sorghum flour. Replace the cornmeal with rice bran. If the cornmeal is used for dusting pans, use rice flour instead.

Food editor Beth Hillson is a chef and cooking instructor. She is founder of Gluten-Free Pantry, one of the first gluten-free companies in the United States, and author of Gluten-Free Makeovers (
Send your questions to Ask the Chef, Living Without magazine, 800 Connecticut Avenue, Norwalk, CT 06854-1631 or Include your full name, address and daytime phone number. Letters become the property of Belvoir Media Group, LLC and may be published in other media. Submissions chosen for publication may be edited for clarity and length.

Comments (1)

I have severe intolerance's to xanthan gum, guar gum, as well as wheat, corn, soy, and dairy. What can I use instead for my baked paleo breads? Your insight will be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Posted by: Theresa Nicole | June 18, 2014 9:20 AM    Report this comment

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