Xanthan gum is a natural binding ingredient that is used to replace wheat protein in gluten-free baking. However, xanthan gum can be prohibitively expensive, and some people are sensitive to certain brands. Several alternatives to xanthan gum are available, and each is ideally suited to different dishes. You may need to experiment before you find the best alternative to xanthan gum for your favorite recipe.
Guar gum is a natural binding agent made from an extract of the guar plant. It combines with liquid to create a gel-like substance. This substance helps thicken sauces, keep fats and liquids emulsified, and trap air bubbles giving baked goods their rise. It is the most common alternative to xanthan gum and can be substituted directly in most gluten-free recipes. Guar gum is ideal for cold foods such as ice creams and pastry fillings, but is not well suited to yeast breads.
Agar agar is derived from Southeast Asian seaweed. It is very high in fiber and is often used as a substitute for gelatin. These properties make it an effective alternative to xanthan gum because it binds starch molecules together to thicken batters.
Agar agar is less common than xanthan gum and may not be available in your local grocery store. Many natural and health food stores carry it, and it is widely available online.
If you do not tolerate various gums, or you want a simpler alternative to xanthan gum, try ground flax or chia seeds. Use a coffee or spice grinder or a food processor to grind the seeds to a fine powder. Mix the seed powder with boiling water and use in place of xanthan gum. You can substitute the same amount of ground seeds as xanthan gum, and use twice as much water to make a slurry. Be sure to reduce the amount of other liquids in your recipe to account for the boiling water. The fiber in the seeds will swell, creating a gel-like structure that will thicken your batter or dough. Be sure to grind the seeds very fine in baked goods or dishes that would be marred by a gritty or crunchy texture.
You can replace xanthan gum with whipped egg whites in certain recipes, such as waffles or pancakes. The protein in the egg whites traps air, which gives batters lift when they come in contact with a hot cooking surface. Egg whites are not a good substitute for breads or baked goods with a long cook time because they would deflate. They are not ideal for cooked sauces because the proteins become chewy. However, in recipes designed to take advantage of quick, hot cooking, egg whites can be an inexpensive, natural alternative to xanthan gum.