Xanthan gum, or just xanthan, is one of the easiest ingredients to work with. It is used extensively to thicken liquids, make light foams, strengthen vinaigrettes, and is a great ingredient to use to turn thin liquids into rich sauces.
Xanthan gum, or just xanthan, is a very versatile ingredient and has many uses both in modernist and traditional cooking. It is also very easy to use and work with. Xanthan gum is great for thickening liquids, especially in small amounts, to turn them into flavorful sauces. It also can be used to create light foams and froths. Xanthan gum is excellent when used to stabilize emulsions or to suspend particles in liquids and is very effective at keeping purees from separating.
Xanthan gum has a very neutral flavor so it mixes well with foods without masking their flavor. It provides an improved mouthfeel for many preparations, slightly thickening a liquid similar to how traditionally reducing a liquid does. Xanthan also adds a desirable texture that fat usually contributes, making it ideal in low-fat preparations.
Xanthan gum is gluten free and is often used as a substitute in baking and thickening. It also helps baked goods to retain more moisture than they would have otherwise. When mixed into batters or tempura xanthan gum adds good cling, allowing the batter to stick more easily to the food. Also, xanthan gum does not lose its properties when microwaved.
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Xanthan gum is produced through the fermentation of glucose with a bacteria found in cabbage, known as Xanthomonas campesteris. It typically comes as a white powder.
It can hydrate and disperse at any temperature, and does so quickly, making it one of the few ingredients you can add slowly and instantly see the result. Xanthan gum has a very neutral flavor so it mixes well with foods without masking their taste.
To add xanthan gum sprinkle it on the liquid and then blend or whisk it until it is fully combined, I prefer to use an immersion blender in most cases. You can also improve the dispersion of xanthan gum by first mixing it with sugar, then adding it to the liquid. This is similar to making a slurry out of flour and cold water before adding it to gravy to prevent clumping. The sugar will prevent the xanthan gum from hydrating until it has been dispersed enough in the liquid for the sugar percent to go down.
Xanthan gum will pretty much work in liquid of any temperature. However, if the liquid is very sugary then it can have trouble hydrating. Typically, if the sugar is less than 55% to 60% it will work fine.
The amount of xanthan gum used will depend on the technique you are using it for.
As a thickening agent, the amount of xanthan gum you will use depends on how thick you want the liquid to be. In general, you will use a 0.1% weight ratio for light thickening up to a 1.0% ratio for a very thick sauce. Be warned though, adding too much xanthan gum can result in a texture and mouthfeel resembling mucus.
To make a xanthan gum foam a ratio between 0.2% and 0.8% is typically used. The more xanthan gum you use the larger the bubbles that can occur and the denser the foam will be.
For bubbles, resembling soap bubbles, a typical ratio is 0.1% to 0.4% xanthan gum and 0.2% to 2.0% Versawhip or egg white powder.
When making an emulsion, the more xanthan gum you add, the stronger the emulsion will be. However, it will also thicken the emulsion, which may or may not be desirable. To start binding an emulsion a ratio of around 0.1% can be used. If you want to also thicken the emulsion you can add up to around 0.7% of xanthan gum. Note: See How to Measure Modernist Ingredients for more information on ratios.
One of the primary uses of xanthan gum is to thicken liquids. This can range from very minor thickening to creating very thick syrups depending on the other ingredients and the amount of xanthan gum used.
Liquids thickened with xanthan gum take on several nice properties. The texture of the liquid takes on a "clingy" feel, similar to reduced liquid or fatty sauces. This helps increase the flavor of the liquid as well as help it stick to and coat food.
Another benefit of thickening with xanthan gum is that it greatly increases particle suspension. This means if you have herbs, spices, or other items in the liquid then the addition of xanthan gum will help keep them in suspension instead of settling to the bottom or rising to the top. This makes it ideal to use for holding vinaigrettes together or keeping purees from separating.
When used as a thickener in low dosages, xanthan gum produces a weak gel with high viscosity. This gel will also be thixotropic or shear thinning with a high pour-ability. This means that when the gel is at rest it maintains its shape but when stirred or mixed it begins to flow again as a liquid and then resets once the agitation stops.
Thickening with xanthan gum is very easy, simply blend the xanthan gum into the liquid you want to thicken. The liquid will thicken very quickly.
For thicker sauces that have been sitting you can stir or whisk them briefly to make them flow better. Once they have been plated they will regain their previous viscosity as long as they haven't been heated to too high of a temperature.
Most thickened liquids will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator.
A standard ratio is 0.1% to 0.3% for thin sauces and 0.3% to 1% for thick sauces. The higher the amount of xanthan gum used the thicker the sauce will be. Be careful though because xanthan gum can start to take on a weird mouthfeel at higher percentages.
Since xanthan gum thickens liquids they can easily trap air bubbles and stabilize foams. The first step to make an xanthan gum foam from a liquid is to thicken the liquid with xanthan gum by mixing in the xanthan gum using an immersion or standing blender.
Once it's evenly dispersed you need to introduce air into the liquid. This can be done through whipping, blending, or with the use of a whipping siphon. Typically a whipping siphon is the most efficient way to create a foam.
To use a whipping siphon, place the thickened liquid into a whipping siphon and seal it. Then charge the siphon and dispense the foam. Xanthan gum foams can be used hot or cold, although they are a little firmer when cold. They are typically light foams and froths.
Another interesting way to create a xanthan gum foam is through the use of an aquarium bubbler. It will create large, unevenly-sized bubbles, resembling soap bubbles, which can add a whimsical quality to many dishes. For this preparation it is typically combined with Versawhip.
A standard ratio is 0.2% to 0.8% for xanthan gum foams. The more xanthan gum used, the thicker the resulting foam will be.
Because xanthan gum thickens liquids it also helps create more stable emulsions. This can be used to hold traditional vinaigrettes together, create new vinaigrettes using purees, or to use much less oil than you usually would.
Strengthening an emulsion with xanthan gum is very easy. First create the emulsion like you usually would. Then blend in a pinch of xanthan gum. It will thicken the liquid slightly and help the emulsion hold for a much longer time. For an even stronger emulsion you can add some soy lecithin at a ratio of 0.1% to 0.5%.
One of my most common uses for xanthan gum is to hold sauces, pestos, soups, and other purees together. Because of the way xanthan gum thickens it easily prevents purees from separating for long periods of time. It also adds a slight richness to the mouthfeel and helps it cling to food better. I've used it from anything from modernist soups to simple peach purees for french toast.
To hold purees together you only need a little xanthan gum, about 0.1% to 0.3%. I usually err on the lower side to start with unless I want more thickening from the xanthan. You can just blend it in when you are making the puree, or at any time after that.
Bubbles are a special type of foam that are very light and airy. Xanthan gum is often used to create them in conjunction with Versawhip. This foam resembles bubbles and is made with xanthan gum and Versawhip that has been aerated with an aquarium pump. It's a pretty unique way to make bubbles that are very visually interesting and carry a lot of flavor.
Creating bubbles is an easy process. Blend together a flavorful liquid like a juice or light sauce with about 0.5% Versawhip and 0.25% xanthan gum. Pour this into a container and run the line from an aquarium bubbler through it. The bubbles can then be scooped off and served.
Using xanthan gum to suspend particles is very easy. Just blend in 0.1% to 0.2% xanthan gum into the liquid you want the particles to be suspended in. This works well for holding purees together, floating herbs and spices in drinks or sauces, or keeping cocktails together