Oftentimes, people with a dairy or lactose intolerance are forced to forgo tasty treats and beverages. Dairy is an essential ingredient in so many of the food and drinks we consume every day and it ends up in some recipes that you wouldn’t expect. But what if I told you there was a dairy-free way to make those previously off-limits lattes?
The secret here is xanthan gum! It’s a unique ingredient that’s popular among chefs who specialize in molecular gastronomy, but you don’t have to work in a five-star restaurant to give xanthan gum a try. Adding xanthan gum to your coffee to make a dairy-free latte is surprisingly simple, so turn your kitchen into your laboratory and get a taste of why this ingredient is so special.
What is xanthan gum?
Get ready for a bit of a science lesson… but I promise you’ll find it as interesting as I did! The short answer here is that xanthan gum is the purified waste of a plant pathogen. Say what?! Yeah, I had the same reaction. But bear with me.
If you’ve ever noticed brown spots on leafy plants, you have a bacterium called Xanthomonas campestristo thank for that. Xanthomonas campestris goes through a fermentation process that results in a slimy waste that gets left behind. The waste is then purified into a powder, resulting in the star of the show here: xanthan gum. I’m not going to lie, it’s all a little bizarre to me, but if humans have been consuming it for years without issue, I’m not going to worry about it.
Why use xanthan gum in food or drinks?
Here’s where the science lesson continues. Xanthan gum is a thickener that can actually suspend solids in place. A huge plus side for xanthan gum is that it doesn’t have many rules. It can be incorporated into any temperature, acidity, or molecular makeup and produce some really desirable results.
Xanthan gum in coffee
If you crave a thick, latte-like coffee, then xanthan gum is just about the easiest way to get you there. Whether you have a dairy intolerance or just don’t have a fancy frothing mechanism on hand to create a signature latte, xanthan gum has you covered. All it takes is your run-of-the-mill drip coffee, a bit of xantham gum, and a blender to have yourself a latte that looks and tastes like it was made at your local cafe.
Don’t believe me? Take a look for yourself!
See? Just look at how creamy and delicious it looks. I’m drooling just writing about it. Are you considering forgoing your $7 latte for a homemade one instead now? I definitely am.
Xanthan gum nutrition
Overall, adding xanthan gum to any dish is not going to make a huge nutritional impact. One tablespoon contains only 30 calories, 7 grams of carbohydrates, and 7 grams of fiber, which we could all use a bit more of!
One thing to keep in mind, though, is the sodium in xanthan gum. One tablespoon packs about 260mg of sodium, which is around 10% of the average daily value of salt we should be consuming in our diets. If you require a low-sodium diet, consider discussing adding xanthan gum to your diet with a medical provider first. Or, you may just want to keep a close eye on your sodium intake for the rest of the day to ensure that the xanthan gum hasn’t put you over the edge. While xanthan gum is safe for most people to consume, it isn’t for everyone, including infants.
Benefits of xanthan gum
Xanthan gum is actually in a lot more foods than you might expect. That’s because it can completely change foods and drinks for the better, as we’ve learned for coffee! It can improve the overall texture of a dish, thicken liquids into a sauce or roux, has been known to keep blood sugar levels steady for some folks, and can have a laxative effect, which, depending on your needs, may be a good thing or bad thing. Just something worth noting!
Additionally, xanthan gum is typically vegan-friendly and, as we’ve previously discussed, great for those with a dairy or lactose intolerance. Interestingly enough, it can also help make food easier to swallow, which is crucial for people with certain health conditions, including those who have had a stroke. Thicker foods, which xanthan gum can play a part in, are also less likely to be inhaled into the lungs.
Lastly, xanthan gum doesn’t have a flavor, so it’s a perfect additive to any dish. If anything, you may note a difference in texture, but the taste won’t be affected.
Xanthan gum substitutes
While many of these won’t produce the same effect as xanthan gum in coffee, they are useful substitutes in the right recipe and under the right circumstances. This includes:
- Chia seeds
- Corn starch
- Egg whites
- Arrowroot flour
- Ground flax seeds
- Agar Agar
- Guar gum
- Konjac powder
Preparing foods with xanthan gum
Aside from coffee, there are tons of other uses for xanthan gum that are worth giving a try. Xanthan gum can be used as a flour substitute for gluten-free baking, making salad dressings, and even homemade ice cream.
If you’ve never purchased xanthan gum before, you’re likely to find it in the baking aisle or a section dedicated to gluten-free foods. You can also find it easily online from large retailers.
Be sure to store your xanthan gum in an airtight container in a cool, dry place such as a pantry or cabinet. Xanthan gum does not need to be refrigerated, and actually shouldn’t be due to the fact that it can cause it to clump. The typical shelf life for xanthan gum, when stored properly, is about three years.
So what do you think? Are you ready to add some chemistry to your cooking? Are you sold on the idea of a xanthan gum latte? I encourage you to at least give it a try. If the latte isn’t for you, at least there are tons of other ways to use xanthan gum to improve both your cooking and baking.