Whether you’re baking, making a sauce, pulling together a rich stew, or whipping up a decadent dessert guar gum can help.
It’s an amazing thickening and binding agent, provides structural integrity to gluten free baked goods, and emulsifies fats and oil to prevent separation.
So, what are the best substitutes for guar gum? The best substitutes for guar gum are starches like tapioca, arrowroot, potato, or corn. You can also try xanthan gum, locust bean gum, agar agar, psyllium husk, or gelatin, depending on what you’re using it for.
Read on to discover more about what guar gum is, how it works, and the best substitutes to use in your kitchen for similar results.
What Is Guar Gum?
You may have seen guar gum on food labels, like on canned coconut, and wondered what this ingredient actually is.
It is a food additive added to products to help thicken and stabilize them, so they last longer and have a better texture.
It is made from a legume called the guar bean and you may also see it referred to as guaran.
Guar gum is a type of polysaccharide (a form of carbohydrate fiber) that absorbs into water and provides a gel-like consistency, which is why it’s often used for thickening.
The sugar molecules that make up guar gum are mannose and galactose.
To get guar gum out of the guar bean, they are dehusked, hydrated and milled, then the powder is packaged up for use throughout the culinary world.
When using guar gum, you don’t need a lot since it has an incredible capacity to absorb water to thicken, emulsify, or stabilize whatever you’re creating. Some research says it can expand up to 10 to 20 times its original size.
Guar gum has a whitish yellow color and very little smell or taste, so you don’t have to worry about it impacting the flavor of whatever food you’re adding it to.
That’s why it is such a popular additive, since it is high in fiber and low in flavor, color, taste, and calories.
Why Do We Use Guar Gum?
Food manufacturers and home cooks and bakers often use guar gum in their recipes to help thicken them and give them a creamy texture.
It is also great for emulsifying fats and liquids today to prevent separation and you can use it to stabilize ingredients, especially in gluten free baking.
When you’re baking with gluten free flours, you’re missing the important gluten protein that helps give these items their characteristic texture and bounce.
Luckily, guar gum helps to hold air and water in place as a binding agent to help replicate the function of gluten in gluten free baking.
You will likely see guar gum used in some following foods or recipes:
- Canned coconut milk- it has a tendency to separate so guar gum keeps it emulsified and helps thicken the cream.
- Yogurts and kefirs
- Ice cream
- Gluten free baking/baked goods
- Gravies and other sauces
- Soups and stews
- Puddings and custards
- Some juices and kombuchas
- Some cheeses
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but if you see guar gum on package lists for these items you now know why this fiber has been added.
Does Guar Gum Have Any Benefits?
Since we know that fiber is good for our digestive system and the microbiome community of beneficial bacteria that we support in our guts, it’s worth looking into some potential health benefits of guar gum fiber in particular.
As always, before supplementing with anything, check with your doctor or qualified healthcare practitioner.
- Constipation: According to some research, supplementing with guar gum can help relieve constipation by normalizing the amount of moisture in the digestive tract.
- Diarrhea: On the other side of the coin, the fiber content in guar gum can help slow down the motility of the digestive tract and ease symptoms of diarrhea.
- IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome): Taking guar gum fiber may help reduce pain and improve digestive function in folks with IBS.
- Cholesterol: There is some research that taking guar gum can lower levels of LDL cholesterol, especially when combined with pectin. Psyllium husk may be more effective, but it’s still an interesting potential health benefit.
- May slow sugar absorption: since it is a fiber, guar gum may help to slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, helping to keep your insulin and blood sugar levels stable.
While you won’t be getting huge amounts of guar gum in your baking or home recipes, it’s still encouraging to know that generally speaking this ingredient is going to have a net positive effect on the body as opposed to a negative one.
Are There Any Health Concerns With Guar Gum?
As with most things in life, some people may have different reactions or experiences with guar gum than others.
While it may help with digestive health in many people, some folks might find that it causes gas and bloating. These symptoms are likely a sign of bacteria fermenting the fiber in the digestive tract.
There have also been reports back in the 90s of folks mega-dosing guar gum and having some negative health effects, but that is in amounts way more than you would ever get in a baked good or other food product.
Some studies have found no effects in folks who take up to 15 grams of guar gum at a time and considering most products will contain 3-4 grams or fewer in the whole thing, you can feel generally confident that you can eat this food without effect.
If you do experience any side effects, such as gas and bloating, then don’t worry! There are lots of alternatives that you can use to replace guar gum in your own cooking and baking.
What Are The Best Substitutes For Guar Gum?
I’m sure we’ve all been merrily cooking or baking and looked at our ingredient list only to realize that we overlooked one of the key components.
If that happens with guar gum, never fear! There are many common kitchen ingredients you can use to substitute depending on your context.
As I mentioned above, some folks may experience some gas and bloating when they consume guar gum. If that’s the case, try out one of these substitutes instead.
1. Xanthan Gum
Just like guar gum, xanathan gum is a polysaccharide (which is a string of sugar and carbohydrate molecules).
You will find it used in almost the exact same places as guar gum in many recipes or commercially produced products since it has similar functions.
Xanthan gum can emulsify fats and oils, thicken products, provide structure and texture to gluten free baked goods, and prevent ice crystals from forming in ice cream and other frozen products.
The big difference between these two items is how they are produced.
While guar gum comes from refining the guar bean, xanthan gum is the product of fermenting sugar (usually corn sugar) with a specific bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.
The bacteria ferments the sugar and the resulting product is dried and sold as xanthan gum. This powder has very little taste or smell and is white, like guar gum.
That makes it the perfect addition to your cooking and baking since it won’t impact the final flavor, just the texture and structure.
You can use it basically interchangeably with guar gum. But, it’s even more effective concentrated, so a little goes a long way. You may want to half the amount and work from there.
2. Locust Bean Gum
Like guar gum and xanthan gum, locust bean gum is often used as a thickening agent, emulsifier, binding agent, and to provide texture and structure to all kinds of products.
It is also known as carob bean gum, carob gum and carobin since it comes from the carob bean.
Generally, locust bean gum is going to be better dissolved in hot items, while guar gum works well in cold items (it is also soluble in hot foods).
Locust bean gum isn’t quite as concentrated as guar gum, so you will need more to achieve the same consistency in your final product.
You may also want to combine it with xanthan gum for the most elastic results in your gluten free baking.
3. Tapioca Starch
If you do a lot of gluten free baking we bet that tapioca starch is one of your favorite ingredients. It helps give baked goods a similar texture and bounce that you would find in a regular gluten-filled product.
You may see it sold as tapioca starch, powder, or flour, but all three are the same thing.
Tapioca starch comes from the cassava (or manioc) root and works similar to guar gum in that it helps bind ingredients together and provides elasticity to the final product. If you’re looking to thicken a sauce or a gravy, it also works well.
I don’t love it as much in cold preparations like a salad dressing or something, but when warmed it provides a great, viscous, gel-like texture that is similar to guar gum.
It’s not as concentrated though, so you will likely have to add a little more. I use about 2 tablespoons to 1 teaspoon of guar gum.
To thicken a sauce, gravy, custard, or ice cream, I will make a slurry by stirring about a tablespoon per 3-4 cups of liquid.
Remove some of the base liquid, stir the tapioca starch in to remove any lumps, and then pour it back into the main mixture, heating it up to activate its full potential.
4. Arrowroot Starch
Arrowroot starch works in much the same way as tapioca starch. It’s a great thickener for warmed sauces, soups, stews, custards, and so on.
It is also amazing to use in gluten free baking to bind the ingredients together and to provide structure and a bouncy texture.
You might see it on the market as arrowroot starch, powder, or flour, but all can be used interchangeably.
It is an easily digested starch that is extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant, Maranta arundinacea and use a lot in gluten free products.
Just like tapioca, you will want to make a slurry before adding it to hot liquids so that you don’t end up with unappetizing lumps and bumps.
You will also need to use more arrowroot starch than guar gum in your baking, since it isn’t as concentrated. I would use about 2 tbsp. to 1 tsp. guar gum.
5. Potato Starch
Potato starch is another excellent option to replace guar gum in many applications, especially when it comes to gluten free baking.
It’s also excellent for thickening sauces, soups, stews, custards, and other liquids that are heated through. I don’t love it in cold applications.
As the name suggests, potato starch comes from potatoes. It is easily digestible, so it’s perfect for folks who may have a little tummy trouble when it comes to digesting guar gum.
If you’re adding it to hot liquids, make sure to remove some of the liquid to make a slurry before adding it in.
This step will help prevent your sauce, soup, stew, pudding, or custard from developing unpleasant lumps and bumps in texture.
You will want to use about 2 tablespoons per 1 teaspoon of guar gum in most recipes, though it never hurts to do a quick search of yoru specific recipe to make sure the ratios are correct.
6. Corn Starch
The last starch on our list, corn starch, is likely one you have kicking around your pantry.
It can be used to replace guar gum in the same way as the other starches: in gluten free baking and to thicken/emulsify soups, stews, sauces, custards, and puddings.
You will want to make sure that you make a slurry before adding it to hot liquids since trying to stir it directly into the dish can lead to an unpleasant, lumpy texture.
Generally, it is not as concentrated as guar gum, so you will want to use about 2 tablespoons per 1 teaspoon of guar gum.
7. Agar Agar
This vegan alternative to gelatin comes from seaweed and is sold typically as a powder, in sheets, or flakes.
It acts as an excellent binder and thickener that you can use in baking, hot liquids like sauces, stews, soups, jellies, custards, and puddings for a creamy texture.
If you are using it in baked goods, you can use it as it is- dried and powdered. But if you plan on using it in liquids, it needs to be dissolved in hot water first.
Most packages will tell you how to use it, so follow the instructions carefully and it will make a great swap.
I love using gelatin to thicken sauces, soups, stews, custards, puddings, jellies, and even to add some texture to gluten free baking.
It is a great thickening agent, retains moisture in baking, and adds a stretchiness to gluten free doughs.
It is an animal derived product made from the collagen of animals (often beef or pork), so it is actually a pure protein versus a starch or polysaccharide.
9. Psyllium Husk
You might recognize this ingredient from its use in Metamucil, but psyllium also makes a great substitute for guar gum in baking.
It works as an excellent binder and provides structural integrity to whatever you’re making.
This product comes from the husk of the seed of the Plantago ovata plant (also called ispaghula) and is basically pure soluble fiber.
I wouldn’t use it in any sauces or liquids though; its best usage is in baking.