Until fully immersed in the culinary world, I thought a substance with a name like xanthan gum was only for science experiments. And I was right. Sort of (scroll down).
Xanthan gum is a starch derived from fermented sugars and bacteria. While this may seem unappealing (finger down throat), remember that cheese, a prized culinary treat, is oh so delectable because of bacteria. Yeast, which adds lovely nuances to bread, especially the wild yeast in sourdough, is equally as appreciated. Xanthan gum is also gluten free, and eliminates a sense of deprivation for celiac patients with its uses in baking. But what I really think it’s great for, in terms of quick home uses, is sauces and salad dressings.
Its starch properties absorb water and gel together, offering stabilization and thickening power. What this equals to, in normal speak, is a lower-carb sauce or less fat in a vinaigrette, such as a pomegranate vinaigrette (below). A little gum goes a long way too. A quarter teaspoon can properly thicken a cup of liquid (but trial and error is the best formula).
The key to unlocking the thickening power is agitation- vigorous whisking or the better option – the blender. For warm sauces and gravies, the gum can be used in place of flour or cornstarch, and works best when first combined with a small amount of liquid or oil – in the style of a slurry (usually cornstarch and water). Experimentation is the best way to understand its abilities. And a great excuse to play with your gum.