Xanthan Gum vs. Konjac Powder

Trying to incorporate foods that many enjoy daily into the diet of an autistic child is tricky enough without having to deal with the necessity of gluten in those foods. Gluten is, unfortunately, an integral part of many recipes. It provides texture and helps bind other ingredients together. Thankfully, there are two substances that can take the place of gluten. These are xanthan gum and konjac powder. Both sound a little exotic, but they are actually quite common ingredients that are gaining ground with more people trying to avoid gluten and animal-based foods.
What is Xanthan Gum?

Xanthan gum is made by fermenting various sugars such as glucose, sucrose and lactose in Xanthomonas campestris, which is a type of bacteria. The fermented sugars are then removed from the fermentation containers with isopropyl alcohol. It is then dried, ground into a fine powder, and rehydrated with liquid. Xanthan gum is frequently derived from wheat and soy.

What is Konjac Powder?

Konjac comes from a flower that is native to Asia-Pacific regions of the world. It has a few common names, one of which is the sinister-sounding “devil’s tongue.” The name comes from the flower, which has a vague mouth shape and a long pointy frond coming from the center. The flower’s corm, a part of the stem that grows underground, is the part used in cooking for its starch.

Which Gluten Substitute is Better?

In terms of health and safety in food, both substances are perfectly safe to eat. Many prefer to use konjac because undergoes less processing to make it usable in recipes. However, konjac can thicken into a texture that is very similar to gelatin but harder. That can cause an unpleasant textural issue when it comes to making foods that are eaten cold such as salad dressings.

Xanthan gum poses another potential issue for anyone dedicated to keeping gluten-free. It is often derived from a wheat base. Some producers make xanthan gum with corn or soy though, so if it preferable in terms of texture, contact the manufacturer to find out which base is used. Bob’s Red Mill makes gluten-free xanthan gum and Konjac Foods packages a high-quality Konjac Glucomannan Powder (see above images); they are comparable in price.

To get a good idea how to cook using either ingredient keep sauces, soups, salad dressings and baked goods from falling apart, check out Teri Gruss’ guide to cooking with xanthan gum. Konjac is interchangeable with xanthan, so the guide applies to cooking with it as well.

Experiment with each in small recipes. Both ingredients do the same thing as gluten, but they do not behave the same as flour. Despite the initial learning curve, it really is up to you to decide which you prefer to use in your gluten-free cooking!