How to Use Binders is number six in this 'how-to' series on twenty-one ingredients gluten free cooks might want to use. There are many more than that but you don't even need all of them, this series is to help you decide which ones you want to use and how best to use them.
Binders, sometimes called gums, play a small but important role in gluten free baking. Some people call them the pixie dust that holds everything together or the glue to replace the gluten.
The three most commonly used binders in gluten free recipes are xanthan gum, guar gum and psyllium husk. You don’t need to understand the science of these ingredients to use them but a little bit of knowledge will help you when making decisions in the kitchen and lead to the excellent results you want.
Do I Always Need To Use a Binder in Gluten Free Baking
No. At the end of this post I've included 'when not to use a binder' as well as some of the recipes I make that don't need a binder.
Although binders do play an important role in baking some people find they cannot tolerate gums. Another reminder that you need to know about all the ingredients you are eating to be symptom free as much as possible.
What is Gluten and What Does It Do
Gluten is a protein naturally found in wheat, barley and rye. The protein acts like a binder holding things together and adding a stretchiness to dough.
The main protein strands in wheat flour, glutenin and gliadin, wrap themselves around starch granules. When water is added these strands unwind and connect to form a network called gluten. This network can trap air to make light, airy baked goods and has a stretchy quality allowing dough to be shaped into anything and even tossed in the air to whimsically stretch pizza dough.
In gluten free baking we need lots of help to create a similar network. The protein in different flours helps but many combinations of flour and starch cannot create a structure like wheat flour does. That is why we use binders.
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What Are Binders For Gluten Free Baking
The three most common binders are xanthan gum, guar gum and psyllium husk powder. Each one works in a slightly different way to help create the structure we need to hold baked goods together.
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- The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook
- Volume 2 The How Can It Be Gluten Free Cookbook
- In 2020 they published this book that includes 75 dairy free recipes, How Can It Be Gluten Free Collection; 350 Groundbreaking Recipes For All Your Favourites.
- Xanthan gum is commercially used as a thickener and stabilizer in ingredients like toothpaste and salad dressing.
- Used to create structure and extend the freshness of gluten free baking.
- It has a shelf life and is best stored in the fridge or freezer. I keep a small spice bottle of xanthan gum in the cupboard with my baking supplies and store the bag in the freezer.
- Xanthan gum may seem expensive but it is used in small amounts and will last a long time.
- Not everyone can tolerate xanthan gum and some people have a happier tummy when they bake completely 'gum free'.
- Some people notice a metallic taste in baking with xanthan gum. I don't taste that so I use it in many of my recipes.
- All gluten free baked goods.
- Guar gum is a reasonable substitute if needed.
- Made from guar seeds, this powder is high in fibre and is used as a laxative.
- Like xanthan gum it adds structure to baked goods.
- Imparts a slightly starchy texture to baked goods.
- According to America’s Test Kitchen cookbook, How Can It Be Gluten Free, "guar gum does not perform as well as xanthan gum". They do more extensive testing than any home cook could ever do so I’m happy to follow their recommendation. I learned this early in my gluten free baking so I have never tried guar gum.
- All gluten free baked goods.
Psyllium Husk Powder
- Psyllium is a major component in laxatives. Sometimes called psyllium husk powder or powdered psyllium husk, it has a high viscosity so is able to bind water more effectively than xanthan gum.
- It creates a sturdy network with the proteins in gluten free flours and adds a wheat flavour to baking that works well in yeast breads.
- The wheat flavour in not desirable in baked goods like muffins and cookies.
- A larger amount is required (compared to a tiny amount of xanthan gum) and for this reason it is more suited to use in yeast breads.
- Yeast breads and pizza dough.
- My biscuit style Cinnamon Rolls which is the basic recipe I vary to make Cheese Biscuits, a Biscuit Pizza and even my Strawberry Shortcake.
Watch How To Use Binders on YouTube
Where To Buy Binders (Gums) for Gluten Free Baking
- Xanthan gum, guar gum and psyllium husk powder can all be found at stores that sell gluten free flour. Health food stores typically have more options.
- Both Bob's Red Mill and Judee's sell xanthan gum and guar gum online.
- Healthworks and Viva Naturals sell psyllium husk powder online.
- Bags of psyllium husk powder are typically quite large. If that is why you've avoided buying it find someone local to share the amount with. If you're in Calgary where I live, each month when I sell cookie dough I package up small amounts of ingredients for people who want to try it without the big purchase. You can find more details about that on the CLASS CALENDAR page, click on the listing for YYC Cookie Dough.
How To Add Binders in Gluten Free Baking
Adding the exact amount of xanthan gum needed to each recipe will yield the best results. For this reason a gluten free flour blend, homemade or store bought, is best without a binder.
More importantly, read the ingredient list on the flour blend you are using so you know if there is a binder in it. To much binder can make baked good gummy.
If your blend doesn't have a binder a good rule of thumb is to add ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum for every 1 cup of gluten free flour. This changes depending on the type of recipe you're making so it's simply a guide.
Recipes Using Xanthan Gum
Although I have tried several muffin recipes without a binder, I like the results better when I use xanthan gum. For that reason the majority of my baking includes it. Psyllium husk powder in less of them but it was a worthwhile addition to my pantry.
As you bake more and experiment with yeast recipes you'll want to use psyllium husk powder.
Here's 30+ recipes that have a binder in them.
Pancakes, Waffles and Muffins
- Yogurt Pancakes, Pancake Bake and Pigs In A Blanket
- All my muffins: Gluten Free Muffins: A Recipe Roundup
- Buttermilk Biscuits made with individual flours/starches
Quick Breads, Cakes and Desserts
- Angel Food Cake, Australian Lamingtons and Chocolate Cupcakes
- Pumpkin Date Cake and Rhubarb Coffee Cake
- Cranberry Orange Scones
- Flaky Pastry, the recipe I use to make Pumpkin Pie, Cherry Hand Pies, Lemon Meringue Pie, Banana Cream Pie and any pie you can think of. (Savoury ones below.)
- Glazed Fresh Fruit Pizza with a cookie dough type base.
- Tart Pastry 2.0 and my original version, Tart Crust 1.0
- A Roundup of Gluten Free Cookies including:
- Sugar Cookies
- Gingerbread Cookies
- Iced Pumpkin Spice Cookies
- Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Thumbprint Cookies and more.
- The same Flaky Pastry from above to make savoury recipes like quiche, Turkey Pot Pie and the French Canadian meat pie called Tourtiere.
- Yorkshire pudding
- Soft Dinner Rolls
- Chinese Onion Bread
- Vegan Bagels
Recipes Using Psyllium Husk Powder
- Variations on one recipe made with my EGFG flour blend: Cheese Biscuits, Cinnamon Rolls and Strawberry Shortcake
- Pizza Dough (thin crust)
When Not To Use a Binder in Gluten Free Cooking
Gluten free bakers need to keep experimenting with everything they make. Some muffins and even cake recipes will work without a binder. Even though most of my recipes use a binder I do not use one in these recipes.
- Mug cakes
- Crepes and a crepe cake
- Savoury buckwheat crepes
- Baking with quinoa flour; Chocolate Chip Cookie Pizza and Peanut Butter Cookies with Quinoa Flour
Recipes For Gluten Free Breading and Batter (without a binder)
Binders are not needed in gluten free breading and batter recipes, and gluten free flour blends do not give the best results in these recipes.
The high starch content of most gluten free flour blends creates a tough batter. To achieve the light, crispy batter you want for chicken, fish or vegetables use separate gluten free flours. In my recipe I use brown rice flour and cornstarch. Corn flour and cornstarch also works well.
- Chinese Chicken Balls
- Battered Fish with chips or Fish Tacos
- Breaded Pork Chops and Breaded Chicken (same recipe made with gluten free cornflakes)
- Baked Sesame Chicken
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Happy baking and cooking!
Originally posted 2017, updated November 2022.
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This is the sixth in a series of blog posts on gluten free flours. My intention is to provide a basic overview of several gluten free flours for the everyday home cook, both new and experienced. Let me know in the comments below if you have a specific problem with your baking or a tip you’d like to share.
- How To Use Rice Flour in Gluten Free Baking
- How To Use Starch
- How To Use Millet Flour and Sorghum Flour
- How To Use Corn Flour, Cornmeal and Masa Harina
- How To Use Almond Flour and Quinoa Flour
- How To Use Binders in Gluten Free Baking
- How To Use Chickpea Flour
- How To Use Teff Flour
- How To Use Buckwheat Flour
- How To Use Coconut Flour
- How To Use Oat Flour
- How To Use A Gluten Free Flour Blend