Note: This is the latest in a series of posts about The Kid’s Celiac disease diagnosis. They will all be collected under the Gluten Schmuten category tag.
Baking is one of those things complicated by Celiac disease.
Sure, I could go pick up a gluten-free cake mix or get one of the local gluten-free bakeries to make something for The Kid’s upcoming birthday, but I know that this is something that The Mother-In-Law would rather bake on her own.
Because she is either a) nuts or b) devoted to The Kid. Let’s go with B on this one.
The Mother-In-Law has gone into full research mode in terms of cooking, trying to figure out what she can and can’t use. Like The Wife, she’s devouring cookbooks and magazine articles about how to adjust in the kitchen to Celiac disease.
And she keeps running into a wall. It’s called Xanthan gum. And it costs about $20 per pound.
So, what the hell is it and why is it so damn expensive?
Wheat gluten is used in all sorts of products, from salad dressings to shampoos, as a thickener. The gluten binds together all of the particles and keeps them from separating.
People with Celiac disease cannot eat gluten, so here’s where Xanthan gum comes in. From The Kitchn:
Xanthan gum is produced from a certain strain of bacteria (Xanthomonas campestris, according to Wikipedia) reacting with carbohydrates. These carbohydrates are typically derived from corn. The resulting substance has incredible thickening and binding properties when added to water or other liquids.
So, think about light salad dressings for second. When manufacturers attack a bottle of high-test Italian dressing to make it low-fat or low-calorie, they yank out all of the oils, sugars and other bad ingredients. Essentially, you are left with vinegar and spices without the emulsifier or thickener to give it that dressing-like feel that we expect.
Enter Xanthan gum. The backroom scientists at Big Salad Dressing use Xanthan gum as a substitute to make it work.
The same happens with bread. Using gluten-free baking ingredients means that bread will not have that telltale stretchy, fluffy texture. Xanthan gum binds the yeasts and grains together to make it work.
So, why is it so expensive? I’m not sure. I’m guessing it has something to do with how it’s made. Chemists have to create a bacteria and infect corn with it. They have to then extract the result from this biological reaction. My guess is that it takes a lot of bacteria and a lot of corn to make it happen, which explains why 3.5 lbs. of it from Bob’s Red Mill costs more than $66.
And why a cookie at a gluten-free bakery costs $3.