Gluten-free-baking: Xanthan Gum vs Psyllium husk Powder 無麩質烘焙: 黃原膠比拼洋車前子殼粉

Many people are concerned about the use of xanthan gum and want a "more natural replacement." (Although I don't find anything bad with xanthan gum and personally don't think it is some kinds of harmful chemical additives that need to be concerned) 

Xanthan gum comes from the secretions of the Xanthomonas campestris bacteria after a glucose-induced fermentation process.

Apart from guar gum (which is extracted from natural guar beans), psyllium husk powder seems a "healthier choice". 

So I carried some tests to make gluten-free, egg-free, vegan bread with psyllium husk powder.

It was my first time playing this powder. I have high expectations of this powder as so many bloggers and books are promoting it. 

I followed the "Master Recipe" from this book Gluten-Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day - both plain white and whole grain version. 


My First Experiment

Here are the gluten-free vegan doughs (left side was whole grain and the right side was plain white).

The binding power of the psyllium husk powder is quite strong which makes the gluten-free dough more shapable. 

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test

The recipe calls for fermentation of 2 hours. This was how they looked like after proofing. The size was greatly increased (which made me happy). 

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test

They were proofed for another 30 minutes after sharing. 

Everything seemed nice.

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test

Before putting them into the oven, I sliced the dough hoping to have a nice "oven spring".

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test


This is how the bread looked like after baking for 40 minutes.

No oven spring. No expansion at all (seems even smaller).

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test


Then I cut open to see the structure inside. It was very disappointing. No holes at all even after fermented for so long! The structure was super dense.  (。╯︵╰。)

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test


I wonder if it is because of the recipe I used? What went wrong? 

So I decided to test AGAIN with a recipe I familiar - the Bread of Life which I have been selling this gluten-free vegan bread for over half year till now.


My Second Experiment

With the recipe that cannot go wrong, I replaced xanthan gum to psyllium husk powder.

I noticed something was wrong already during proofing. The dough just stopped to rise like it used to. It was still the same even I waited 20 minutes more.

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test

So I put this into the oven anyway. Below was the bread freshly out from the oven.

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test

Again, the bread shrank a bit after baking and not as soft.

When I cut open the bread, it was SUPER DENSE like a cake.

Notice the photo on the right which shall be the normal bread. There are beautiful holes all over. The one on the left with psyllium husk does not have any holes.

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test


CLOSER LOOK.....(also tuned brighter)...the bread shall suppose to look like this with the beautiful holes:

gluten free bread of life

But now is like this:

gluten-free-bread with psyllium-husk-powder test


Lesson Learnt 

So why adding psyllium husk powder result in such a dense bread? (I would say the "bread" in these two experiments completely failed. They were not bread) Why do those books and bloggers love to use this powder?

I browse the internet and found the article written by Annalise Roberts in 2014 so useful.

She was getting similar results like mine in her experiments and provided a very good explanation of what is happening.

She wrote:

"The final loaf volume of gluten-free loaves depends on the stability of the gel formed by the hydrocolloids added to the dough. Xanthan gum is a thickener, stabilizer, emulsifier, and foaming agent. It provides structure and is stable over a broad range of temperatures. Psyllium husk, however, forms a gel that is stable only up to temperatures of about 176ºF (80ºC) (1), depending on the amount used in the recipe."

"So while psyllium husk is very useful for holding in the carbon dioxide based gas bubbles during proofing, once you put the bread into a hot oven and it starts to bake and the internal temperature rises, the loaf will ultimately collapse – IF you are depending only on psyllium husk to give structure to the bread."
"Many of the cookbook writers or bloggers who feel they are successfully creating baked goods using psyllium husk to replace xanthan gum create recipes that contain eggs."
"What is happening in their recipes is this: at the point where the psyllium husk starts to fail as a gel, if the bread contains tapioca starch or even potato starch (which many do), the tapioca starch can act like a bridge until the egg proteins take over to help hold the bread up. The tapioca is able to act like a bridge because it gelatinizes at a higher temperature than psyllium husk (or potato starch, for that matter). Then, the proteins in the egg provide some of the structure necessary to hold the bread up. But if you’ve ever made a bread that uses just eggs, and no xantham gum, for extra added support, you already know that the xantham gum does a better job."
"Writers whose recipes don’t contain eggs, often contain other seeds, sometimes in large quantities. And some cookbook writers and bloggers create recipes that really just rely on a combination of heavier whole grain or non-grain flours that would produce a pretty solid bread (read: dense) with or without psyllium husk."


Her explanation solved the mystery.   

Lessons learnt!


I hope the results from my experiment would be useful to those that plan to try gluten-free baking. You can still use psyllium husk but just have to understand that you will have a dense end-product that look and taste even more like gluten-free bread (especially if you are not using eggs).