Photo courtesy of: http://blog.jagaimo.com/archive/2005/06/07/406.aspx

Photo courtesy of: http://blog.jagaimo.com

It seems that our post about xantham gum caused some minor controversy, so I would like to propose two more options for all of you gluten-free bakers and dessert-makers out there.  Agar-agar and Guar gum supply many of the inherent qualities missing from gluten-free baking: they provide a delicious, chewy texture with no added flavor.  What are these mysterious little culinary helpers, you ask?

Agar-agar is a gelatinous substance made from red algae.  Its consistency and high fiber content (80%) have made it popular in both culinary and scientific circles (it’s used in biomedical labs as a base for growing cultures).  Although its use has been primarily limited to Japan and the Philippines, agar-agar has recently found a devoted following as a gelatin-substitute in gluten-free cooking and baking all over the world.  Sold as powder, flakes, and sheets, agar-agar stabilizes various foods and adds resiliency and texture to bread, pizza crusts, and custards.  A little further research revealed that one of my favorite Russian chocolate desserts, Ptich’ye Moloko, gets its delicious milky centers from agar-agar.

Guar guam, a cream-colored powder, comes from the Guar bean.  Like xantham gum, Guar gum adds elasticity to gluten-free baked goods.  The molecules bind well to water, forming a high-fiber,  gel-like substance.  Although most bakers prefer xantham gum for its easier digestion, Guar gum may be an adequate substitute for those individuals who may experience the side effects of xantham gum.  Be forewarned, however: because of its propensity to expand with water, Guar gum can cause digestive issues in large quantities.

Baked goods and desserts are omnipresent during the holiday season, and these little culinary additions could vastly improve the texture of gluten-free breads, cookies, and cakes.  Has anybody ever tried cooking with either of them, and if so, what have your results been?