March 21, 2018
Chances are, if you’ve ever had an aversion to a food, it was its texture – not necessarily its flavor – that put you off. And if you care whether your brownie is cakey versus fudgy, or whether your cookies are crunchy or soft, then you already know how much the texture of a food matters.
Because baking is so deeply entrenched in chemistry, texture can really suffer when you start playing around with ingredients. This is especially true of making egg-, gluten-, and wheat-free treats, whose chemical properties together form harmonious baked goods and confections that hold their shape, rise appropriately, don’t separate, and have that perfect crumb.
In order to achieve high quality plant-based and gluten-free products, it’s important to compensate for all of the chemical properties of the eliminated ingredients.
Enter: gums (food scientists call them “hydrocolloids”). In an age where skepticism abounds regarding any ingredient that doesn’t sound clean and natural, though, gums can make a consumer pause. Let’s demystify some of these ingredients – because there’s little more empowering than understanding what’s in your food, and why it’s there.
What Gums (er, “hydrocolloids”) Are Doing In Our Food
Basically, gums help thicken and gel, while improving viscosity and texture. No two gums are identical, which is why a variety exist.
Some can be frozen and thawed without losing their functionality; others can’t. Some struggle with high-acid ingredients, like orange juice. Some thicken as they cool; others need to be heated up first. Like I said, baking is science, and it can get a bit technical.
Clearly, choosing the right gum for our meringue powder was a challenge. We wanted to maintain an organic, clean ingredient label and sourcing the best gum that would create the qualities of a traditional royal icing was important. Some gums are potentially harmful to the gut, and ingredient labels for meringue powder often contain synthetic stabilizers and artificial ingredients.
which is why here at meringueshop, the careful selection process was key.
Meet: Guar Gum and Acacia Gum
Guar gum comes from the guar bean, grown in India and Pakistan. It is actually considered an ancient grain traditionally consumed by individuals living in those regions. Extracting the gum layer from the kernel is not too dissimilar from how we get products like oat bran and wheat germ from kernels of those grains.
Guar gum is nice because it has nearly 8 times the water-thickening potential of cornstarch, which means very small quantities can be used. It also helps with stabilization, making sure that liquids and solids in a mixture don’t separate.
Not only are there no safety issues to date (even in high doses), but guar gum is currently being explored for its health benefits, due to its high soluble fiber content. Research has shown promising potential for its effects on fasting blood sugar, glycemic control, insulin requirements, and LDL cholesterol.
Acacia gum (also called “gum Arabic”) comes from the sap of the acacia tree, grown primarily in Africa and, specifically, Sudan. Its extrusion process is very similar to how we get maple syrup from maple trees, and its use dates back to biblical times.
Acacia gum gives body and texture to foods and stabilizes emulsions. Similar to guar gum’s studied health benefits, acacia gum is also being studied for its therapeutic potential. It’s a fibrous “prebiotic,” meaning it helps feed the good bacteria in our bodies. It may also help to sooth irritated mucous membranes (think digestive tract and respiratory system). It is considered non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, non-mutagenic, and safe even at high doses.
Guar gum and acacia gum are together considered two of the most benign, promising and recommended gums on the market.
Want to Know More?
At meringueshop, we’ve taken the guesswork out of baking with gums by rigorously testing our products so you don’t have to worry. But if you, like us, get a nerdy kick out of learning about the fascinating nuances of food science and baking chemistry, here are some solid resources on various gums (hydrocolloids) and how to use them:
Guest contributor, Jessica Serdikoff
Jessica has been driven all her life by a passion for food. Getting her informal start in her grandmother’s kitchen many years ago, she took a brief culinary hiatus to become a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer. Her curiosity and enthusiasm for food, recipe development, and kitchen creativity never left her, though, leading her most recently to graduate from the chef’s training program at the Natural Gourmet Institute of NYC. Now she has the know-how to geek out about food and the science behind it!
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