What are BINDING AGENTS? & How to use them!

Here you'll discover some Nature's best BINDING agents and how you can use them to boost your Gluten-Free Kitchen to the next level!
Learn what Binding Agents are and how to use them in Gluten-Free Baking.

Welcome to my HOW TO GLUTEN-FREE SERIES – Part 3

Thank you ever so much for joining me for Part 3 of my How to Gluten-Free Series! Today will answer the questions, What are BINDING AGENTS & How to use them? I hope to clarify why you need to use BINDERS in your Gluten-Free Baking and how they can help you in your everyday Gluten-Free cooking as well. You’ll need to add a BINDING AGENT to your Crazy Good Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour blend (or any other blend you create) in order to have great success in Gluten-Free baking.

My sincere hope is that by creating this series, I can prevent you from experiencing some of the growing pains that I went through when switching to Gluten-Free! The goal is to give you as many tools as possible so that you may enjoy ALL of your family favourites again without worrying about the gluten content. I hope you’ll join me in my Canadian World Kitchen as we journey to Gluten-Free living together!

It’s easy, I PROMISE!

It truly is EASY to bake and cook Gluten-Free once you have all of the power tools available! It’s kind of like trying to woodwork without a power saw! You can do it, but it doesn’t always work out very well.

I always add the BINDER to my Gluten-Free Blend when I am ready to bake. WHY? Every binder has different properties and flavour enhancing abilities. By adding the binder when you’re ready to bake, you can change which binding agent you use based on the recipe, and let’s be honest, what you have in your pantry at the time! Right? So let’s get straight to it shall we?

You’ll LOVE this post if:

  1. You’ve attempted to bake Gluten-Free and had it flop miserably (we’ve ALL been there right?!)
  2. You miss your favourite family recipes & need help to make them Gluten-Free.
  3. You would like to cook for someone who is Gluten-Free.
  4. You’re looking for a way to make your own Gluten-Free Flour Blend.
  5. You want to find a fantastic but easy substitute for wheat flours in your recipes.
  6. All of this Gluten-Free stuff overwhelms you.

Contents (Jump AHEAD anytime)

  1. What are BINDING AGENTS aka BINDERS?
  2. My GO-TO Binding Agents
  3. What are Xanthan Gum & Guar Gum & Why I don’t use them?
  4. How much BINDER should I use?
  5. How do I decide WHICH BINDER to use?
  6. Always ADD a BINDING AGENT to your Gluten-Free Flour Blend

What are BINDING AGENTS aka BINDERS?

As we now know, gluten is an incredible binder! That darn GLUTEN! So sometimes, adding a glutinous or sticky flour is just not enough to mimic the effects of gluten in our recipes! Not to fret! There’s a simple solution! BINDING AGENTS!

Gluten-Free Binding Agents serve the same purpose in gluten-free flour that the proteins, known as gluten, serve in wheat flour (also rye & barley). These agents prevent your gluten-free food from becoming a pile of tiny crumbs! Trust me, I’ve made this mistake and it’s SO sad!

BINDING AGENTS are exactly what they sound like. They are agents that help to bind your ingredients together. They all absorb water to help maintain moisture in your dish thereby keeping dough moist, thickening sauces or soups and binding all of your beautiful ingredients together. I truly think it’s the worst when you make a Gluten-Free dough and it feels dry and falls apart! Call my crazy, but I want my dough to look, feel AND taste like it’s NOT Gluten-Free! AND IT CAN! Thanks in part to the incredible power of natures BINDING AGENTS!

My GO-TO Binding Agents

You find all of these Binders at my two favourite organic markets in Calgary, Blush Lane Organic Market & Community Natural Foods.

  1. Psyllium Husk (Fibre)

Psyllium is a form of soluble fiber from a plant called Plantago Ovata, that grows worldwide but is most common in India. The plant produces gel-coated seeds, from which psyllium husk is derived.

Psyllium Husk is an excellent binder, thickener and texture enhancer. It helps retain moisture which prevents breads from becoming too crumbly. It is my 1st choice for a binder in Gluten-Free baking when a chewy texture is desired, like in my Momma’s Marvellous Montreal Style Bagels. Psyllium husk is high in soluble dietary fibre that lends a gelatinous texture. Psyllium Husk is also found whole and can be used, but, will leave a gritty texture, which is why I use the powder form.

Psyllium is one of the main ingredients in Metamucil! So needless to say it is incredibly good for the intestinal tract and in fact it enhances the digestive process & has prebiotic effects. Psyllium husk is very rich in fibre and can help improve & prevent constipation and haemorrhoid pain. Research is even showing it can help manage diabetes and may even lower risk of developing diabetes! On top of all of that, psyllium husk is heart healthy, may help decrease blood pressure & cholesterol & can help with weight management. Psyllium contains antibacterial compounds that help eliminate toxins in the body & in turn give you healthy glowing skin! You can find psyllium husk at most grocers and health stores (e.g. Blush Lane Organics or Community Natural Foods).

  1. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are an easy way to make any meal healthier. I love chia for its many health benefits. Chia seeds are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and powerful antioxidants which provide numerous health benefits. 2 Tbsp of chia seeds contain 39% of your recommended daily fibre & 3.5g of Omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Studies show that fibre has a positive impact not only on digestive health, but also improved blood sugar levels, weight management and more! The best part is the ground chia seeds go completely undetected in most recipes.

I use Prana Brand Ground White Chia Seeds, which you can find at Blush Lane Organics, Community Natural Foods (here in Calgary), Superstore (Loblaws) and other grocery stores.

  1. Flax Seeds (ground)

Flax seeds (Flax Meal – ground flax seeds), when combined with water act as a glue to help bind ingredients together kind of like egg whites. In fact, they are commonly used combined with water as an egg replacer.

Flax seeds are an excellent nutritional source of omega-3 fatty acids and fibre making them a powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory agent! The numerous health benefits of flax seeds are widely documented including prevention of constipation, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and even digestive disorders. You can buy them ground as flax meal or as whole seeds and grind them yourselves).

  1. Xanthan Gum & Guar Gum

See below.

What are Xanthan Gum & Guar Gum & Why I don’t use them?

What is Xanthan Gum?

Xanthan gum is produced by natural fermentation, by bacterium, of sugar derived from different sources. In my research, it was hard to nail down exactly what sugars are used to create Xanthan Gum. Many sources listed corn, soy and even wheat as possible sugars used!

Although, it is said that the fermentations breaks down these sugars, to be safe, if you’re wheat, corn or soy free, it may be good to avoid any gluten-free products that contain this binder. I’m beginning to wonder if this is one of the reasons that people, including myself, still feel sick when 1st attempting to go Gluten-Free! If you have been diagnosed, or suspect you may be living with Celiac disease, you may have a reaction to Xanthum Gum. If you have symptoms include bloating, gas, stomach cramps, diarrhea, skin rashes and itching, despite going gluten free, it could be you are reacting to Xanthan Gum in Gluten-Free Foods! 

If you’ve recently switched to Gluten-Free living and are still having symptoms, try cutting out Xanthan Gum and Guar Gum and see what happens! All of my recipes are Xanthan Gum Free!

What is Guar Gum?

Guar Gum (aka guaran) is made from guar bean legumes and is able to absorb water making it a good binder and thickener. It is corn free, but I like to avoid processed foods when I can. Xanthan gum is has been shown to have synergistic properties when used with Guar Gum to increase viscosity of liquids. Some chefs use the combination of both of these additives to gain a boost in binding and thickening abilities.

Why I don’t use Xanthan Gum or Guar Gum?

I try to avoid processed additives as much as possible, and I know that some people have a hard time digesting gums. So I opt for the most natural solution and create my own Gluten-Free Flour Blend and use Psyllium Husk, Ground Chia and Flaxseed Meal as binder options!

What if my recipe calls for Xanthan or Guar Gum?

If you have a recipe that calls for Xanthan gum, Bob’s Red Mill suggests that you can substitute Psyllium Fibre (Husk) Powder for xanthan gum using a 2:1 ratio! For example, if your baking recipe calls for 1 tsp xanthan gum, you could replace that with 2 tsp psyllium fibre.

How much BINDING AGENT should I use?

This depends on the type you chose. You can use one of these binders or a combination of more than one to achieve the desired effect. Follow these general guidelines below and I’m sure you’ll achieve success!

Start off on the lower end and adjust as needed to increase binding, moisture, thicken and improve texture. Too much binder will result in a gummy texture and too little will result in a crumbly, dry texture.

Use binders to make any recipe Gluten-Free in 3-Simple Steps!

General Guidelines – AMOUNTS of BINDING AGENT needed

1. Psyllium Husk – best used when baking

I recommend starting with 5g (1Tbsp) of Psyllium husk powder when altering your recipes.

Add 5g of Psyllium Husk / 120g of Crazy Good Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour Blend to help bind ingredients together.

2. Chia Seeds – best used as a thickening agent or as a binding agent in muffins

Chia seeds are an excellent thickening agent and can assist with binding as well.

I recommend starting with 6g (1Tbsp) of chia seeds in total when altering your recipes and ramping up or down from there.

3. Flax Seeds – best used as a binding agent in muffins or other baked goods

Flax Seeds are a great thickening agent (as you may have noticed if you have ever added them to a smoothie). The can also assist with binding very well.

As with chia seeds, I recommend starting with 5g (1Tbsp) of Flax Seeds (or Flax Seed Meal) when altering your recipes and ramping up or down from there.

4. Xanthan & Guar Gum (I don’t use these in any of my recipes)

If you chose to cook with Xantham Gum or Guar Gum, the general rule is to add 1 teaspoon of Xanthan or Guar Gum per cup of gluten-free flour.

Do I HAVE to add a binding agent to every recipe?

No. You don’t have to use a binder in all of your gluten-free recipes. The drier the dough and the less rise it needs, the less structure is required and the less binder you need.

So, for recipes with either a drier dough (e.g. cookies) or a lower rise (e.g. pie crust) that require less structure, you may not need to add much of the binder or very little if any. However, when using my favourite binders (psyllium husk fibre, chia seeds & flax seeds) always think why wouldn’t you add them as they add so many potential health benefits!

How do I decide which BINDING AGENT to use?

To be honest, it comes down to personal preference when choosing an appropriate BINDING AGENT for a recipe the majority of the time as they do have very similar effects. However, if you’re new to Gluten-Free Baking here are some of my favourite uses for each of my FAV binders! You may also want to try out combinations of binders and see what you like best.

This also will depend on whether or not you can tolerate certain binders. If you have a sensitivity to any of these binders, or your doctor or other health practitioner, has recommended to avoid it, simply try another! Also, start slow. The natural laxative effects of these wonderful binders may effect some more than others. Although, this is a health benefit of these binders, if you’re not used to eating these types of foods, simply ease yourself into it!

My recommendations for when to use each of my favourite binders:

  1. Psyllium Husk Powder

I LOVE Psyllium Husk Powder in my baking! Especially in recipes that call for eggs. I include it in my egg replacer recipe (coming soon!).

USES:

  • Baking Recipes that call for eggs.
  • ANY baking recipe that needs extra:
    • binding power
    • moisture
    • thickening power
  • Improve texture of your bake.
  • Improve Nutrition of any dish.
  1. Chia Seeds
Chia Seeds are one of Natures incredible Binding Agents!

I LOVE using Chia Seeds as a thickener in sauces with texture (like my Healthier Chia Infused Butter Chicken). I find ground Chia Seeds change the texture slightly, so I don’t like to use them in smooth sauces or soups (like gravy). You an also add them whole to a recipe as well! The effects will differ and the texture will be different, so simply experiment as you wish. I love science in the kitchen!

USES:

  • Great thickener for sauces that already have a texture (e.g. curries). Make sure to add chia seeds JUST BEFORE SERVING after you remove the dish from the heat.
  • Muffin batter with yogurt in them.
  • Binder for pancakes.
  • Improve Nutrition of any dish.
  • Boost Omega-3 Fatty acids.
  • Help make any dish VEGAN
  • As an Egg Replacer (my recipe coming soon).
    • Chia Egg (1Tbsp Chia Seeds + 2 1/2-3Tbsp Water=let stand until gels).
  1. Flax Seeds
Flax Seeds are a fabulous thickening agent found in nature!

My wonderful mom always added Flax Seeds to our baking growing up! I LOVE the health benefits and the texture that flax seeds bring to any dish. I find Flax Seed Meal brings a lovely flavour to baking and goes fairly unnoticed.

USES:

  • Great thickener for chunky soups (e.g. lentil or bean) or chilli’s.
  • Binder for pancakes, cookies or muffins or even flat breads.
  • Boost texture & Nutrition of any dish.
  • Boost Omega-3 Fatty acids
  • Lower fat content in baking
  • Help make any dish VEGAN!
  • When recipe calls for EGGS.
  • As an Egg Replacer (my recipe for Egg Replacer coming soon) when recipe calls for eggs.
    • Flax Eggs (1Tbsp Flax Seed Meal + 3 Tbsp Water = let stand until gels).

Always add a BINDING AGENT to your Gluten-Free Flour Blend!

ALWAYS make sure to use a BINDING AGENT to help mimic Gluten! I never add the binder to my Gluten-Free Flour Blend until I’m about to use it. WHY? I’ve found that different BINDERS work better for different purposes. Adding your binder when you are ready to bake allows you the freedom to chose which one is best for each of your recipes!

*The only EXCEPTION would be if you chose to buy a Pre-Mixed Gluten-Free Flour Blend which contains Xanthan Gum or Guar Gum. Then do NOT add more BINDERS unless you feel it needs it.

Do you use a different binding agent in your Gluten-Free Recipes that you love? Please leave a comment below to share with our community!

ENJOY!

Thanks once again for joining me for Day 3 of my How to Gluten-Free Series. I hope that this post has answered any questions you may have had about Binding Agents and their uses. Of course, as always, if you have any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you! If you found this post helpful, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d take a quick moment to rate it and comment below!

Thank you ever so much for your support and for joining this ever growing community!

Please follow us on Instagram @Turmeric_Me_Crazy.

Hugs & love,

Hugs from Trish

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