All About Gums (Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pecan Muffins)

Dr. Jean Layton is a naturopathic physician who lives and writes about thriving gluten-free at both Gluten-Free Doctor and Gluten-Free Doctor Recipes. She is the author of the upcoming book Gluten-Free Baking For Dummies (due out in December, available for pre-order now!), and last year she shared her comparison chart of gluten-free flours with us. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook.

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley that creates an autoimmune reaction that mimics sandpaper in the gut of celiacs and gluten-intolerant folks. I know, not such a pretty picture but that is how it is.  Over time the damage diminishes the ability to absorb nutrients from our foods and that is when these folks tend to end up in my office for treatment.

When Andrew asked me to guest post again for October Unprocessed, I wondered about a topic.  After all, I write about gluten-free living, some of the most unprocessed cooking of all.  It is naturally unprocessed in so many ways with simple foods, direct from the fields and trees of my neighborhood. Fruits, vegetables, plain meats are all naturally gluten-free.  For my family, eating only gets problematic when the ingredient count rises.

Then the lightbulb went on.


No, not Wrigley’s and Trident.

Guar, Xanthan, and methylcellulose.  One of these is included in almost every gluten-free processed food, but why?  Can we eliminate them?  Should we?

Follow along on this little tutorial.


The easiest answer is that something has to hold those recalcitrant flyaway grains of starch and flour together to mimic the protein structure of gluten. After all, even gluten-free folks want to have tender bread and flaky pie crust. We need something to stand in for the protein and hold it all together.

The wonderful folks in the processed food worlds chose guar gum, xanthan gum and methylcellulose as the best candidates.

What is guar gum?  This one is simple: Guar gum comes from guar beans. They are dried, hulled and ground to a fine powder.

What is xanthan gum?  Far more complex, xanthan gum is a compound made from mixing fermented sugars with bacteria, then precipitated with isopropyl alcohol. No home cook could produce their own, so I would put this in the “processed” category.

Methylcellulose? is synthetically produced by heating cellulose with a caustic solution (e.g. a solution of sodium hydroxide) and treating it with methyl chloride.

Taking wood pulp and treating it with lye and a poisonous gas to create a food additive? Only in the world of Frankenfoods does this make sense — not in my kitchen, thank you.  Watch your packaging for this one, it is ubiquitous in shampoos, toothpastes, and foods like ice cream simply because it works and is fairly inexpensive.

Vegan supplement capsules can also be made from this.

Why would we want to use them in food production?

Gluten is a protein that forms an elastic web that holds air bubbles in place, allowing for rise. There needs to be something similar in gluten-free baking to create bonds between flour and starch molecules.

These products are all powders that are fairly easy to handle in commercial applications, and very predictable in their actions.

All will allow for an increase in dough yield, and improve shelf life. Manufacturers are just reacting to the demand for shelf-stable products.

Are there any side effects to using them?

Yup, check out the table for each one’s special situation.  If you have a tender stomach, feel free to just glide on by and know that all of them speed the movement of food through the digestive tract. That increase in speed prevents adequate absorption of nutrients.





GasFrequently occursFrequently occursFrequently occurs
NauseaPossible even in small dosesPossible even in small dosesPossible even in small doses
Blood SugarCan reduce blood sugar levelsNo known effectNo known effect
CholesterolCan reduce if used in large doses 15 grams per dayNo known effectNo known effect
DiarrheaFrequently occurs with doses above 10 grams per dayFrequently occurs with doses above 10 grams per dayCitrucel is methylcellulose
HormonalCan diminish absorption of estrogensNo known effectNo known effect
Medication interactionsCan effect absorption of diabetes drugs, penicillin and Digoxin in doses higher than 10 grams per dayUsed in creation of time released medications.Creates the slip-and-slide needed in KY Jelly and artificial tears.
Food AllergyDepending on how it is grown, highly allergic people can react to the growth medium of xanthan.

Any other things we can use that might be whole foods?

Using the right combination of flours allows for elimination of gums in gluten-free baking. I’ve found that the higher the fiber content of the flour, the less need for gums.  Go here to see which flours have the best fiber content.

When I need to get a recipe to have a longer rise time, hold the air bubbles more effectively, or need a bit of flakiness, I reach for raw buckwheat flour.

Buckwheat Groats

This amazing, triangular, gluten-free grain is my go-to solution for creating the structure in my breads. I am very grateful that Buckwheat is one of the few commercially grown grain crops that doesn’t use pesticides and herbicides.

But it has to be RAW — green groats. Grind them just before you need to bake, for the freshest possible flour. I have a coffee grinder I keep for this purpose.  Believe me the investment is worth it.

It doesn’t take much to create the viscosity needed.  Replacing just 20-30 grams (2-3 tablespoons) of raw buckwheat flour in a batch of muffins will allow them to spring up tall and tender in the oven.

If you attempt to substitute roasted buckwheat flour, there will be no structure to your baked good.  Imagine focaccia instead of bread, pancakes instead of cake.  Use the raw groats and grind your own.

Raw Buckwheat Flour

Should We?

There is one caution about using Buckwheat in place of highly processed gums.

About 1% of the world has an IgE reaction to Buckwheat, meaning they are allergic. So before you transition all of your recipes to this, just try one out and watch for any changes.

Here is one of my favorite recipes that shows off this property of raw buckwheat flour. Enjoy!

Making Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pecan Muffins

Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pecan Muffins
Egg-free, can be made vegan. Makes 8 muffins.
Dry Mixture
  • ½ cup raw Buckwheat Flour, freshly ground
  • ½ cup Sorghum Flour
  • ¼ cup Potato Starch (not potato flour)
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • ¼ tsp.Baking Soda
Other Ingredients
  • 1 cup Pumpkin Puree (fresh or canned)
  • ⅓ cup Honey
  • 3 Tbs. melted Butter or Oil
  • 1 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • 1 tsp. Pumpkin Pie Spice
  • ½ cup Pecans, chopped
  • ½ cup Milk (cow, soy, rice, or hemp)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Stir dry ingredients together until one color.
  3. Add other ingredients, and mix together.
  4. Place batter into well-greased muffin tin.
  5. Bake 25-28 minutes, or until well-browned
  6. Allow to cool before eating.
The ⅓ cup amount of honey makes a lovely, lightly sweetened breakfast muffin. You can increase it to ½ cup if you like more highly sweetened ones.

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33 Responses to All About Gums (Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pecan Muffins)

  1. Patricia September 30, 2014 at 11:04 am #

    How long can you store raw buckwheat?

  2. Tiffany July 20, 2014 at 10:26 am #

    My daughter has severe allergic reactions when she eats any of these binders, especially xanthan gum and methylcellulose gum. It is very common in antibiotics. All the remade breads have some form of gums. Hopefully I can figure out how to make gf bread! It is soooo difficult for me to get it right. I need a video tutorial. Thanks for the info.

  3. Kim April 17, 2014 at 3:46 pm #

    Hi. I’m allergic to legumes so I can’t have Carob/Locust Bean Gum, Guar Gum, Gum Acacia/Arabic. As noted in the Xanthan Gum section it depends what the bacteria are grown on but it’s a trace, so folks allergic to Soy may or may not have problems with Xanthan Gum from bacteria grown on soy. I can’t have Soy (another legume) but we’re not sure yet about the Xanthan Gum since nobody labels for what it’s grown on.

  4. JOANNE JOHNSON March 5, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    I was just about to take a fiber tablet. I looked up the definition of methylcellulose
    which is the active ingredient .I will return the tablets to the store. I am afraid to put this fiber in my body. I do believe that some cancers in our body is caused by ingredients like this. Thank you for the information on your website.

  5. naomi devlin June 12, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Great article! I’ve just tweeted it. I had no idea that buckwheat was so binding. Tapioca starch can also have a similar effect.

    I’m surprised to see potato starch in your recipe though?

    x x x

  6. Elan January 17, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    On one hand I am thrilled with the buckwheat idea. I just started making my own gluten free flour mix for baking, which called for 4 TBSP xanthum gum to about 18 cups of other GF flours. HOWEVER, what about those with oxalate issues? Shouldn’t it be noted that buckwheat is rated as VERY HIGH in oxalates for those needing to watch this in their diet?

    Thanks again for the good information!

    • naomi devlin June 12, 2013 at 1:01 am #

      You can also use ground flax / linseed as an alternative as it is low in oxalates & phytates. However, heating greatly reduces oxalates, so it’s generally more of a problem if you’re eating something raw, such as raw spinach, plums, rhubarb etc. Carob gum is another option, but I think it has similar properties to guar gum.

  7. Janet October 8, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

    Wow, thanks again for this info! Just made my gluten-free vanilla cake using ground buckwheat groats instead of xanthan gum and I love it. Really nice texture, even better than with xantham gum.

    • Jean Layton October 28, 2012 at 5:52 pm #

      Glad to hear that your cake came out well Janet, so happy.


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