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I was under the impression that Xanthan Gum could be used in bread in order to increase the hydration and make it fluffier. I have tried it three times (0.5% - 1% of flour weight) in two different recipes (croissants and regular buns), but the dough was not noticeably easier to work with, nor did it rise quite as much as normally. (I did not do a controlled test, so it's hard to pinpoint the cause.)

I know that Xanthan Gum is normally used in gluten free bread, but that's not what I'm after here. I have read (but can't remember the source) that it can be used in regular bread to make the crumb airier, but in my limited experiments, that does not appear to be the case.

What should I expect from adding Xanthan Gum to bread dough?

I have also seen some cookie recipes that call for it, but I couldn't understand what role it was supposed to have.

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This question is not as open-and-shut as the accepted answer suggests. There IS evidence that hydrocolloids, of which xanthan gum is one, improve flour water absorption:

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As for why it didn't improve your bread dough, here are some quotes from Handbook of hydrocolloids, edited by G. O. Phillips and P. A. Williams, that may be relevant:

To hydrate properly the gum particles must be well dispersed. Poor dispersion leads to clumping of particles during mixing which results in formation of partially swollen lumps of gum (sometimes called `fish eyes'). Severe lumping prevents complete hydration and reduces functionality. Ideally, the xanthan should be dispersed and hydrated under high shear mixing conditions. Equipment such as a colloid mill, dispersion funnel or high speed paddle mixers are all suitable for preparation of xanthan gum solutions.

To this point, Cook's Illustrated gives more practical advice for home cooks:

Prehydrate the powder to create a gel that you can simply whisk into liquid in easy-to-measure amounts.

To make gel: Pour 2 cups water into blender. With blender running on low, slowly add 1 tablespoon (9 grams) xanthan gum to vortex. Increase speed to medium and process for 2 minutes. Transfer gel to airtight container and refrigerate for up to 1 month.

Another relevant quote from Handbook of hydrocolloids:

Salt concentrations greater than 1±2% in the water slow down the hydration of xanthan gum and so it is therefore recommended to hydrate the gum in the absence of excess salt.

In my experience, bread doughs are typically around 1% salt so this is probably not your issue.

In the end, there's probably no substitute for a controlled test, like you said. Feel free to report back and include your flour type, hydration level and salt level.

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    Thank you for resurrecting this! Nathan Myhrvold et al do something similar in 'Modernist Bread', where they use gelatin to increase the hydration to >100%. I need to experiment with this again!
    – Popup
    Mar 23, 2023 at 9:13
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You seem to have misunderstood something, or been misinformed.

The only reason that xanthan gum does something in gluten-free bread is that gluten-free bread cannot trap any air for rising and is a very moist and dense thing on its own. The xanthan gum is a kinda OK gluten replacement, imitating its role somewhat.

It has no such effect in normal dough with gluten. Indeed, it might make it less airy and generally worse, like dough which has too much gluten added. Or it might have so little effect as to be unnoticeable. But it certainly has no mechanism by which it would improve your normal bread dough.

I cannot say much about the cookies, but it might be that they needed additional binder. This depends on what kind of cookie it was, but some kinds are full of filler and very prone to crumbling, xanthan may help with that. Or somebody backconverted a gluten free recipe to a wheat one and didn't understand that this makes the xanthan obsolete. There are many possible explanations.

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    Thank you, that makes sense. I was under the impression that the xanthan gum would allow me to increase the hydration, and thereby make the crumb fluffier. But it looks like I was mistaken. Is there anything else I can use the xanthan gum for? I tried to use it to thicken a sauce, but first of all it's hard to mix without forming clumps, and secondly it feels a little bit too slimy. (It seems to have a quite different texture from e.g. corn flour.)
    – Popup
    Nov 7, 2016 at 8:28

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