When I first bottled my salad dressing, I noticed that after a few days of bottling it, the ingredients started to separate. With the amount of cheese that is used in Sensation salad dressing, it looks really ugly after a few days.
I was proud of it at first, it definitely was a conversation starter, I was promoting it as all natural and separation is ok. Further more, I realized that when you pour it on a salad, the cheese stays on the top and the oil drops to the bottom of the bowl. At the end of that day, I realized what it is — a salad dressing, and if the taste profile isn’t what it should be, it’s not going to work.
I researched the most popular types of bonding agents/stabilizers and browsed through the isles of natural salad dressings to see what they use. By far, the most common bonding agent in salad dressings is xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is an all-purpose thickener/stabilizer for dressing, gravies, sauces, and an ideal substitute for gluten in baking.
Ok, I thought — let’s try it. I bounce the idea off a food scientist and he said xanthan gum would be a perfect fit, he gave me the recommend .5% xanthan gum per bottle. So, without testing it, I made a batch of 600+ bottles, and it was so thick we could barely sir the batch. It was unbelievable, some customers called it yogurt. Note this, xanthan gum is EXTREMELY potent and when combined with thick oils (EVOO) and a lot of cheese, it will turn your salad dressing into mayo. After doing small-batch testing, the amount I ended up using is about .13% per bottle — a little goes a long way.
What’s wrong with Xanthan gum?
The number one thing I hate about it, is its name. Xanthan gum — it just an ugly name. Another thing, some people claim that the micro-organism is typically made with soy or corn, which could cause corn allergy problems, and aren’t exactly gluten free — and xanthan gum is a suppose to be substitute in gluten-free foods.
So being that I’m in the food industry, I wanted to see what else was out there. I came across these as other options:
Guar Gum (amazon)
Guar gum was the best substitute I’ve found matched up with xanthan gum. While it might come from a more natural source, the guar bean, its biggest flaw in my case is that it loses its thickening power when combined with acidic ingredients (lemons/vinegar). And my salad dressing naturally has high acidity, in-which over time the bottom of the bottle generates this nasty, gel-like, substance. Guar gum is best to use in cold foods such as ice cream, but not for a high acidic salad dressing.
Ground Flaxseeds (amazon)
Flaxseeds are amazing. They have thickening/emulsifying abilities, are high in fiber, are a source of Omega 3, and can lower cholesterol. However, they don’t match up to the thickening power of the gums and leave a nutty flavor.
Ground Chia seeds (Whole Foods)
These little seeds are great and they actually have more nutrition than flaxseeds, they also have more thickening power and last longer (shelf life). I will continue to experiment with chia seeds in my salad dressings to find a better match, but being that Sensation salad dressing has soo much cheese, it’s un-matched to xanthan gum. Chia seeds are also great to add thickening to fresh juice, smoothie, oatmeal, cereal, or sprinkle over a salad.
Others I ruled out
Here’s a few other bonding agents I came across but didn’t use, and why.
- Ground Coconut: Not as good of a thickener as the others, and adds a coconut flavor.
- Agar agar: (AKA Japanese gelatin) Made from a seaweed, however it’s expensive and isn’t as thick.
- Gelatin: It’s made from animal bones and pig skin, stay the hell away from this — get rid of the jello.
- Barley: Not as thick, I want to say away from gluten, and it leaves a nutty flavor.
- Cornstarch: Well, while it’s hard to find a quality (non-gmo) corn that is actually gluten-free — I wanted a better quality ingredient.
- Arrowroot: A starch from rootstock yet measure 2:1 for chia seeds, not a good bonding agent.
Here’s a video I made to show how each of these ingredients worked in my salad dressing as well as in water for texture comparison: xanthan gum vs guar gum vs flaxseeds vs chia seeds.
Back to the Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is the perfect bonding agent/emulsifier for an all natural salad dressing because it doesn’t lose the bonding capabilities like the guar gum and it is from a plant-base source. However, if you are using it for baking, I recommend using ground chia seeds or ground flaxseeds as an alternative. They work well as a good bonding agent and don’t have to compete with the acidy of a salad dressing.
In a search to find the best possible xanthan gum I could get, I found that Bob’s Red Mill (amazon link) makes the finest. They use a glucose solution that is made from wheat instead of corn (unlike others) to feed the microorganism. That’s what I use.
I just have to suck it up and deal with its ugly name on the back of my bottle for now. At the end of the day, it has to taste great, function properly, and be as authentic as possible. I want to be proud to put this on the dinner table for my family.