Binding Agents: What Are They, Why We Need Them, & Other Facts
If you prepare food at home, you’ve used binding agents. But, unless you have some technical culinary knowledge or typically cook from recipes, you may not be familiar with what precisely binding agents are. While these substances often fall closer to the bottom of most food labels, well buried under other ingredients, their importance cannot be overstated, as they are essential for thickening foods or improving texture. Here’s a look at the standard binders, why we need them, and other facts about binding agents you probably didn’t already know but should.
What is a binding agent?
The USDA regards around 80 substances as binding agents or binders. While customary in the food manufacturing industry, they aren’t something you’ll come across as a home cook. Several binders are familiar to laypersons, with flour and eggs being the most common. You can pick up other binding agents at your local grocery, specialty store, or Amazon.
- Corn starch
- Cracker crumbs
- Gluten in flours
- Ground flax
- Evaporated milk
- Potato starch
- Guar gum
- Psyllium husk
- Xanthan gum
- Vegetable purees
Adding any one or combination of these binders with other ingredients can help improve the fundamentals of foods, including texture, shape, moistness, flavor, and nutritional value. Binders work differently; for example, binding agents like eggs, starches, and flours require heat, whereas other binding agents such as gelatin and pectin only set when cold. Here at Texas Pepper Jelly products, we use pectin as a binding agent in many of our products, including Pepper Jellies, Rib Candy, and Bird Bath glazes).
What’s the difference between Guar gum and Xanthan gum?
Although Guar gum and Xanthan gum seem related, they aren’t. They are binding agents; however, Xanthan gum is a glucose composition from corn, soy, or wheat, and Xanthomonas campestris a bacterial microorganism. Once combined, the mixture is fermented to make a powder. Guar gum is derived from the guar seed, a legume. It, too, is manufactured into a powder. Uses for Xanthan gum include baked goods, shelf-stable sauces, and salad dressings. On the other hand, Guar gum is most often found in cold foods like yogurt and ice cream. These binding agents are versatile and can be found in other products such as pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, toothpaste, creams, and shampoos.
Using binding agents in the BBQ world
When it comes to your barbeque, don’t skip over a key component competition cooks depend on. The binder is what they use to hold the seasoning in place on their cut of meat. It’s not a new and inventive method. Heck, some of you probably have used these “binding agents” on your baked chicken breasts or even a ham at Christmas time.
- Canola oil
- Hot sauce
- Duck Fat Spray
- Worcestershire sauce
- Apple cider vinegar
Just choose wisely when you consider these for BBQ. You want to use one with little taste or the one that adds the flavor you want in your finished product. Mayo is used a lot on poultry and mustard on pork. You can even mix and match to impart additional flavors.
How to substitute binding agents?
People who suffer from health issues like Celiac disease or food allergies or choose to eat a vegetarian or vegan diet must forego foods with some binders like gluten and eggs. Luckily, there are substitutes for binders in recipes.
Those who wish to avoid gluten can substitute any of the following gluten-free flours that still functions as a binder in foods. Note, you will have to adjust your recipes as these may change the texture or flavor of foods.
- Cassava (tapioca flour)
Eggs can perform two jobs in baking; one is as a binder, and one is as a leaver (helps baked goods rise). There are also times when eggs perform both. Substituting eggs in recipes that require more than three eggs, like angel food, pound, or sponge cakes, is not recommended because substitution can result in poor consistency. For other foods, consider one of the egg substitutes listed below. Note, like flours, you may need to adjust your recipe as the egg substitutes may change the flavor or texture of foods.
- Banana (mashed)
- Fruit puree
- Xanthan gum
We hope now that you know what binding agents are and why we need them, you are eager to experiment with them and their substitutes in recipes.