When I started my crazy kitchen experiment of home made incense blends, I had thought that these to were kind of interchangeable but that psyllium was the better binder. Since a friend of mine said she could get xanthan gum more easily, I revisited the ingredient and learned more. So what's the better binder? It will depend on you to decide based on the variations.

Let's start with availability and cost. If you are looking at a bulk distributor, you can get plenty of both for about $3 to get you started baking or blending. Both get used in gluten free baking to hold dough together and a little goes a long way. However where Walmart will stock small packets of xanthan gum in the baking section, you may need to spring the $14 or so dollars for the big canister of psyllium seed husk fiber in the supplement section of health and beauty if they are your source. The container is big, but if you don't have other uses for it, the xanthan gum is a better place to start.

Nature vs nurture: Xanthan gum is a chemistry product that makes life a bit easier, but strictly speaking, it's not entirely natural. If a major incentive for you to make incense is to go back to purely natural ingredients, it may not be what you're looking for. Psyllium seed husk fiber on the other hand is exactly that, seed husks that are ground up.

Sensitivities: You will need to do your homework if you're looking for ways to be sure of what's in your ingredients. Bulk can mean exposure to any number of allergens, and xanthan can be made using soy, wheat, or corn. Take the time to look these details up to be sure of what you're getting.

Burn qualities: Both have next to no smell alone. This means as far as your fragrance goes, they can be fully interchangeable. the both swell when wet, shrink as they dry and don't seem to radically effect the finished incense past holding ingredients together long enough for you to burn it.

And on to shaping, where the differences really show.

Psyllium dries a bit slower, but only a bit. This makes it a bit better for hand rolling. However it's also a bit tricky with water. A bit too much water and it stops holding together, not enough and it stops holding together. It's best hydration texture is about that of a good yeast dough, and that means it's not great for extruder methods beacuse it's just too stiff. If you favor playing with braided breads and other such fancy details, the stiffer dough is right up your ally, but it does take a bit more time to get a stick.

Xanthan gum needs time to get really properly wet, but it tolerates extra water better. My first try with it was too rushed and I got loads of cracks, holes, bubbles, and gaps that kept the stick from staying properly lit. Where psyllium can get a bit sticky, xanthan is more oily feeling, making it more like frosting or cookie dough high on the butter than like a yeast bread. If you like playing with frosting and henna, it gives the better texture, but it dries a bit faster. If you want to make stars and hearts, you'll need to be fast or use the psyllium, but if you just want some sticks it's great.

As long as both binders have time to get to the target dampness and the other ingredients are not too dry, neither should change shape as they dry. If sticks are curling on the ends, it's because they were laid wrong, or because they were rushed.

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