Arrowroot is an excellent gluten-free starch that is an effective thickener. Its flavor is neutral, which means that it can be used in a wide variety of dishes without affecting their flavor profile. If you need a versatile thickener, it is a good idea to keep some arrowroot on hand. If you cannot find arrowroot or you have run out and need some right away, consider any of the arrowroot substitutes below.
Your best bet: Tapioca starch
Tapioca starch is starch that has been extracted from the cassava root. While many people do use the terms “tapioca” and “arrowroot” interchangeably, they come from two different plants. What they do have in common is that they are both gluten free, which means that you can use either one if you are looking for a starch that has no gluten. Tapioca is an effective arrowroot substitute because of its smoothness, in addition to the fact that it is odorless and has no discernible taste. Both odorlessness and a neutral taste are characteristics of arrowroot and are among the factors that make it a good thickener.
Like arrowroot, tapioca gives a glossy and clear appearance to dishes that it is used to thicken. Both starches also remain stable, even at low temperatures. That stability makes tapioca effective in dishes that you plan to freeze.
It is worth nothing that unlike arrowroot, tapioca is unreliable when used to thicken acidic liquids. This means that it may break down and lose its thickening ability.
You use tapioca by creating a slurry and adding it to your dish. Mix the tapioca with an equal amount of liquid.
A decent second choice: Cornstarch
Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm of the corn kernel and is another popular thickener with a neutral taste. It is also gluten free, which means that it can be used by people with celiac disease and others seeking to avoid gluten.
One of the major concerns about cornstarch is that fact that it may be made with genetically modified corn. If this is a concern for you, you may want to opt for another arrowroot substitute.
Note that cornstarch is not an effective thickener in acidic liquids.
Like arrowroot and tapioca, you use cornstarch by mixing it with water to form a slurry that you can add to your dish to thicken it. One key difference between arrowroot and cornstarch is that cornstarch will create more of a matte look for your soup, sauce or gravy; arrowroot makes it glossier.
In a pinch: Rice flour
Rice flour is made from rice and is a gluten free starch, which means that it is suitable for those with celiac disease just like the substitutes above. It is versatile and can be used to make a slurry with water or milk as well as a roux with fat just like wheat flour. You should note that it is a grain starch, which means that any liquids that you use it to thicken will wind up being cloudy and matte rather than clear and glossy. Note that rice flour has the benefit of retaining its thickening ability in acidic liquids.
It can be used as breading for fried foods; however, note that it browns quickly when compared to other flours. You will need to limit its use to foods that take less time to cook.
Make your rice flour slurry by mixing rice flour with an equivalent amount of water.
Wheat flour is an easy-to-find alternative to arrowroot. It is an effective thickener that works in acidic liquids. The drawbacks are that it does have a taste and the thickened liquid will not be clear.
Potato starch is similar in texture to arrowroot and can be used in much the same way. Potato starch should not be boiled as boiling causes it to lose its thickening properties.
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