Arrowroot Vs. Corn Starch: SPICEography Showdown

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Arrowroot is made a from a tuber that was first used by the Caribbean Arawak people. It is an effective thickener as well as a useful alternative to wheat flour in biscuits, cakes and various baked goods. Corn starch is made from the corn kernel’s endosperm and was originally considered inedible, but later became popular as a culinary thickener. How do these two starches compare to each other? What are their benefits and drawbacks? Below, we compare corn starch and arrowroot in another SPICEography Showdown.

How do arrowroot and corn starch differ?

If you were to go on appearance alone, these two thickeners would be identical as they both start out as fine-textured white powders. This is one of those cases where appearances can be deceiving. While arrowroot and corn starch are both effective thickeners, they have some very different characteristics; for example, they react to heat and acids differently.

Arrowroot breaks down if cooked with a high heat. It is best to use it at the very end of cooking time to limit its exposure to heat since it will thicken quickly with no need for boiling. It should also not be used in dairy liquids as it can give them a slimy texture.

In comparison, corn starch can be cooked at high temperatures for long periods. Longer cooking is recommended since it can give foods a chalky texture when under-cooked. Corn starch can also be used with dairy products; however, it cannot be used with acids as it will lose its ability to thicken. It is also suggested that you do not freeze dishes that include corn starch as an ingredient. Soups, sauces, and gravies thickened with corn starch can turn spongy when frozen and thawed.

If your recipe calls for one, can you use the other?

Arrowroot can be used in place of corn starch as long as it is added at the very end of cooking and as long as the dish does not include dairy. It is actually a recommended substitute in cases where the dish is highly acidic. If a dish is going to be frozen, use arrowroot to thicken it instead of corn starch as it retains its texture.

Corn starch can be used as an arrowroot substitute in cream sauces and other dishes with dairy products and which are cooked at high temperatures after the thickener has been added.

Is one better for you than the other?

Arrowroot is a good source of several minerals like iron and potassium. It also contains B vitamins, including niacin and thiamine. Corn starch does contain some minerals but none of them are in high enough concentrations for it to be considered a good source. It also contains no vitamins.

When should you use arrowroot? When should you use corn starch?

Because arrowroot is gluten-free, it is a great wheat flour alternative for people with celiac disease. Use arrowroot in creams and custards that will not be baked after being thickened. Chocolate pudding is a great way to use arrowroot. It will give your pudding a silky, velvety texture that you could not achieve with corn starch.

Pure corn starch is gluten-free and is a great thickener if you have celiac disease; however, there are some corn starch brands that are not considered safe for anyone on a gluten-free diet. Corn starch is generally considered better as a thickener for pie fillings that are not too acidic and that have to be cooked. Use it in pie fillings like apple or lemon meringue that have to be baked after being thickened.