Arrowroot Vs. Tapioca Starch: SPICEography Showdown

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Tapioca and arrowroot starches are both popular ingredients for gluten-free cooking. They also have a few advantages for thickening gravies, soups, and sauces when compared to a more common starch like corn starch. As the two most popular gluten-free starches, how do tapioca starch and arrowroot starch compare to each other? What are the big differences between them? These and other questions will be considered below in our look at arrowroot vs. tapioca starch.

How do tapioca and arrowroot differ?

Both of these plants are similar in that they come from tropical tubers but arrowroot starch is derived from the Marantha arundinacea plant, while tapioca is derived from the cassava tuber.

While they both thicken effectively and quickly, arrowroot retains its thickness in dishes that are frozen and thawed. Tapioca does not hold up to freezing as well; you may find that foods containing tapioca have odd textures when thawed.

It should also be noted that arrowroot is not as good for binding purposes as tapioca, which means that you should use it only with other flours that are better for binding.

Another key difference between these starches has to do with how they hold up under extended exposure to heat. Tapioca is better for long cooking times than arrowroot. When arrowroot is exposed to heat for long periods it loses its thickening ability and the liquids return to a thin, watery state.

Can you use one in place of the other?

For thickening, you can use either tapioca or arrowroot; however, there are some caveats. While both are equally effective at giving liquids more body, you may have to add them at different points in the cooking process since arrowroot does not handle extended cooking times well. Use it as a tapioca substitute only in dishes that you can thicken just before removing them from the heat.

If you are replacing tapioca with arrowroot in a baked recipe, arrowroot may not provide the same results in that it may not provide the chewy texture that you would get from tapioca. Note that this specifically applies to recipes where arrowroot would be replacing tapioca as the only flour in the recipe. If tapioca is being used with other gluten-free flours like potato starch or almond flour, you can replace it with arrowroot without too much of an effect.

Tapioca does not hold up well as a thickener for acidic liquids, whereas arrowroot works well with acids. If you are making a dish that is highly acidic, you should use arrowroot in place of tapioca. Similarly, arrowroot gets slimy if used with dairy products. Switch it out for tapioca in dairy-based dishes.

You can use tapioca as an arrowroot substitute in most baked dishes, though it is important to note that it makes them denser and chewier; only use it as a substitute in cases where those qualities are desirable.

What are the best ways to use each?

Tapioca starch is a valuable component in dishes that you want to be moist and chewy. Dishes made with tapioca starch are popular in Brazil, and one popular tapioca-based dish is Brazilian cheese buns. It is also great for pie fillings since it can stand up to heat for longer than arrowroot.

Arrowroot is best for thickening sauces, making puddings, and can be used in combination with other starches to make a wheat flour substitute for cakes.