Made from endosperm of corn kernels, cornstarch is a silent yet powerful ingredient that is often working behind the scenes to transform sauces, gravies, and desserts from the ordinary to the extraordinary with its thickening prowess. It's the secret weapon in many kitchens, giving body and structure to a myriad of dishes. But what happens when this staple is missing from your pantry, or you're catering to dietary restrictions that render cornstarch unsuitable?
Fear not, as the culinary universe is rich with alternatives, each bringing unique properties to the table. In this comprehensive guide, we will dive into the best cornstarch substitutes that may be present in your kitchen. Whether you're looking for a gluten-free option, something with a lower carbohydrate count, or simply an emergency replacement, our exploration will equip you with the knowledge to adapt your recipes seamlessly.
10 Best Cornstarch Substitutes
Wheat flour is often considered the best substitute for cornstarch due to its widespread availability and versatility in various cooking and baking applications. As a thickening agent, wheat flour is effective and reliable, though it requires a greater quantity compared to cornstarch to achieve similar results. Typically, you'll need about twice as much flour as cornstarch. For example, if a recipe requires one tablespoon of cornstarch, you would use two tablespoons of wheat flour.
Wheat flour is particularly beneficial in making roux for sauces and gravies, where its ability to absorb liquid and thicken is unparalleled. It's also excellent in baking, providing structure to cakes, pastries, and other baked goods.
Arrowroot Flour/arrowroot starch
Arrowroot flour, also known as arrowroot starch, ranks as a top-notch substitute for cornstarch and is lauded for its gluten-free nature and exceptional thickening abilities. When replacing cornstarch with arrowroot powder, it's important to note that they have similar thickening power, typically in a one-to-one ratio. This implies that if a recipe specifies one tablespoon of cornstarch, you can confidently use one tablespoon of arrowroot powder as a cornstarch substitute.
One of the standout features of arrowroot flour is its ability to thicken at lower temperatures compared to cornstarch, which is particularly advantageous in recipes where gentle heating is required. It excels in creating a glossy and transparent finish, making it an excellent thickening agent for fruit sauces, gravies, and clear sauces. Arrowroot flour is also known for its neutral flavor profile, ensuring that it won't overpower the taste of your dishes, whether they are sweet or savory. Additionally, it is a favored choice in gluten-free and vegan cooking, where its binding properties and lack of allergens are highly valued.
Potato Flour/ Potato Starch
Potato flour, often used interchangeably with potato starch, emerges as a top-notch cornstarch substitute, renowned for its gluten-free nature and remarkable thickening capabilities. When replacing cornstarch with potato flour or potato starch, it's important to note that they offer a similar level of thickening power, typically in a one-to-one ratio. This indicates that if a recipe requires one tablespoon of cornstarch, you can use one tablespoon of potato flour or starch as a cornstarch substitute.
One of the standout qualities of potato-based thickeners is their versatility in both hot and cold applications. They are excellent choices for thicken sauces, gravies, soups, and fruit fillings. Moreover, they have the advantage of creating a smooth and glossy texture, similar to what cornstarch achieves, making them ideal for a wide range of culinary creations. Potato flour and potato starch are gluten-free, making them suitable for individuals with dietary restrictions or those who choose gluten-free cooking. Their neutral flavor ensures that they won't interfere with the taste of your dishes, whether they are sweet or savory.
Tapioca Starch or Tapioca Flour
Tapioca flour and tapioca starch are exceptional cornstarch substitutes, prized for their versatility, gluten-free nature, and remarkable thickening properties. Both tapioca flour and tapioca starch can be used interchangeably in recipes, typically in a one-to-one ratio, as a replacement for cornstarch. This means that if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of cornstarch, you can confidently use one tablespoon of tapioca flour or tapioca starch.
One of the standout qualities of tapioca-based thickeners is their ability to work well at lower temperatures, making them ideal for recipes that require gentle heating, such as custards and delicate sauces. They excel at providing a smooth, glossy texture, similar to what cornstarch achieves, which is particularly desirable in gravies, fruit fillings, and clear sauces.
Rice flour stands as an excellent alternative to cornstarch, valued for its gluten-free nature and commendable thickening capabilities. Made from finely ground rice, it can typically be used as a cornstarch substitute in a one-to-one ratio, making it a convenient recipe choice. For example, if a recipe specifies one tablespoon of cornstarch, you can effortlessly replace it with one tablespoon of rice flour.
One of the noteworthy advantages of rice flour is its ability to thicken at lower temperatures, which is particularly beneficial for recipes that require gentle heating, such as custards and delicate sauces. The resulting texture is smooth and glossy, akin to what cornstarch achieves, making rice flour an excellent thickening agent for gravies, fruit fillings, and clear sauces. Moreover, rice flour has a neutral flavor profile, ensuring that it won't interfere with the taste of your dishes, whether they are sweet or savory.
Xanthan gum is a standout cornstarch substitute, celebrated for its gluten-free and vegan-friendly properties, as well as its remarkable thickening power. Only a small amount is needed when substituting xanthan gum for cornstarch due to its high thickening efficiency. Typically, you would use just a fraction of a teaspoon for most recipes, as it is incredibly potent.
One of the key advantages of xanthan gum is its ability to thicken without the need for heat, making it ideal for cold applications like salad dressings, ice cream, and beverages. It is also an excellent choice for gluten-free baking, where it contributes to the texture and structure of bread, cakes, and cookies. Xanthan gum imparts a silky and smooth consistency to recipes, similar to what cornstarch achieves, making it a valuable thickener for sauces and gravies. Its neutral flavor ensures that it won't alter the taste of your dishes, preserving the intended flavor profile.
Ground Flaxseeds or Flaxseed Meal
Ground flaxseeds and flaxseed meal are unique and healthy cornstarch substitutes known for their rich fiber content and omega-3 fatty acids. Mix ground flaxseeds with water to create a gel-like mixture to substitute for cornstarch. Usually, you would use a mixture of one tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with three tablespoons of water to substitute for one tablespoon of cornstarch. This versatile cornstarch substitute is particularly suitable for vegan and gluten-free recipes, where its binding properties come into play.
One of the standout qualities of ground flaxseeds is their ability to add a nutty flavor profile to dishes, enhancing the taste of both sweet and savory recipes. They are especially beneficial in baked goods like muffins, pancakes, and cookies, where they contribute to moisture and texture.
The omega-3 fatty acids in flaxseeds offer health benefits, making them a nutritious choice for those looking to boost their dietary fiber and essential fatty acid intake. While ground flaxseeds may not provide the same silky texture as cornstarch, their health benefits, flavor enhancement, and binding properties make them a worthy cornstarch substitute in various culinary creations, particularly for those with dietary preferences and health-conscious choices in mind.
Guar gum is a potent and gluten-free substitute for cornstarch, known for its exceptional thickening abilities. When using guar gum as a cornstarch substitute, it's essential to remember that it is incredibly efficient, so only a minimal amount is required. Typically, you would use just a fraction of a teaspoon to replace one tablespoon of cornstarch, making it an economical choice for thickening recipes.
One of the standout qualities of guar gum is its versatility, as it can thicken both hot and cold liquids. This feature makes it suitable for various culinary applications, from sauces and gravies to salad dressings and ice cream. Guar gum also has the benefit of being neutral in flavor, ensuring that it won't alter the taste of your dishes. Moreover, it is a popular choice in gluten-free and vegan cooking, where its binding properties and lack of allergens are highly valued.
Agar-agar, derived from seaweed, stands as a unique and vegan-friendly substitute for cornstarch, offering impressive gelling and thickening properties. When using agar-agar as a substitute, it's crucial to understand that it excels at gelling rather than traditional thickening. It typically requires a different usage approach, as it needs to be dissolved in boiling water before adding it to your recipe.
You would typically use about one teaspoon of agar-agar powder to replace one tablespoon of cornstarch. The ratio may vary depending on the desired consistency and the particular recipe. Agar-agar is an excellent choice for recipes requiring gelling at room temperature or in chilled environments, such as fruit jellies, custards, and vegan desserts like panna cotta.
All-purpose flour, a kitchen staple in many households, is a versatile and readily available substitute for cornstarch. When utilizing all-purpose flour as a cornstarch substitute, it's crucial to recognize that a larger quantity is required to achieve the same thickening effect as cornstarch. Typically, you would use about twice as much flour as cornstarch. For example, if a recipe specifies one tablespoon of cornstarch, you would use two tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
One of the standout qualities of all-purpose flour is its exceptional ability to create a roux, a mixture of flour and fat (often butter) that serves as the base for many sauces and gravies. Flour's thickening properties are activated when cooked this way, making it ideal for recipes with sautéing ingredients. All-purpose flour is also a trusted choice in baking, providing structure and texture to bread, cakes, and pastries.