Cornstarch may not be the most exciting ingredient, but it’s utterly essential in so many recipes — from thickening stir-fries to keeping a cheesecake creamy and baking up a fruit pie. So there’s nothing worse than opening the cabinet to find there’s none left! Rather than running to the store in the middle of a recipe, we asked Woman’s World Food Director Julie Miltenberger for her top cornstarch substitute suggestions. Read on to find out what you can use in a pinch:
What is cornstarch?
Cornstarch is a fine powder made from the starchy part of the corn. And that starchy build makes it a good thickening agent for sauces and stews. It doesn’t have much flavor, so it can be added to dishes without worrying about it changing the taste. It’s also used to coats foods before frying because it helps create a crispy outer layer.
What can I use as a cornstarch substitute?
When it comes to a cornstarch substitute, luckily you have a lot of options. But when deciding which is the best for your dish, it’s important to remember that different recipes will need different thickening powers. For instance, baked dishes, like fruit pies or shortbread cookies, require a cornstarch substitute with a closer one-to-one ratio and no savory aftertaste. Dishes like stews and stir-fries are much more forgiving, so you can easily swap out the ingredients on the go. Read on for the best cornstarch swaps:
1. Potato starch
Potato starch is similar to cornstarch in that it’s used as a thickening agent. This light white powder is gluten-free and derived from potatoes. “That makes it ideal for dishes that you want to keep flour-free,” says Julie. In general, substitute an equal amount of potato starch for cornstarch. Potato starch is especially good dishes that cool for just a limited period of time, like soups, gravies and pudding dishes. Recipes that simmer or cook for longer would benefit from a different cornstarch substitute.
As the name indicates, arrowroot is a fine powder derived from root vegetables, specifically the Maranta arundinacea, and can be found in tropical climates. When the arrowroot plant is harvested, it looks similar to other tuber plants, like yucca or kudzu. Arrowroot powder offers many of the same thickening benefits as cornstarch but with more fiber and calcium. It’s also naturally gluten-free, which means you can use it in baked goods for people with intolerances.
You’ll need to double the amount of arrowroot flour you use in place of cornstarch to get the same thickening effects.
3. Rice flour
If you’re trying to maintain the color of your baked good or recipe, white rice flour can be a good substitute. It’s a colorless option that won’t affect the final presentation of desserts and offers the same great thickening benefits as cornstarch. Rice flour is ideal for dishes that need to be kept cold, either refrigerated or frozen, since it helps to keep the ingredients from separating in the fridge. It can also help with crispy fried food recipes like fried chicken batter. You’ll want to use 2 tablespoons of rice flour for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch you would have used.
4. Tapioca starch
Tapioca starch is another thickening agent derived from roots — in this case, the cassava root. It’s a smart option if you want to watch your fat or cholesterol intake since it doesn’t have either and is also low in sodium. It’s useful for baking and can help you to get the right texture for soups and sauces. You’ll need to double the amount of tapioca starch to cornstarch in your recipe. “If you don’t have tapioca starch on hand either, you can also give tapioca flour a try,” says Julie.
5. All-purpose flour
All-purpose flour is a pantry staple and can be used for various recipes and dishes. While you won’t be able to cook gluten-free recipes with all-purpose flour, it more than does the trick to get that thick, rich texture for your next dish.
One important note when it comes to using flour: Make sure you properly cooked the dish you’re using it in. Raw flour can taste wheat-y or nutty, affecting the dish’s overall taste. More important, flour that isn’t fully cooked can actually be unsafe to consume and may make you vulnerable to food poisoning. You can ensure the dish is safe and delicious by either pan-frying the flour with fat, like butter, or ensuring the sauce has time to boil before eating. For every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch you would have used, you’ll want to use 2 tablespoons of flour.
6. Xanthan gum
Xanthan gum is already used in many foods because it makes for such a good thickening agent. It’s also useful for keeping ingredients from separating, so you can trust that your stew or soup will look and taste great until it makes it to the table.
Unlike some of the other substitutes, you’ll actually need less xanthan gum than you would cornstarch. Start with a ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch you would have used and go up to ½ a teaspoon if needed. Add only a very little at a time, and very slowly. “A pinch can thicken up a whole saucepan, so it’s best to start small and add as needed,” says Julie. If you can’t find this cornstarch substitute at your local market, you can order a product like Bob’s Red Mill Xanthan Gum Powder online (Buy from Amazon, $11.29); stash a package in a cool, dry cabinet — it can keep indefinitely.
7. Whole-wheat flour
If you don’t want to use white flour, you can use whole-wheat flour as a substitute for your cornstarch needs. Wheat flour has a lot of vitamins and nutrients and is a good source of vitamin B, zinc and magnesium, which aren’t otherwise found in white flour. Wheat flour is a go-to option for making slurries, roux sauces and marinades, though you’ll want to ensure that the wheat flour’s nuttier flavor doesn’t affect your recipe too much. As with white flour, it’s best to use a 2:1 ratio when substituting wheat flour for cornstarch. You can also mix it with a little cold water to form a paste, making it easier to thicken recipes without lumps.
8. Ground flaxseed
Flaxseed has many health benefits, even before considering its benefits for cooked and baked goods. Flaxseed is an effective source of soluble fiber that can help manage the effects of constipation and may be useful for managing the symptoms of diabetes, cholesterol and heart diseases. It’s also rich in antioxidants, fibers and proteins. With all those benefits, you’ll still have a great thickening agent if you don’t have any cornstarch. About half a tablespoon of ground flaxseed mixed well with 2 tablespoons of water equals 1 tablespoon cornstarch. “I like to keep my ground flaxseed in the fridge,” Julie notes. “The oil in the seeds can go rancid quickly, but the cold temp makes it last a lot longer.”
9. Corn flour
If you want to keep within the corn family, you can use corn flour in place of cornstarch. Corn flour is made by grinding whole corn kernels, not just the starchy part like cornstarch. That means corn flour is rich in many vitamins and nutrients you need throughout the day. Corn flour also has more protein than cornstarch, so that makes it a little trickier to work with. You’ll likely want to find a different alternative for very specific and science-based recipes, like baked goods.
If you want to make this swap, start with 1 tablespoon of corn flour to 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, as needed. It’s best to use corn flour in a recipe you can watch and adjust, like those on the stove in a pot or pan. This will allow you to adjust the ratio as needed, rather than putting too little or too much in a baked good.
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