Cornstarch is a key ingredient in a variety of recipes - from shortbread cookies to meatloaf. It is essentially a pure, fine starch powder extracted from corn kernels. When heated, cornstarch is very good at absorbing water. For that reason, it’s most commonly used as a thickening agent for soups, stews, and gravies, but it can also be used as a meat tenderizer in marinades, or serve as a crispy coating for fried foods. Cornstarch is often favored with those with celiac disease, as it’s derived from corn rather than wheat, making it gluten-free.
If you have a recipe that calls for cornstarch but no cornstarch on hand, don’t worry. There are plenty of other ingredients that can replace it, many of which you may already have in your pantry. Below, we list the best cornstarch substitutes for thickening, frying, and even baking.
Unlike cornstarch, wheat flour contains protein and fiber, as well as starch. It can be an effective thickener, but you will need a larger amount to get the same effect as cornstarch. Brown and whole-grain flour contain more fiber than white flour, and while it’s possible to use them for thickening, you're likely to need much more of them to get the same result.
In general, it’s recommended that you use twice as much white flour as cornstarch for thickening purposes. For example, if you need 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, use 2 tablespoons of white flour. To avoid clumps while thickening sauces with flour, mix it with a small amount of water to form a paste. You may also want to cook your sauce or stew for an extra two or three minutes to eliminate any raw flour flavor.
One clear advantage of rice flour is that it’s gluten-free, just like cornstarch. It is a powder made of finely ground rice often used in Asian cuisines as an ingredient in desserts, rice noodles, or soups.
You will need twice as much rice flour to substitute cornstarch as a thickening agent. The ratio is the same as it is for wheat flour. It works especially well in puddings, as rice flour holds up well to high heat. Rice flour can be used with hot or cold water to make a paste. Alternatively, you may mix it with butter or oil to make a roux.
Arrowroot is a starchy flour made from the ground roots of the Maranta genus of plants. While it may be a less common ingredient in your pantry, many chefs mark it as their favorite cornstarch substitute. This is because arrowroot can produce the same thickening effect and glossy finish as cornstarch at a 1:1 ratio. Not only that, but arrowroot flour also contains more fiber than cornstarch and it doesn’t alter the flavor at all.
You can use arrowroot to thicken almost anything, with the exception of dairy-based recipes, as the combination can result in a slimy texture. It’s recommended to mix 2 tablespoons of arrowroot in ½ a cup of water and pour the mixture into whatever you’re cooking to thicken it.
This gluten-free flour is made from the processed starch product extracted from cassava, a root vegetable from South America. It is an excellent thickener with a neutral flavor. If you plan on freezing your leftovers, tapioca flour may not be the best choice, as it doesn’t hold up very well when frozen. Also, boiling tapioca starch can sometimes result in a stringy texture. Most chefs recommend substituting 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of tapioca flour.
Potato starch may not be the best choice for thickening purposes, but it is a phenomenal pick for frying. The reason why potato starch doesn’t work well as a thickener is that extreme heat may cause the starch to break down, so it won’t absorb moisture properly and lose the thickening effect. However, its structure does allow it to provide a rigid coating for food cooked shortly in high heat.
It is also gluten-free and bland in taste, so it won’t add any unwanted flavor. If you choose to substitute cornstarch for potato starch, do it in a 1:1 ratio.
If you’re looking for a cornstarch substitute that is well-suited for baking, ground flaxseed is the way to go. This is due to the gritty consistency of flaxseed flour. Ground flaxseed is very absorbent and forms a gelatinous texture when mixed with water. It is also high in soluble fiber, so using it instead of cornstarch can boost the fiber content of your dish.
Rather than adding it directly into the recipe, make a paste mixing 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 4 tablespoons of water (the ratio is ½ tablespoon of found flaxseed to 1 tablespoon of cornstarch).
Glucomannan is a water-soluble powder derived from the roots of the konjac plant. It is also known as the elephant yam and can be seen in the picture above. Glucomannan is extremely absorbent and forms a thick, colorless, odorless gel when mixed with hot water, which makes it an excellent thickener.
Glucomannan is pure fiber. Therefore, it contains no calories or carbs, making it a popular substitute for those who follow a low-carb diet. It’s also prebiotic, which means that it feeds the good bacteria in your large intestine and supports gut health. It is generally recommended to use around a quarter of a teaspoon of glucomannan for every 2 teaspoons of cornstarch. It thickens at quite low temperatures, so mix it with a little cold water before you pour it into your food to avoid clumping.
In case you don’t have any of those cornstarch substitutes on hand, there are several other techniques worth knowing that will help you thicken your recipe.
Share these tips with others!