Cornstarch is widely used in cooking and baking.
It's a pure starch powder that is extracted from corn kernels by removing all of their outer bran and germ, leaving behind the starch-rich endosperm.
In the kitchen, it has a range of uses. When starch is heated, it’s very good at absorbing water. So it’s most often used as a thickener for stews, soups and gravies.
It's also often favored by those with celiac disease, as it's derived from corn (not wheat), making it gluten-free.
However, cornstarch is not the only ingredient that can be used as a thickener. This article explores the ingredients you can use instead.
Wheat flour is made by grinding wheat into a fine powder.
Unlike cornstarch, wheat flour contains protein and fiber, as well as starch. This means it's possible to swap your cornstarch for flour, but you will need more of it to get the same effect.
In general, it's recommended that you use twice as much white flour as cornstarch for thickening purposes. So if you need 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, use 2 tablespoons of white flour.
Brown and whole grain flour contain more fiber than white flour, so while it’s possible to try thickening with these flours, you’re likely to need much more of them to get the same result.
To thicken recipes with wheat flour, mix it with a little cold water first to form a paste. This will keep it from sticking together and forming clumps when you add it to recipes.
If you are using wheat flour as a cornstarch substitute, remember that it’s not gluten-free, so it’s not suitable for people with celiac disease.
Summary: Wheat flour is a quick and easy substitution for cornstarch. For the best results, it's recommended that you use twice as much flour as you would cornstarch.
Arrowroot is a starchy flour made from the roots of the Maranta genus of plants, which is found in the tropics.
To make arrowroot, the roots of the plants are dried and then ground into a fine powder, which can be used as a thickener in cooking.
It also forms a clear gel when mixed with water, so it’s great for thickening clear liquids (3).
It’s recommended to use twice as much arrowroot as cornstarch to get similar results. Arrowroot is also gluten-free, so it’s suitable for people who don't eat gluten.
Summary: Arrowroot flour is a gluten-free substitute for cornstarch. You should use twice as much arrowroot as you would cornstarch.
Potato starch is another substitute for cornstarch. It’s made by crushing potatoes to release their starch content and then drying them into a powder.
Like arrowroot, it’s not a grain, so it contains no gluten. However, it is a refined starch, meaning that it’s high in carbs and contains very little fat or protein.
Like other tuber and root starches, potato starch tastes quite bland, so it won’t add any unwanted flavor to your recipes.
You should substitute potato starch for cornstarch in a 1:1 ratio. This means if your recipe needs 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, swap that out for 1 tablespoon of potato starch.
It’s also worth noting that many cooks recommend adding root or tuber starches like potato or arrowroot later in the cooking process.
This is because they absorb water and thicken a lot quicker than grain-based starches. Heating them for too long will completely break them down, causing them to lose their thickening properties.
Summary: Potato starch is a great replacement for cornstarch because it tastes bland and is gluten-free.
It’s made by grinding cassava roots to a pulp and filtering out their starch-rich liquid, which is then dried into tapioca flour.
However, some cassava plants contain cyanide, so the cassava has to be treated first to ensure it’s safe (4).
Tapioca can be bought as flour, pearls or flakes, and is also gluten- free.
Most cooks recommend substituting 1 tablespoon of cornstarch with 2 tablespoons of tapioca flour.
Summary: Tapioca is a processed starch flour made from the root vegetable cassava. You should substitute around 2 tablespoons of tapioca flour for each tablespoon of cornstarch.
Rice flour is a powder made from finely ground rice. It’s often used in Asian cultures as an ingredient in desserts, rice noodles or soups.
Naturally gluten-free, it’s also popular among those who have celiac disease as a substitute for regular wheat flour.
Rice flour can also act as a thickener in recipes, making it an effective substitute for cornstarch.
Additionally, it’s colorless when mixed with water, so it can be especially useful for thickening clear liquids.
Like wheat flour, it’s recommended that you use twice as much rice flour as cornstarch to get the same result.
It can be used with hot or cold water to make a paste, or in a roux, which is a mixture of flour and fat.
Summary: Rice flour is colorless when added to a recipe, so it can be useful for thickening clear liquids. Use double the amount of rice flour to get the same result.
Ground flaxseeds are very absorbent and form a jelly when mixed with water.
However, the consistency of flax can be a bit gritty, unlike cornstarch, which is smooth.
That said, flaxseeds are a great source of soluble fiber, so using ground flaxseeds instead of flour can boost the fiber content of your dish (5).
If you’re thickening a dish, you could try substituting for cornstarch by mixing 1 tablespoon ground flaxseeds with 4 tablespoons water. This should replace about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
Summary: You can mix ground flaxseeds with water and substitute it for cornstarch. However, it can have a gritty texture and won’t provide the same smooth finish.
Glucomannan is a powdered soluble fiber derived from the roots of the konjac plant.
It is very absorbent and forms a thick, colorless, odorless gel when mixed with hot water.
As glucomannan is pure fiber, it contains no calories or carbs, making it a popular substitute for cornstarch for people following a low-carb diet.
It’s also a probiotic, which means it feeds the good bacteria in your large intestine and can help you maintain a healthy gut (6).
Additionally, a recent review found that consuming 3 grams of glucomannan per day could reduce your “bad” LDL cholesterol by up to 10% (7).
However, you’re unlikely to consume that much when using it as a thickener. That’s because its thickening power is much stronger than cornstarch, so you use much less.
Most people 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 it clumping together when it hits hot liquid.
Summary: Glucomannan is a soluble dietary fiber that thickens when heated with water. It contains no carbs or calories, so it’s a popular choice for people on a low-carb diet.
Psyllium husk is another plant-based soluble fiber that can be used as a thickening agent.
Like glucomannan, it’s rich in soluble fiber and contains very few carbs.
You’ll also only need a small amount of it to thicken recipes, so start with half a teaspoon and build up.
Summary: Psyllium husk is another type of plant-based soluble fiber. Try using small amounts of it in place of cornstarch for thickening.
This produces a gel, which is then dried and turned into a powder that you can use in your cooking. Very small amounts of xanthan gum can thicken a liquid by a large amount (9).
It’s worth noting that it may cause digestive issues for some people when consumed in large amounts (10).
However, you are unlikely to consume very much of it when using it as a thickener.
It’s recommended to use a small amount of xanthan gum and add it slowly. You need to be careful not to use too much, or the liquid may become a bit slimy.
Summary: You can swap cornstarch for the same amount of xanthan gum as a thickener in your cooking.
Guar gum is also a vegetable gum. It’s made from a type of legume called guar beans.
The outer husks of the beans are removed, and the central, starchy endosperm is collected, dried and ground into a powder.
Some people prefer using guar gum over xanthan gum, as it’s generally much cheaper.
However, like xanthan gum, guar gum is a strong thickener. Start with a small amount — around one-quarter of a teaspoon — and build up slowly to a consistency that you like.
Summary: Guar gum is low in calories and high in soluble fiber. It has good thickening properties, so start with a small amount and build up.
Several other techniques can also help you thicken your recipes.
- Simmering: Cooking your meal at a lower heat for longer will help evaporate some of the liquid, resulting in a thicker sauce.
- Blended vegetables: Puréeing leftover veggies can make a tomato-based sauce thicker and add more nutrients.
- Sour cream or Greek yogurt: Adding these to a sauce can help make it creamier and thicker.
Summary: Several other techniques can help thicken sauce, including simmering, adding some blended veggies and using sour cream or Greek yogurt.
When it comes to thickening sauces, stews and soups, there are many alternatives to cornstarch.
What’s more, many of these thickeners have different nutritional properties than cornstarch and can suit various dietary preferences.
If you’re looking to add a little bit of extra fiber to your recipes, are on a low-carb diet or simply run out of cornstarch, there are certainly alternative thickeners to consider.