Cornstarch is the holy grail of sauces. It’s that one secret ingredient that makes pasta’s favorite partner thick, creamy, and extremely satisfying. However, what happens when you don’t have this nifty ingredient on hand? Don’t sweat it. There are plenty of substitutes for cornstarch you can use to spruce up your dish, without sacrificing that delightful texture.
1. Wheat Flour
If a recipe doesn’t call for cornstarch to thicken a sauce or soup, then it will definitely call for flour. Both cornstarch and flour contain high levels of starch, which is the reason they thicken any liquid you add them to. Wheat flour also has plenty of fiber, protein, and fewer carbs than cornstarch, making it an excellent substitute for cornstarch.
Wheat flour comes in several different forms. The most popular ones are all-purpose and whole wheat flour. Both can thicken sauces easily, but all-purpose flour is the cheaper and more convenient option.
However, whole wheat flour is definitely healthier, with plenty of fiber and minerals to nourish your body, while also tantalizing your taste buds. Plus, it also imparts an incredible nutty flavor to your dish, which can definitely take your dish to the next level.
Because wheat flour contains less starch than cornstarch, you may need to add more when substituting.
1 Tbsp of cornstarch = 1 ½ Tbsp of wheat flour.
Also, keep in mind that wheat flour is rich in gluten, which can be problematic if you’re gluten-sensitive.
2. Potato Starch
Corn isn’t the only vegetable with impressive thickening powers. Potatoes also contain high levels of starch that make them ideal for making creamy sauces and soups. This makes potato starch the perfect substitute for cornstarch, especially if you’re gluten-free.
Potato starch contains fewer nutrients than cornstarch. However, this thickener has the upper hand in that, it contains fewer calories and carbs. This means that potato starch is a good option if you’re looking for a substitute that will help you keep the carb content down. As mentioned, potatoes don’t contain any gluten, meaning that they’re perfect for anyone suffering from celiac disease.
Another benefit of potato starch is that it has a completely neutral flavor profile. Therefore, it won’t overpower your dish or alter the texture as whole wheat flour will. Because potatoes have a comparable starch level to cornstarch, substituting is easy.
1 Tbsp of cornstarch = 1 Tbsp of potato starch.
3. Arrowroot Powder
Since gluten sensitivity has become more and more common nowadays, having access to gluten-free foods is incredibly important. This is why arrowroot powder is a lifesaver. Not only is it an excellent substitute for cornstarch, but it’s also incredibly nutritious. In fact, it’s one of the most nutrient-packed substitutes on this list, brimming with calcium, dietary fiber, protein, and plenty of healthy B vitamins.
This incredible ingredient comes from processing the arrowroot plant, a crop native to South America. It gets its name from aru aru, meaning meal of meals, in Caribbean languages, and it has been a staple of South American cuisine for hundreds of years.
With its neutral flavor profile, rich nutrient content, and health-promoting properties, it’s truly the best substitute if you’re looking to make your sauce healthy and gluten-free!
Much like potato starch, arrowroot powder contains similar starch levels to cornstarch. Therefore, substitution is easy.
1 Tbsp of cornstarch = 1 Tbsp of arrowroot powder.
However, keep in mind that arrowroot powder doesn’t mix well with milk. So if you’re making a dairy-based dish, it may be better to opt for another alternative on this list.
4. Rice Flour
The holy grail of Asia, rice is one of those ingredients that can do virtually anything — including thickening your sauce. This nifty product comes from grinding rice grains into fine flour. It’s then used to make various Asian dishes like rice noodles, Chinese new year cake, or delicious mochi.
But beyond Asian-inspired dishes, rice flour is an excellent substitute for cornstarch. It works especially well in milk-based dishes. What’s more, it’s the perfect option if you’re making a roux, a mixture of flour and fat used to make various sauces.
Because it’s colorless and neutral in flavor, it will help you retain the original look and flavor profile of your dish. And the best part is that it’s usually gluten-free, meaning that it can work well if you have gluten sensitivity.
However, rice flour has a significantly lower starch content than corn. Therefore, you will need to use more of it to get the same result.
1 Tbsp of cornstarch = 2 Tbsp of rice flour.
5. Cassava Flour
A bit more obscure than the other entries on this list, cassava flour is a real hidden gem. Also known by its more popular name, tapioca, cassava flour comes from processing the roots of the cassava plant. Manufacturers in South America grind the root to a pulp, filter out the starch-rich liquid and then dry this mixture till it becomes a supple, smooth flour.
Much like the previous entries on our list, cassava flour is completely gluten-free. It also comes in many different forms including husks, pearls, or flakes. Therefore, if you want to tinker with the texture of your dish, without sacrificing flavor, you can always use some flakes or husks to thicken your dish.
Since cassava loses a lot of starch during the refining process, it’s naturally less effective at thickening than cornstarch. Therefore, to make it an effective substitute for cornstarch, you will need to add more of it to your dish.
1 Tbsp of cornstarch = 2 Tbsp of cassava flour.
6. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is one of those things that is in almost every food item, despite the fact that most people haven’t heard about it. It’s one of the main ingredients in store-bought salad dressings, chewing gum, various jelly sweets, and surprisingly wallpaper glue. While there’s still a lot of debate on how healthy this food additive is, it’s undeniably a very effective thickener and a good substitute for cornstarch.
Manufacturers make xanthan gum by fermenting sugar with a type of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris. The fermentation process creates a thick, gooey substance that becomes solid when you add alcohol to it. The solid block gets ground up into a fine powder which manufacturers then add to various food items to make them thicker and more stable.
While xanthan gum doesn’t have many nutrients, it’s incredibly effective at thickening liquids, especially hot sauces. Plus, since you need very little of it to make your dish creamy, you don’t have to worry about any possible negative health effects.
1 tbsp of cornstarch = ½ tbsp of Xanthan gum.