Cornstarch is commonly used in cooking and baking.
It is a pure starch meal extracted from corn kernels by removing all outer bran and germ, leaving a starch-rich endosperm.
It can be used in the kitchen in many ways. When starch is heated, it absorbs moisture very well. Therefore, it is most commonly used as a thickener in stews, soups and sauces.
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It’s also often favored by people with gluten-related illnesses because it’s derived from corn (not wheat), so it’s gluten-free.
However, cornstarch isn’t the only ingredient that can be used as a thickener. This article explores 11 ingredients you can use.
1. Wheat Flour
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 you can swap out cornstarch for flour, but you’ll need more flour to get the same effect.
In general, it is recommended to use twice as much white flour as cornstarch for thickening. So if you need 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, use 2 tablespoons of white flour.
Wheat and whole-wheat flours contain more fiber than white flours, so while you can thicken with these flours, you may need more flour to get the same results.
To thicken a recipe using wheat flour, first mix it with some cold water to form a paste. This will keep it from sticking together and clumping when you add it to recipes.
If you’re using wheat flour as a cornstarch substitute, keep in mind that it’s not gluten-free and therefore not suitable for people with gluten-related illnesses.
Wheat flour is a quick and easy substitute for cornstarch. For best results, use twice as much flour as cornstarch.
Arrowroot is a starchy flour made from the roots of the Maranta plant in the tropics.
To make arrowroot, the roots of the plant are dried and ground into a fine powder that can be used as a thickener in cooking.
Some people prefer arrowroot to cornstarch because it contains more fiber (1, 2).
It also forms a clear gel when mixed with water, ideal for thickening clear liquids (3).
It is recommended to use twice as much arrowroot as cornstarch for similar results. Arrowroot is also gluten-free and suitable for those who do not eat gluten.
Arrowroot is a gluten-free alternative to cornstarch. You should use twice as much arrowroot as the cornstarch.
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3. Potato starch
Potato starch is another alternative to cornstarch. It is made by crushing a potato to release the starch content in it, then drying it into a powder.
Like arrowroot, it’s not a grain, so it’s gluten-free. However, it is a refined starch, which means it is high in carbohydrates and very low in fat or protein.
Like other tuber and root starches, potato starch has a fairly bland flavor, so it won’t add any unwanted flavor to your recipes.
Corn starch should be replaced with potato starch in a 1:1 ratio. This means that if your recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, replace it with 1 tablespoon of potato starch.
It’s also worth noting that many chefs recommend adding root or tuber starches, such as potato or arrowroot, late in the cooking process.
This is because they absorb water and thicken faster than grain starches. If heated for too long, they break down completely, causing them to lose their thickening properties.
Potato starch is a great alternative to cornstarch because it has a mild flavor and is gluten-free.
4. Tapioca Flour
Tapioca is a processed starch product derived from cassava, a root vegetable found throughout South America.
It is made by grinding tapioca root into a pulp and filtering out its starchy liquid, which is then dried to make tapioca flour.
However, some cassava plants contain cyanide, so the cassava must be treated first to ensure its safety (4).
Tapioca flour can be purchased as flour, pearls, or flakes, and it’s also gluten-free.
Most cooks recommend substituting 2 tablespoons of tapioca for 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.
Tapioca is a processed starch made from the root vegetable, tapioca. You should replace each tablespoon of cornstarch with about 2 tablespoons of tapioca flour.
5. Rice noodles
Rice flour is a powder made from finely ground rice. In Asian cultures it is often used as an ingredient in desserts, rice noodles or soups.
Naturally gluten-free, it’s also popular with those with gluten-related conditions as an alternative to regular wheat flour.
Rice flour also acts as a thickener in recipes, making it an effective alternative to cornstarch.
Additionally, it is colorless when mixed with water, making it particularly useful for thickening clear liquids.
As with wheat flour, rice flour with twice the amount of cornstarch is recommended for the same results.
It can be used with hot or cold water to make a paste or to make a roux with a mixture of flour and fat.
Rice flour is colorless when added to recipes, so it can be used to thicken clear liquids. Use double the amount of rice flour for the same result.
6. Flaxseed meal
Ground flax seeds are highly absorbent and form a jelly when mixed with water.
However, the texture of flax can be a bit gritty, unlike cornstarch, which is smooth.
However, flaxseeds are a great source of soluble fiber, so using ground flaxseeds instead of flour can increase the fiber content of your diet (5).
When thickening dishes, you can try mixing 1 tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 4 tablespoons of water instead of cornstarch. This should replace about 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.
You can mix ground flax seeds with water and replace the mixture with cornstarch. However, it can have a gritty texture and doesn’t provide the same smooth finish.
Glucomannan is a powdered soluble fiber derived from the roots of the konjac plant.
It is highly absorbent and forms a thick, colorless, odorless gel when mixed with hot water.
Because glucomannan is pure fiber, it contains no calories or carbohydrates, making it a popular cornstarch alternative for people on low-carb diets.
It’s also a probiotic, which means it feeds the good bacteria in your colon and can help you maintain a healthy gut (6).
Additionally, a recent review found that consuming 3 grams of glucomannan per day can lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol by up to 10% (7).
But if you’re using it as a thickener, you’re unlikely to use that much. That’s because it has a lot stronger thickening power than cornstarch, so you use a lot less.
Most people use about 1/4 teaspoon of glucomannan per 2 teaspoons of cornstarch.
It thickens at fairly low temperatures, so mix it with some cold water before pouring it into your food to avoid lumps when it encounters hot liquids.
Glucomannan is a soluble fiber that thickens when heated with water. It contains no carbohydrates or calories, making it a popular choice for those on a low-carb diet.
8. Psyllium husk
Psyllium husk is another plant-based soluble fiber that can be used as a thickener.
Like glucomannan, it is high in soluble fiber and very low in carbohydrates.
You also only need a small amount of this to thicken recipes, so start with 1/2 tsp and go thicker.
Psyllium husk is another plant-based soluble fiber. Try using a small amount of this instead of cornstarch for thickening.
9. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a plant-based chewing gum made by fermenting sugar with a bacterium called Xanthomonas campestris (8).
This creates a gel, which is then dried and turned into a cooking-ready powder. Very small amounts of xanthan gum can greatly thicken liquids (9).
Notably, some people may experience digestive issues when consuming large amounts (10).
However, if it is used as a thickener, it is unlikely to consume much.
It is recommended to use a small amount of xanthan gum and add it slowly. You have to be careful not to use too much or the liquid will get a little sticky.
You can swap out the cornstarch for the same amount of xanthan gum as the cooking thickener.
10. Guar Gum
Guar gum is also a vegetable gum. It is made from a type of legume called guar.
The shell of the beans is removed, and the central starchy endosperm is collected, dried and ground to a powder.
It’s low in calories and high in soluble fiber, making it an excellent thickener (11, 12).
Some people prefer to use guar gum instead of xanthan because it’s usually much cheaper.
However, like xanthan gum, guar gum is a powerful thickener. Start with a small amount—about a quarter of a teaspoon—and slowly increase to your preferred consistency.
Guar gum is low in calories and high in soluble fiber. It has good thickening properties, so start with a small amount and increase gradually.
11. Other thickening techniques
Several other techniques can also help you enrich your recipes.
simmer. If you cook at a lower temperature for a long time, some of the liquid will evaporate, causing the sauce to thicken.
Mixed vegetables. Mixing in the remaining vegetables thickens the ketchup and adds more nutrients.
Sour cream or plain Greek yogurt. Adding these to a sauce can help make it creamier and thicker.
Several other techniques can help thicken sauces, including simmering, adding mixed vegetables, and using sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.
When it comes to thickening sauces, stews, and soups, there are plenty of alternatives to cornstarch.
Additionally, many of these thickeners have nutritional properties that differ from cornstarch and can accommodate various dietary preferences.
If you want to add a little extra fiber to your recipes, low carb diet, or no cornstarch, certainly consider alternative thickeners.