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You’re about to make a stir-fry, and you prepped all the veg, ginger, garlic and soy sauce – you’re ready to go when you realize you’re out of cornstarch, the finishing touch you need to give your sauce just the right texture. Or perhaps you’re following a paleo diet, or simply want to avoid cornstarch, an ingredient that is often made from GMO corn. Luckily, there are a few other staples that can replace cornstarch, with a little strategy.
What is Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is a powdered starch derived from corn, in a process through which the grain is milled, soaked, dried and separated from its natural oil. It has a variety of culinary applications, but it’s mostly used as a thickener for sauces, casseroles, stews, custards and pies. It lends a smooth, glossy texture.
When using cornstarch, it’s important not to add it directly to dishes, as it tends to clump. Instead, dissolve it in a little bit of water, broth, or other liquid (this mixture is called a slurry), and drizzle it in. But cornstarch isn’t the only thickening agent on the block. Here is your cheatsheet of items you can use to replace cornstarch.
1. White whole-wheat flour
Flour works well as a thickener, though you’ll need about twice as much as you would for cornstarch to get the same thickening power. Plus, be sure to cook the mixture long enough to lose the raw taste of the flour. Flour can stand in for cornstarch in gravy, casseroles, pudding and fruit pies. We suggest using white whole-wheat, not regular whole-wheat, which can add a grainy texture to your dishes.
This starch is similar to cornstarch in a number of ways, so no wonder it makes a good sub. It has the same thickening power as cornstarch, so it’s a 1:1 swap. You can use it almost anywhere that you’d use cornstarch, and you’ll get a similar shiny, glossy result. Plus, though cornstarch and arrowroot are both gluten-free, arrowroot is also grain-free, so it’s good for paleo dieters and anyone avoiding grain. Arrowroot isn’t quite as sturdy as cornstarch; it’s best used in items the same day you’re eating them. Like cornstarch, you’ll want to mix it with water first to make a slurry before adding to your dishes. Unlike cornstarch, though, arrowroot doesn’t work as well with dairy-based dishes as it can yield a slimy texture.
3. Rice flour
To use this gluten-free flour to replace cornstarch, use twice as much as you would cornstarch. The rawness cooks out faster than regular flour, though you won’t get quite as glossy a result as you would with cornstarch. It works very nicely in puddings.
4. Potato Starch
This thickener works especially well in soups and gravy, where you want the result to be smooth and creamy. It’s less effective in dishes that cook longer, such as pies or custard. Use 1 to 1½ times the amount of cornstarch.
5. Tapioca starch
Not to be confused with tapioca pearls that you see in pudding (or larger ones in bubble tea), tapioca starch (also known as tapioca flour), derived from cassava root, is grain- and gluten-free. It’s less powerful so you’ll need about twice as much to replace cornstarch. Also, tapioca is a bit more delicate and fussy than cornstarch. If you boil a tapioca-thickened liquid for too long, it can start to break down and turn stringy. But done right, tapioca can give you a smooth, glossy finish.
For more easy swaps, check out What to Use Instead of Wine or No Eggs? No Problem. Here are 3 Ways to Replace Eggs in Your Baking.