all-around thickener, but with relatively strong flavor. It makes
sauces glossy but somewhat cloudy. Liquid must be at boiling when
added, but long cooking after adding will break it down, as will
stirring while re-heating. Make a slurry with an equal amount of
water before stirring in to avoid lumps. It does not take well to
freezing and doesn't work well with acidic foods. It will do better
if taken off the heat before acids are stirred in. 1 teaspoon will
thicken about 1/2 cup of sauce.
|Potato Starch||2.0||A good,
powerful thickener, but its thickening power is quickly weakened by
boiling. Add at the end of cooking and avoid boiling. In
Chinese recipes, do not substitute for cornstarch where the coating
is also the thickener for the sauce or you'll end up with far too much
sauce. Potato starch thickened sauces reheat better than cornstarch
thickened, but don't bring to a full boil. Potato starch is preferred
for baking as it withstands higher temperatures. It is acceptable for
|Sweet Potato Starch||
Sweet potato starch is seldom used for thickening - it is used mainly
for coating meats and vegetables for frying where a crisp surface is
desired. It is sold in Asian markets as a powder and as granules for
this purpose. It is also made into noodles.|
well at lower temperatures than cornstarch. It is often used to correct
the thickness of a sauce at the last minute. Freezes well. Add to hot
liquids at the last minute because it breaks down with heat faster than
potato starch and a lot faster than cornstarch. No flavor and makes a
clear but rather glossy sauce. Sub: instant tapioca (grind to powder
unless you desire some texture); glutinous rice flour; potato starch (not
|Arrowroot||1.5||Flavor neutral and
better for thickening acidic foods than cornstarch. Freezes well and is
more resistant to breaking down from heat than cornstarch. It will
thicken well below the boiling point so can be used for fragile sauces.
It produces a clear sauce and the appearance is less glossy than
cornstarch. It is relatively expensive but that's not really
significant for home use. Arrowroot should not be used in dairy based
sauces as it turns them slimy. It should be made into a slurry with
cold water before adding to hot liquids.
|Glutinous Rice Flour||Actually "gluten free",
this thickener freezes well. Do not confuse it with regular rice flour.
This flour can be sprinkled over simmering liquids and stirred in
without clumping until you have the right thickness.
Sub: tapioca starch.|
|Wheat Flour||0.5||A good thickener
for sauces and gravies which does not make them look glossy (but also
they will not be clear). Very stable and holds about the same as it
cools. It thickens at boiling temperature and must be thoroughly cooked
before or after adding. Most commonly this is done by cooking in butter
to make a roux, but too much cooking will weaken its thickening power.
A dark roux has very little thickening power. Cake flour has the most
thickening power, bread flour the least, but all purpose flour is
|Beurre manié||0.5||This is a
kneaded mixture of butter and flour, but it isn't pre-cooked, so it must
have sufficient cooking time in the soup or sauce.|
|Sago||2.0||Made from the inner pulp
of a palm. Sometimes found in Asian markets. It needs to be cooked
fairly long to develop its thickening power, but is thus rather heat
stable. There is another Sago starch made from the inner pulp of a
Cycad, but it is seldom found in commerce.
|Kudzu||0.7||Kudzu flour will thicken at
room temperature. Rare and expensive - Southerners would rather complain
about kudzu than learn to use it. When cooking with kudzu it should
be mixed with cold water before stirring into hot liquids and should
be stirred well for a while as it has a tendency to sink to the bottom.
|Sahlab||1.0||Made from the root tubers
of an orchid grown in Turkey. Export is currently forbidden and most
"sahlab" on the market is fake.|
|Instant ClearJel®||A modified corn starch
much used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It
thickens without cooking, is acid stable, stable at high temperatures
and takes freezing well.|
|ClearJel®||A modified corn starch much
used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It is also
much used in home canning as the only thickener approved by the USDA
for canning applications (Instant ClearJel® is not suitable).
Unlike Instant ClearJel® it is not usable where the product will
Non Starch Thickeners and Gels
|Guar Gum||8.0||Made from a South Asian
bean, it's powerful but clumps like crazy. Best mixed with sugar or salt
(whichever goes into your recipe) and stir briskly while adding. Some add
through a salt shaker for better dispersal. Do not attempt to use as a
slurry, it will clump. It will thicken at room
temperature, but takes a long time so heat is often used. Prevents formation
of ice crystals in frozen foods.|
|Xanthan Gum||3.0||This non-starch
thickener is increasingly popular with the fancy chef set because its
high thickening power allows it to be used in very small amounts which
do not affect flavor. At room temperature it is an effective thickener
at 1% concentration. It looses strength with heat so it's most used
in room temperature or cooled applications. It has unique properties
that make it particularly useful in salad dressings and chili sauces.
It's made by fermenting
sugar with a particular bacterium.|
seaweed, this is similar to gelatin, but stronger and gels without
refrigeration. Approved for vegetarians. It can be substituted about
1:1 for gelatin. it is available in Asian markets. It does not work
well with acid foods, or foods containing oxalic acid.|
powder is a soluble fiber extracted from
Konjac corms. It can gel at room
temperature, has 0 carbs, nearly 0 calories, and is diabetic and
vegan safe. It firms up more with wet cooking.|
|Pectin||A natural gel agent found in fruit.
It's main use is in the production of fruit jellies and jams.|
|Carragenan||Derived from seaweed
(Chondrus crispus - Irish moss), this gel agent is widely used
in commercial products, particularly dairy products such as yogurt or
sour cream. This ingredient has been found to cause inflammation, even
in the quantities used in commercial products, and it can possibly
result in gluten sensitivity. It is best avoided.|
|Gelatin||A natural product of meat and fish
released with heat. Commercial gelatin is made by boiling hides and
bones of domesticated animals. Commercial gelatin is used mostly to
produce gels and aspics. 1/4 ounce will set 16 ounces of liquid.
|Blood||Formerly used as a thickener by almost
all meat eating peoples (though forbidden by Jewish law), blood
has fallen out of favor in "mainstream" (squeamish) North American
societies, and is banned by law in some regions. Here in Southern
California, tubs of blood (coagulated and non-coagulated) are widely
available in Asian and other ethnic markets.
How Starches Work
Starches are long chains of glucose molecules. Glucose is a type of
sugar. Unlike sugars, starches are insoluble in water or alcohol. There
are two main types of starch produced by plants for energy storage,
amylose and amylopectin. The animal form, Glycogen, similar to a highly
branched amylopectin, is not considered here.
Plants store starches in crystalline form in granules. When exposed to
heat and moisture these granules swell and burst, releasing the starch
molecules, which unwind from their crystalline form to become amorphous
Amylose is in the form of very long almost unbranched chains that
tangle severely when released, thus amylose is a most effective thickener,
entrapping large amounts of liquid among its tangled chains. When cooled
amylose tends to become stiff.
Amylopectin forms short chains that are highly branched, not as
effective as a thickener, but more effective at creating gels. When
cooled, amylopectin does not become as stiff as amylose.
The proportions of these two starches greatly affects the cooking
characteristics of starchy foods. Also the Glycemic index (of interest
to diabetics) is lower for amylose than for amylopectin.
Rice, for instance, ranges from long grain with mostly amylose to short
grain with mostly amylopectin. Long grain cooks up fluffy and relatively
dry. When cooled it becomes stiff, a good start for fried rice. Short
grain rice is mostly amylopectin and cooks up rather sticky. "Glutinous"
or "sticky" or "sweet" rice is entirely amylopectin and cooks up very
sticky indeed (and contains no gluten).
Potatoes are another example, ranging from russets with mostly amylose
to round whites, high in amylopectin. Russets stay dry and fluffy,
excellent for baking and mashing but fall apart with boiling and other
wet cooking methods. Round whites boil up firm and hold their shape in
soups and stews. Others are in between.
Starches come from two main sources: seeds (wheat flour, cornstarch)
and roots or tubers (potato starch, arrowroot). The amylose chains of root
starches are longer than those of seeds, thus potato starch is a more
effective thickener than cornstarch.