Non-Flour Starches & Other Thickeners

Tapioca Flour (Starch)

Tapioca Flour (Starch)

by Cat, Jan 2008 (Photo from Bob’s Red Mill (15))

There are times when you don’t want to use flour to thicken a fine sauce or pudding; the most common thickeners are:

Flour vs Starch

See also What’s the difference? Flour and starch

Flour is ground seed, which may be further processed by removing the bran and germ of the seed (“white” flour).

Starch is more highly refined than flour and may come from other sources besides seeds (for example, roots), resulting in polysaccharides of glucose (long chains of glucose, or glucans). Note that some plants produce a similar polysaccharide that is termed ‘fiber’ because we cannot digest it; it consists of long chains of fructose, or fructans, and is also called inulin. Starches are not soluble in cold water or alcohol, but will dissolve and thicken in warm water.

 Starch Equivalents & Substitutions

General equivalence (16c): 2 Tbs. flour = 1 Tbs cornstarch = 2 Tbs tapioca starch/flour = 1 Tbs. + 1 ½ tsp arrowroot = 1 ½ tsp (½ Tbsp) potato starch

  • arrowroot: Substitute 2 tsp arrowroot for 1 Tbsp cornstarch, or 1 tsp arrowroot for 1 Tbsp wheat flour. (13) The use of arrowroot was once more common than it is today, especially in baby formulas. But because it contains no protein, it is dismissed nutritionally. However, it is rich in calcium chloride, important for acid/alkaline balancing. When used in making ice cream, it helps to keep ice crystals from forming in the creamy mix, for a creamier texture (13); it also imparts a vanilla-like flavor and smooth texture. (14).
  • cornstarch: Substitute 1 Tbsp cornstarch for 2 Tbsp flour. (12) Be sure to use Organic or NonGMO (such as Bob’s Red Mill brand) to avoid GMOs.
  • tapioca starch/flour: Substitute 2 Tbsp tapioca starch for 1 Tbsp cornstarch; or 1 Tbsp tapioca starch for 1 Tbsp flour (per Bob’s Red Mill package). This is my preferred thickener because of its high Resistant Starch (RS) content. See also quote from Mercola, below, about the health benefits of tapioca starch.
  • unbleached white, or whole-grain flour (wheat): substitute 2 Tbsp flour for 1 Tbsp cornstarch; or  1 Tbsp flour for 1 Tbsp tapioca starch.
  • potato flour: I tried using this for rolling out a wheat-less pie crust, but didn’t like the potato flavor it added. However, I’ve used it in breads as part of the flour mix (see Irish Soda Bread), and have not minded the flavor. NOTE: potato flour and potato starch are NOT the same.
  • potato starch: Substitute 1 Tbsp potato starch for 4 Tbsp flour, or for 2 Tbsp cornstarch. This is another good choice because it has the highest Resistant Starch (RS) content. I have not tried this yet (as a thickener), but I understand it has less of the strong potato flavor (than potato flour) and makes a good thickener.
  • agar: This substance is derived from seaweed. It forms a gel when mixed with water, so is used as a vegetable-substitute for gelatin, but can also be used to thicken sauces.

Tapioca Starch (About)

The following is from Mercola (17); note that the numbered references in the quote (7, 8, 13 and 14) refer to references in his posting, not mine:

Tapioca starch is produced when a starchy liquid is extracted from the cassava root via evaporation or by squeezing the ground root. The result is a fine white powder that’s dried and often sold as flour or pressed into flakes or “pearls” that must be boiled prior to eating. Tapioca starch can be used as a flavorless thickener for soups or stews. It can also serve as a binder when added to burgers and dough, because tapioca can boost the texture and moisture content of these foods without causing them to become soggy.

What makes tapioca starch special is its potential to be a good alternative to wheat and other grains. It is a good source of digestive-resistant starches, or low-viscous fibers that are able to resist digestion in the small intestine and at the same time, slowly ferment in the large intestine. 7

Resistant starches can also serve as prebiotics that feed bacteria, and these do not make you feel gassy because of their slow fermentation process. These starches can also add bulk to your stools, assist with maintaining regular bowel movements and help with satiety, or making you feel full longer. 8

Another benefit of resistant starches is the low possibility of blood sugar spikes, because they are indigestible in the first place. Additional research also confirmed that these starches may help with improving insulin regulation and lowering risk for insulin resistance, potentially assist in reducing blood glucose levels after a meal13 and aid with managing metabolic  syndrome.14

Thickening sauces using flour or starch

This section moved to Thickening sauces using flour or starch; describes three methods: 1. Roux; 2. Buerre Manie; and 3. Quick Flour (or Starch) & Water Method


  14. Dr. Royal Lee, reprinted in Nourishing Traditions
  15. Bob’s Red Mill photo: ‘tapioca-flour’ (link removed at their request)
  16. Fine Cooking on Thickeners: (16a); (16b) (16c)
  17. Mercola on tapioca starch, excerpt from his Zucchini Tots recipe:

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