Cornstarch is a very common thickener and can also be used in frying and a range of other cooking applications, depending on what you’re going for. It’s one of the most common dry ingredients in cooking, and often used in place of flour and even other grains and thickeners.
If you’ve ever reached for some cornstarch only to realize that you didn’t have enough, there are some good substitutes out there you can use to get the same effect in your cooking.
What Is Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is exactly what it sounds like, the isolated starch from corn grains, and it’s almost flavorless, gives a silky texture, and is often ground very fine to make it add evenly into
How Is Cornstarch Used In Home Cooking And Baking?
Why Should You Use Cornstarch Substitutes?
There are a lot of reasons you might want to consider a cornstarch substitute. The most common might be that you’re out of cornstarch, but there are plenty of other reasons. For one thing, using one of these cornstarch substitutes might be a good way to get a better texture from your finished dish.
Different thickeners give a slightly different finish.
You can also use cornstarch alternatives to get similar thickening effects for people who have corn allergies and other problems that they can’t eat corn.
And of course, you can also use cornstarch substitutes just because you ran out!
The Best Substitutes For Cornstarch:
There are a lot of different substitutes for cornstarch out there, but it’s especially important with starches and thickeners because it’s easy to get a result you don’t want.
One of the easiest ways to replace cornstarch is to reach for another starch. Potato starch is made by isolating the starch from potatoes, then drying it into powder. It’s another gluten free option, but, like all vegetable starches, potato starch is still high in carbs and low in fats and proteins. So, high calories and not great for glycemic index.
That said, a little potato starch does go a long way, and this is a good 1:1 replacement. You might want to add it a little later in the cooking process though, since this starch thickens faster than corn starch.
Another gluten free option, Rice flour is made from whole rice grains, ground very fine. Usually a little finer than typical wheat flour, in part because rice doesn’t soften as much as wheat grains do, so it can feel a little gritty against your teeth.
This option is particularly effective as a thickener for clear liquids though since rice flour turns clear when fully hydrated. You can use rice flour and water for a thickening slurry like cornstarch, or it also works in a roux like regular flour, just add the fat of your choice and cook to your desired color.
All Purpose Flour
All purpose flour is one of the easiest replacements for cornstarch, and probably the one you’re most likely to already have in your home kitchen. Like corn starch, flour works really well as a thickener. It does create more of a gravy texture instead of a silky texture, but that’s not normally a big enough problem to make a difference in your dish.
That said, you should add about twice as much all-purpose flour as you would add corn starch. It’s also important to fully hydrate and mix the flour before you add it. Otherwise, you’re likely to get clumps.
Flour is also the preferred thickener for plenty of soups and stews, including our vegan chicken and dumplings soup!
Tapioca flour is one of the go-to substitutes for people who are allergic to corn starch because it gives you a very similar finish, and creates an almost identical texture when it’s used in foods. However, like wheat flour, it’s important to add about twice as much tapioca powder as corn starch.
Tapioca flour and flakes both work for this, but you shouldn’t use pearls unless you want a texture like tapioca pudding.
Arrowroot powder is another go to for people who have a corn allergy and is also a very close substitute in taste and texture. Arrowroot also has more fiber than corn starch, so there are some health benefits to using arrowroot powder instead as well.
Like rice flour, arrowroot powder is also clear when hydrated, so it’s a great option for clear sauces, soups, and beverages. It takes color well without getting less transparent as well.
Since this cornstarch substitute is also gluten free, it’s a great option for people who are both corn and gluten free.
Xanthan Gum is a result of fermenting sugar with a specific bacteria that produces a gel that can be used in cooking. Generally when you buy Xanthan gum you’ll be buying a powder, which is just that same gel, dried out and powdered for storage.
A very small amount of Xanthan gum works as a thickener, but there are some notable downsides.
For one thing, Xanthan gum can create a slightly slimy texture, a bit like okra. Large amounts of Xanthan gum can also give you a stomach ache, but that’s usually less of a risk since so little of the gum is needed to get the results you’re looking for.
Ground flaxseeds are a great all natural option that adds both protein and fiber to your food. This thickener works thanks to one of the properties of flaxseeds, which collect water to create a gel around the seeds to keep them hydrated.
When ground, that gel still forms, but in less of a bubble.
However, ground flaxseeds can feel a bit gritty, and it’s hard to completely prevent that texture in most foods.
Guar gum is made from guar beans, specifically the endosperm or center of the bean, which is starchy. It’s dried and powdered like most of these thickeners, and easy to use. Guar gum is also usually cheaper than Xanthan gum, and has more advantages.
For one thing, guar gum is low-calorie, and also has a lot of soluble fiber, so it's also got some dietary health benefits!
Like Xanthan gum though, guar gum works fast and you should add only a small amount, see how much thicker your food gets, and then add more if needed.
Kuzu starch is actually the starch that was commonly used in Asian cooking before corn starch, which means it’s a great option for making those same meals today. It’s made from the roots of kuzu, sometimes called kudzu, plants. Since kudzu is widespread and grows rapidly, so much that it’s invasive in a lot of places, this is an easily renewable starch.
The trick with kuzu starch is getting the right cooking time. The starch forms a loose gel when it’s first added to liquid, the longer it’s cooked the firmer the gel becomes. It’s a good option for making things like panna cotta.
However, because this starch gets so firm, but also needs to be cooked before being eaten, it can be more of a challenge to get the right balance of starch and cooking time with sauces, soups, and other liquid-based meals.
Speaking of East Asian meals, if you want more Chinese recipes for your home cooking, we have 26 chicken recipes for you to try!
Psyllium husks are made from mushroom psyllium and are often used as a fiber supplement as well as a thickener. If you’ve ever had a mix into liquid fiber supplement, chances are you were working with psyllium husk.
This option is fiber rich, and has few carbs, making it a health-conscious option.
You also don’t need much of this thickener to get good results.
However, psyllium husk has a tendency to clump together, which can make your food a little lumpy if you aren’t stirring rapidly when you add the husk powder.
Other Ways To Thicken Your Food At Home:
Adding a starch or a similar thickener is a quick and easy way to thicken your soups and sauces, but it isn’t the only way you can get a thicker, richer texture in your food. Here are some other options that you can use when you don’t have a cornstarch substitute, or when you want a thicker texture without needing to add other ingredients:
- Blend Some Vegetables: One of the best ways to thicken vegetable-rich soups, sauces, and stews, is also one of the easiest. Take out some of the vegetables and cooking liquid and blend them into a smooth slurry. Add the slurry back into your food, and repeat as needed until you have the desired texture. A heat-proof immersion blender can also be used if you want a smooth texture all the way through. This is the technique that works in our decadent pumpkin squash soup!
- Simmer Longer: Another option for boiled or simmered foods is simple, just simmer the food longer, and take the lid off. Simmering helps to remove excess water, and also concentrates the flavor in your food at the same time. It’s best to simmer your food longer at the beginning of cooking, before adding ingredients that can be overcooked.
Add Sour Cream or Greek Yogurt: Another option is to add a little sour cream or Greek yogurt since both ingredients will thicken most soups and stews. Just be aware that you need to add enough of these ingredients that the flavor of your meal will change as a result. This option is best when you want to add some creaminess and mellow the flavors a little. It can also add sour and savory flavors to help counteract overly sweet flavors if you added too much sweetener earlier in cooking.