7 Great Arrowroot Powder Substitutes
Arrowroot powder (sometimes called arrowroot starch or arrowroot flour) is a starch derived from a variety of plants, most commonly American arrowroot (which is a form of bamboo tuber) but also tapioca and cassava.
It is more popular in Caribbean cultures, as well as in Asia, but is becoming more common in North America as gluten allergies rise. Arrowroot is used to thicken things, as well as bind ingredients together.
Along with being used in kitchens around the world, arrowroot has had many other uses over the last 7,000 years. Historically, it has been used to treat wounds, as a glue, and also to make paper! It is also used today as an ingredient in natural baby powder or dry shampoo. Talk about versatility! In Napoleonic times, arrowroot was a very popular starch used in cookies, puddings, jello, sauces, and even soup broths.
In Japan and Korea, a special kind of arrowroot called Kudzu is used in many noodle recipes. Arrowroot is prized for keeping the color of whatever you are looking to thicken intact. Unlike cornstarch, it makes clear, shimmering fruit gels and is used in cooking to produce a clear, thickened sauce, such as in fruit sauce, hot sauce, or sweet and sour.
It doesn’t make the sauce go cloudy, as cornstarch, flour, and other starchy thickening agents do, and unlike the others, it is freezable.
In Arawak, it gets its name from aru-aru, or “meal of meals” as the arrowroot or cassava root has always been a staple. Processing arrowroot into the powder we are used to is quite a lengthy process, as arrowroot only contains about 20% starch.
You can find arrowroot in its whole form in some specialty grocery stores where you might find Caribbean or Indo-Asian foods, but finding the powder can prove a little more difficult.
Arrowroot powder is less affordable than similar starches, like cornstarch or even agar agar, but it is quite versatile so it is worthwhile having it in the pantry! Arrowroot thickens at a lower temperature than flour and other starches and it is gluten-free and not weakened by acidic ingredients. It also has a more neutral taste and is not affected by freezing, which makes it an excellent option for bakers and chefs alike!
If you cannot find arrowroot, here are some great substitutes!
Cornstarch is a starch made from, you guessed it, corn! Like arrowroot, cornstarch is also gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free, and oil-free. It is also very close to arrowroot in its thickening capabilities and can be used 2:1 cornstarch to arrowroot. When thickening sauces, cornstarch must be cooked out.
It is also helpful to mix cornstarch with some cold water first (this is called a slurry, and not necessary with arrowroot!) The downside of using cornstarch as a replacement for arrowroot is that cornstarch will make things cloudy and cannot be frozen. The upside is that cornstarch is very cheap and available everywhere!
2. Wheat Flour
Using all-purpose or bread flour as a thickener in your recipes is a no-brainer and has its benefits! Wheat flour is nutrient-dense, high in fiber and protein, and is of course known for its excellent flavor. Wheat flour, however, will make anything that you’re cooking unsuitable for those with gluten intolerances or allergies.
It is also likely to get clumpy if not cooked properly. You likely have wheat flour in your cupboard right now so it is a quick substitute.
You can use three teaspoons of flour for every one teaspoon of arrowroot. Wheat flour comes in many different options such as all-purpose, cake flour, spelt, kamut or even a blend. Any of these will work in place of arrowroot.
3. Psyllium Husk or Flax Seeds
Two more nutrient-dense options that are known for their high fiber content while being super low in calories, psyllium husk and flax seeds. These are popular in plant-based recipes to replace eggs, but you can also use them as a thickener for gravies and sauces, in baked goods, and also as a binding agent in patties, fritters, and burgers.
The downside to psyllium husk is that because it is considered a healthy food, it can be quite expensive (much more than some of the other options on this list) and due to its high fiber content, it does have a bit of a gritty texture, even when ground finely.
It may also slightly discolor whatever you’re baking so take care. If using flax seeds, make sure you opt for raw or golden flax seeds that are very finely ground.
4. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a bit of a mystery ingredient. It’s one of those ingredients that shows up in a lot of things, but most people don’t really know what it is. So, we’re here to settle it!
Xanthan gum is derived from sugar, fermented sugar to be exact, and is used to stabilize and thicken a variety of products on the market including beauty products, medicine, and food!
It can also be purchased in powder form and used as a substitute for arrowroot. You will need much less xanthan gum (1 teaspoon for every 5 teaspoons of arrowroot) and many people do have allergies to it so make sure you let people know if you try this replacement!
5. Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch is likely the closest substitute to arrowroot in its color, scent, taste, and texture, making it an excellent replacement for arrowroot!
Tapioca is slightly sweet, so it is best used in baked goods as opposed to savory foods like gravy. Tapioca thickened without solidifying, giving sauces a ‘stretchy’ like texture. It is also pure white, meaning it will not discolor whatever you’re cooking!
The only downside to using tapioca is that it will break down when frozen, so it is not suitable for any recipe that you might be freezing. It can also be tricky to find, but you will likely find it at the health food store or an Asian supermarket. You can use tapioca 1:1 to arrowroot.
6. Potato Starch/Flour
Potato starch is of course made from potatoes and is a pure white, finely ground flour that can be used to thicken sauces and bind baked goods. Potato starch (or potato flakes) are often used in loaves of bread, quickbreads, muffins, cakes, etc, and is less likely to be used in sauces.
It is prized for its pure white color and cost-effectiveness, especially in poorer areas of the world, where fresh potatoes are uncommon. Potato starch has less nutritional qualities than arrowroot and is quite bland in flavor, so there may be a better replacement… but we’ll leave that up to you.
7. Sweet Rice Flour
Sweet rice flour, which is different from regular rice flour, is a great substitute for all your baking and dessert needs! It will offer a slightly sweet flavor and loads of nutrition. Like arrowroot, sweet rice flour can also be frozen and not lose quality.
You can find sweet rice flour at Asian supermarkets and use 1:1 with arrowroot. It is known for sometimes having a slightly gritty texture, so make sure you get one that is finely ground.
Overall, we think arrowroot powder is a great, versatile product. It can, however, be slightly hard to find, so we’ve provided a list of some other great options. Go with cornstarch or potato starch if cost is a factor. If you’re looking for something a little healthier, go with flax, psyllium husk, or xanthan gum. Either way, there are plenty of options for all your thickening and binding needs! Happy cooking!