6 Excellent Tapioca Flour Substitutes
Tapioca flour, sometimes called tapioca starch or tapioca powder, is made from cassava root and is used as a flour, thickening agent, and sometimes in household cleaners.
It is a staple ingredient in South, South-East Asian, South American and Caribbean food, providing the main source of protein and other nutrients. In its powdered form, it is bright white and very finely ground and probably most closely resembles cornstarch.
Tapioca flour might not be found on every grocery store shelf, but is certainly available in bulk stores and specialty grocery stores. It is relatively affordable. If you cannot find the flour, you can likely find it in pearl form, which you can then grind into flour if you wish. This will require a high powered blender and will need to be sifted after, but is quite easy to do.
One thing tapioca flour is well known for is thickening certain foods. When heated, it thickens liquids quite well, and gives a shiny, glossy finish and sometimes even a stretchy-like quality, making it ideal for making vegan cheese!
It is also tasteless and pure white, making it a great thickener for almost any product including jams, sauces, and marinades and is often added to baked goods to add volume and density.
If you have a recipe that requires tapioca starch, you should be able to find it no problem, but if you can’t, here are some other great ingredients you can try in its place.
Cornstarch is very close to tapioca starch in its texture and capacity to thicken things. Like tapioca, cornstarch is gluten-free, nut-free, sugar-free, and oil-free. It does, however, contain corn (which some people are allergic to) and is considered a highly processed product.
It can be used 1:1 cornstarch to tapioca. However, when thickening sauces, cornstarch must be cooked out.
It is also helpful to mix cornstarch into some cold water first (this is called a slurry). The downside of using cornstarch as a replacement for tapioca is that cornstarch will make things cloudy and cannot be frozen. The upside is that cornstarch is very cheap and available everywhere!
2. Potato Starch
Potato starch, not to be confused with potato flour, 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 ground potato flakes) are often used in loaves of bread, muffins, cakes, etc., and is less likely to be used in sauces. It is known for its pure white color and cost-effectiveness, especially in poorer areas of the world, where fresh potatoes are uncommon.
Potato starch can be eaten raw and added to raw foods to thicken them. It does not need to be cooked out like cornstarch, so it has its benefits. Its drawbacks are that potato starch has less nutritional qualities than tapioca and is considered to be quite bland, but it will make a very close substitute to tapioca.
3. Arrowroot Powder
Probably the best replacement for tapioca! Arrowroot powder is a starch derived from a variety of plants, most commonly American arrowroot.
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. Unlike cornstarch, arrowroot makes clear, shimmering fruit gels and is used in cooking to produce a clear, thickened sauce.
It will not make the sauce go cloudy, like cornstarch, flour, or other starchy thickening agents would, and unlike the others, it is freezable!
Arrowroot thickens at a lower temperature than flour and other starches, is gluten-free and is not weakened by acidic ingredients, so this must be considered if making fruit or vegetable glazes. It also has a more neutral taste, and is not affected by freezing, which makes it an excellent option for bakers and professional chefs!
Arrowroot should be relatively easy to find in any store, but you will definitely be able to find it in the health-food store, and is great to have on hand for all your thickening needs!
Arrowroot is commonly used as a thickening agent, for which gelatin is best known! Gelatin will make things crystal clear when thickened, and the only way to destroy its thickening power is through freezing.
Gelatin is a great idea for any stove-top thickening, like with sauces or purées, but may not be as suitable for baked goods.
Gelatin also works great, and in some cases better than any of the others listed here, because you can add it right into baked goods and do not need to mix it with water first.
Pectin can also be used as a thickening agent, especially in fruit sauces, if you are cooking for people who do not consume animal products (of which gelatin is made from) and is a safe alternative.
5. Agar Agar
Agar agar is another thickening agent that happens to be completely plant-based and is therefore suitable for vegans or anyone who does not consume animal products. It can be added directly to liquids to thicken them, as it does not need to be heated. But it does need to be blended very thoroughly to prevent clumping.
You can simply mix any liquid with agar agar in a very high powered blender, and achieve the same results you would if you were to heat a liquid and thicken it with tapioca (or any of the other items from this list). For that reason, agar agar makes a great substitute!
6. Cassava Flour
You might be thinking: isn’t tapioca flour made from cassava root? Aren’t these the same thing? Yes, they are both made from the ground cassava root, but cassava flour uses the whole root, whereas tapioca flour is made from only the starchy part of the plant.
This means cassava root thickens a little less than tapioca, but in most cases these flours are interchangeable. Tapioca starch is easier to find in North America, but if you are in the tropics, they are both readily available and commonly used in loads of recipes! Both powders are pure white and practically indistinguishable!
Tapioca starch or tapioca flour is a well known gluten-free flour that is used primarily for thickening and binding, as opposed to baking. It is celebrated in many cultures for its diversity and adaptability. It certainly adds a certain something that other starches just don’t—that stretchy quality!
However, tapioca can be difficult to find outside of Asian countries or the Caribbean. It is also tasteless and doesn’t have a lot of nutrition since it is highly processed.
If you’re looking for the benefits of tapioca starch, you might consider using straight cassava flour, which uses the entire plant and is therefore higher in nutrients. If you’re looking for that pure white color, cornstarch or arrowroot work great! Gelatin and agar agar may not work the best in baked goods but both work wonders for thickening sauces and condiments. No matter which way you look at this list, all of these starches or flours work well in place of tapioca!