Arrowroot is a white, flavorless powder most often used to thicken sauces, soups, and other foods like fruit pie fillings. It is comprised of starches extracted from various tropical tubers, including Maranta arundinacea, the arrowroot plant. Arrowroot powder is similar in use to cornstarch and has twice the thickening power of wheat flour. It is neutral in flavor and adds a glossy finish to foods. Arrowroot is gluten-free, vegan, and paleo-friendly, and also has a very long shelf life.
- Also Known As: Arrowroot starch, arrowroot flour
- Shelf Life: 3 to 4 years
- Used As: Gluten-free thickener for sauces
What Is Arrowroot Powder?
Arrowroot powder is most often employed as a thickener but can also be used in desserts and when pan-frying proteins. Known as arrowroot starch or flour, this powder is made from tropical plant roots that are dried and ground. It is ideal to use in recipes where the food's color and shine are desirable in the finished product as arrowroot does not turn the dish cloudy or change the color. Arrowroot will also stay intact when mixed with acidic ingredients. For these reasons, it is often favored as a thickener for jellies and fruit fillings. Arrowroot's thickening capabilities will diminish if it is cooked over high heat for an extended period of time; it is best to cook over lower temperatures and add toward the end of cooking.
How to Use Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot is excellent for thickening soups, sauces, and gravies, and can be used as a substitute for cornstarch. It is added at the end of cooking time since extended heat can cause the arrowroot to break down, resulting in a thin sauce. This powder is also incorporated into desserts and jellies and is used to coat meat and tofu to create a crispy finish when pan-frying.
Arrowroot is ideal as a thickener in fruit recipes as it creates a perfectly clear gel and does not break down when combined with acidic ingredients like fruit juice. It also stands up to freezing, whereas mixtures thickened with cornstarch tend to break down after freezing and thawing. However, it should not be used in recipes with dairy products (except ice cream) as it will create an unpleasant, slimy texture.
As a Thickener
Similar to cornstarch, arrowroot needs to be made into a slurry—a mixture of the starch and room temperature water—before it can be used to thicken a sauce, or else it will clump up and not combine correctly. Once the sauce is heated, the arrowroot expands, thickening the mixture. To make the slurry, a small amount of arrowroot (usually a teaspoon or two) is mixed in a ratio of two to one with a bit of temperate liquid and whisked until smooth. The slurry is then added to a hot sauce or gravy and mixed until combined. If the arrowroot powder is added directly to a hot liquid, the starch molecules will swell immediately and form clumps before it is able to be evenly mixed in.
Arrowroot powder can be substituted for flour thickeners at a ratio of one teaspoon of arrowroot powder for every one tablespoon of flour, and for cornstarch in most recipes at a ratio of two teaspoons arrowroot powder for every one tablespoon of cornstarch.
In Baking and Desserts
Arrowroot can be added to fruit pies and other desserts, such as non-dairy pudding or custard, to help create structure and leave a glossy finish. In a pudding, for example, the arrowroot should be combined with a liquid such as non-dairy milk before being mixed with the remaining ingredients. When using arrowroot in a fruit pie filling, it is added dry to the fruit, along with the sugar, and left to sit before filling the crust. The result is a pie with a beautiful shiny coating.
To Make Pan-Fried Food Crispy
When stir-frying Chinese recipes such as General Tso's chicken, the directions often call for coating the meat with cornstarch, but arrowroot works just as well. Dusting any protein, including tofu and beef, creates a crispy exterior while cooking. Sprinkling potatoes with a bit of arrowroot also makes for extra-crispy french fries.
What Does It Taste Like?
Arrowroot starch is odorless and has a neutral flavor and therefore can't be detected in the recipes to which it is added.
Arrowroot Powder Recipes
Because arrowroot can stand up to acidic mixtures, it is excellent for thickening fruit and acidic sauces like cranberry sauce and sweet and sour sauce. It's also beneficial when making smooth homemade ice cream as it interferes with the formation of large ice crystals and is not affected by freezing. Substitute arrowroot for other thickening starches in recipes.
Where to Buy Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot powder is not commonly sold in most major grocery stores, although this may change as gluten-free cooking becomes more widespread. It is more likely that larger chains with a sizable stock of natural or health food items may carry arrowroot powder. It can usually be found near flour, grains, or baking supplies, or in the gluten-free specialty section in the market. Natural food stores or health food stores often carry arrowroot powder, and it can also be purchased through several online vendors.
Some lower quality arrowroot powder blends may contain potato starch, so be sure to read ingredient lists carefully.
Arrowroot Powder Substitutions
If you cannot find any arrowroot powder, there are other ingredients to use as a substitute. Instant tapioca is the best option as it also holds up well when frozen and offers a glossy sheen to foods. Just keep in mind that tapioca doesn't dissolve fully when cooked, so grinding it to a powder before using may be preferable. You can also use cornstarch in place of arrowroot, but it will not work well in acidic recipes or dishes that will be frozen; cornstarch will also result in a cloudy instead of a shiny finish.
Keep arrowroot in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place. When stored properly, arrowroot powder will last three to four years.