A thickener or thickening agent is a substance used to increase the viscosity of liquid. In cooking, thickeners are used a lot in sauces, soups, and puddings to create the desired texture and consistency. As a rule of thumb, a thickening agent should not substantially change the other properties of the food, such as taste and aroma.
There are several thickening agents that you can use. Two among the most popular are arrowroot and cornstarch. Of course, the two have each own uses, but can they be used interchangeably? When should we use them?
The starch of arrowroot is derived from the roots of a West Indian plant called, well, arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea). Originally used to treat wounds created by poison arrows, arrowroot contains medicinal properties as well as cooking agents. Arrowroot is a very popular substitute to cornstarch, used in a 1:1 ratio. It indeed looks like cornstarch, as it is also a white powder.
Cornstarch, also called cornflour and maizena, is acquired from the endosperm of the kernel of corn grain or wheat. Widely used for thickening various kinds of dishes, cornstarch has been used since a long time ago. Cornstarch is also used for other purposes, including the manufacturing of bioplastics, as an anti-stick agent, also for making corn syrup and sugars.
Arrowroot vs Cornstarch
|- Is relatively tasteless and neutral in flavor||- Has a peculiar flavor and may affect the flavor of the recipe|
|- Mixes well at a lower temperature and can be cooked for longer||- Mixes at a slightly higher temperature, but can’t be heated for long|
|- Tends to create a glossy layer||- Creates a translucent blend|
|- Great for thickening water-based and acidic products||- Preferable for thickening dairy products, meat sauces|
So, arrowroot and cornstarch often can be used interchangeably. Arrowroot is great because it is more neutral in taste and flavor. However, when cooking dairy products and sauces, cornstarch is preferable due to not making the glossy layer.