Are you looking for the best way to thicken your recipes without using flour?
Thickening agents are a great alternative that you can incorporate into all sorts of dishes with delicious results.
Learn how to substitute flour and get five of the top thickening agent alternatives that don’t include flour.
Whether you’re avoiding gluten or just looking for different flavors, find out why these substitutes may be the perfect solution for your recipe.
What are Food Thickening Agents?
Thickening agents are essential baking and cooking ingredients that help thicken or bind foods.
They’re not just helpful in the kitchen but can also be used to impart flavor, texture, and aroma to foods.
Thickening agents come in a variety of forms such as pastes, liquids, gels, and more.
They work by forming a type of gel when combined with other ingredients like butter or cream that give dishes their desired thickness and texture.
Depending on which thickening agent you use, you may get different desired results in terms of taste, texture, thickness and consistency.
For example, starches like tapioca create a glossy glaze while gelatin creates an opaque gel whereas egg whites create foam-like textures.
Ultimately the choice is yours when it comes to finding the best thickener for your recipe as there are so many options available.
When adding thickening agents to dishes, it’s important to follow directions carefully as all recipes will vary slightly based on ingredients used and amounts added – too little won’t work correctly and too much may give undesirable results.
With a little practice you’ll soon be able to master these useful ingredients to get consistent good results every time.
The 5 Best Substitutes for Thickening Agent That Aren’t Flour
Here’s a detailed comparison of the 5 best substitutes for thickening agents that aren’t flour, along with their key characteristics and proper ratios:
|Substitute||Key Characteristics||Proper Ratio|
|Cornstarch||Neutral flavor, excellent thickening power||Use the same amount as flour|
|Tapioca Starch||Neutral flavor, glossy texture when cooked||Use the same amount as flour|
|Arrowroot Starch||Neutral flavor, clear and smooth texture when cooked||Use the same amount as flour|
|Xanthan Gum||Odorless, flavorless, very effective thickener||Use a small amount (start with 1/2 teaspoon)|
|Agar Powder||Derived from red seaweed, vegan, gelatin-like texture||Use a small amount (start with 1/2 teaspoon)|
Now let’s explore each substitute in more detail:
1 – Cornstarch
Cornstarch is a classic thickening agent made from the dried, ground and milled kernels of corn.
It’s used to add body and texture to sauces and stews, as well as thicken jams and glazes for baking.
Cornstarch and water become a translucent gel once combined, making it ideal for thickening pie fillings or soup bases.
Be sure to mix your cornstarch with cold water before adding it to your dish — this will prevent it from clumping together.
Too much cornstarch can give your finished product a slimy texture, so use sparingly and in small amounts until desired consistency is reached.
2 – Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch is another thickening agent that is often used in place of flour.
Made from the root of the cassava plant, it has a glossy texture and mild flavor.
This gluten-free alternative works very well for recipes that involve dairy or egg, because tapioca starch helps preserve the creamy texture of these ingredients.
Of all the gluten-free options, tapioca starch has the strongest thickening power.
It also gets rid of lumps in sauces – great if you have any finicky eaters at home.
Since it can be used as a substitute for flour, it’s also great for gravies, pie fillings and even custard pies.
Tapioca goes well with acidic ingredients like fruit juices and lemon, making it a popular choice amongst bakers.
It does thicken quickly though so be sure to watch for desired consistency and add liquid accordingly.
3 – Arrowroot Starch
Arrowroot is a white powder made from the root stalk of several tropical plants.
It’s often used as a gluten-free alternative to cornstarch and has about four times the thickening power.
When using arrowroot as a thickener, mix it with an equal amount of cold liquid first and then add it to your recipe.
It should be added at the end of cooking or baking because repeatedly heating it can cause it to break down.
Arrowroot starch also has thermally-reversible gel formation, meaning that after being heated and cooled, the mixture will retain its thickness even after reheating again.
This makes it perfect for making sauces or soups that are served both hot and cold.
4 – Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is a common food additive that has become popular in recent years as an alternative thickening agent.
This product, also referred to simply as “xanthan,” is made from a type of bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris and is used in salad dressings and baking mix recipes to improve texture and help suspend other ingredients.
Unlike flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot powder, xanthan gum does not need to be cooked for it to thicken.
Since it helps create an emulsion between oil and water, it can also give dressings a creamy texture without using dairy products.
However, because xanthan gum is more expensive and harder to find than other thickeners, many cooks do not use it as often.
5 – Agar Powder
Agar powder is made from naturally-occurring red algae.
Agar does not dissolve in water, but rather swells up once it is heated and it forms a gel when it cools down.
Its jelling properties make it a popular choice for vegan food preparations or cooking with delicate flavors, such as fruit and vegetable jellies, jams or preserves.
Agar also helps keep ingredients suspended in liquid mixtures, making it ideal for sauces and soups.
This natural gelling agent can be used to thicken food without changing its flavor or texture the way flour would and is considered generally easier to work with than other starch-based thickeners.
Agar powder (or agar flakes) can be added directly to your dishes or mix with a small amount of boiling water before adding to your recipe so that it will dissolve completely.
There are many types of food thickening agents besides flour, each with its own particular purpose and flavor.
By employing any of these five alternatives to flour when cooking or baking, you can enhance the flavor profile of your favorite dishes while still achieving your desired textures.
Whether you’re aiming to reduce carbs or boost nutrition levels in a meal, using one of these food thickening agents allows you to extend your options beyond flour while producing tasty results.