Cornstarch is a popular ingredient, most often used as a way to thicken sauces, stews, and the like. To do so, you begin by making a slurry with cornstarch and water first, which stops the powder from clumping if you dump it into hot liquid. Once you’re familiar with it, cornstarch is easy to use and creates some amazing results.
There are other uses too, such as using cornstarch as a coating for fried chicken or using it as a dessert ingredient. But, what happens if you don’t have cornstarch on hand?
In that situation, you’ll need to look for alternative ingredients. There’s a surprising number of substitutes for cornstarch, including other types of starches, like tapioca starch and potato starch. Flour can be used in some situations too, although you’ll need twice as much of it to have the desired thickening effect.
You could might even use one of these ingredients while making other substitutions in your recipe (like using a butter substitute or a light cream alternative). Just be cautious, as each change impacts the way the recipe behaves and increases the risk of ruining your dish. If you can, it’s best to stick to just one substitute.
P.S. If you’re in the U.K. or some other parts of the world, you may know cornstarch as cornflour instead. The ingredient is the same in either case and you can easily use the replacements on this list.
Substitutes For Cornstarch
The simplest substitution for cornstarch is regular flour, which is an easy one, as you probably already have some in your cupboard. The substitution works because flour contains some starch anyway.
Because flour is lower in starch than cornstarch, you’ll need more of it (makes sense, right?). For most recipes, every tablespoon of cornstarch should be replaced with two tablespoons of flour.
If this is your first time trying the substitution for a particular recipe, start with a smaller amount of flour. This allows you to gradually increase the flour and make your recipe perfect. Doing so is important, as the amount of flour you need will change slightly from one recipe to the next.
You could try the substitution with a different type of flour as well. The flour’s starch content will influence the amount of it you need. For example, if you’re using whole grain flour, you’ll probably need more than two tablespoons of the flour. If you’re using cake flour, you might need a smaller amount.
While flour is the easiest ingredient to use instead of cornstarch, it isn’t ideal as it doesn’t have the same properties. Potato starch is a much better choice. It has a neutral flavor just like cornstarch and a similar texture as well.
Plus, unlike cornstarch, potato starch is naturally grain free (both options are gluten free).
Potato starch is more effective as a thickener than cornstarch, meaning you’ll need to use less of it. Half a tablespoon of potato starch for every tablespoon of cornstarch in your recipe is a good starting point. You can tweak the ratio from there to get the right consistency.
Potato starch is excellent for frying, as it withstands high temperatures. Plus, it can be used as a 1:1 replacement for cornstarch in this context, making it an easy option.
Regardless of the approach – be careful with cooking time. Despite being an excellent cornstarch substitute, potato starch loses much of its thickening ability if cooked for too long.
Arrowroot is another popular choice. That’s not surprising, as it’s a starch powder just like cornstarch. You can sometimes use it in a 1:1 ratio, while other times you might need to use half as much arrowroot as cornstarch. Once again, the trick is to start with a small amount of arrowroot and gradually add more. That way you don’t accidentally overdo it.
What’s more, arrowroot is clear when you mix it with water. This is perfect if you don’t want to change the color of your dish, like if you’re making a clear soup.
One word of warning, arrowroot becomes gummy if it is cooked for too long. To avoid this issue, it’s best to add the powder towards the end of recipes that have a long cooking time.
Like cassava flour, tapioca flour comes from the cassava root. But, while cassava flour is an excellent replacement for wheat flour, tapioca flour is best used instead of cornstarch instead.
This isn’t surprising, as tapioca flour is simply starch from the cassava root. It is extracted by creating a pulp that is then squeezed to extract the starch it contains.
Tapioca flour also has one notable feature – its texture isn’t changed much by freezing. This means that creamy soups or desserts should keep much of their creaminess after being frozen and thawed. That effect isn’t true for most other starches, including cornstarch.
Tapioca flour has a role in baking too, just not as the star ingredient. You’ll normally use it in conjunction with one or more gluten free flours to provide the right texture.
Rice flour is most often used instead of cornstarch when you’re frying. It’s an even better choice than regular flour here, as rice flour tends to be lighter, so you end up with a crunchier coating. It’s also becoming an increasingly common kitchen staple, as it is regularly used in gluten free baking (you can even make rice flour pizza crusts with it).
Things are a little trickier if you want to use rice flour as a thickener instead. Rice flour isn’t as powerful for thickening as cornstarch, so you’ll need to use roughly twice as much. You’ll need to create a slurry with the rice flour and water too, just like you would for cornstarch. In other words, rice flour behaves much like regular flour for thickening.
Rice flour is fantastic in some situations, as it creates a colorless liquid when you mix it with water. This makes it useful for thickening clear dishes. However, rice flour sometimes becomes grainy when used to thicken liquids, so it isn’t an ideal choice in all situations.
You’ll need to experiment to see whether rice flour works for you.
Making flour from bananas doesn’t sound like it would work, yet this flour substitute is growing in popularity. Banana flour is made from green bananas and ends up high in starch and a little sweet (don’t worry, it doesn’t taste much like bananas).
The high starch content means banana flour can indeed act as a cornstarch substitute. It’s often best to begin with a single tablespoon of banana flour, then increase the amount if your recipe needs more thickening.
If you’re thickening a savory recipe, then you might be able to use mashed potatoes to thicken it. The idea is as simple as cooking and mashing your potatoes as normal, then mixing them in.
The substitution is especially good if you’re making a stew, casserole, or similar dish. However, you’ll likely need to tweak the other ingredients because adding potatoes will change the flavor profile.
Dried potato flakes are another option to consider. These may be even more effective, as you’re not adding as much liquid to your recipe.
In a similar way, pureed vegetables can thicken some recipes, partly because of their bulk and partly because of the pectin in their cell walls. The approach is most powerful in soups, although you could also try it in other situations.
Cauliflower is an easy place to begin, as it has a mild flavor anyway. But, you might try other vegetables, especially if they’re a better match for the flavor profile of your meal.
Pureed vegetables also have the benefit of providing extra nutrients. This is fantastic, as many of the other alternatives to cornflour are pretty nutrient-poor.
Xanthan gum is most famous as an ingredient in gluten free baking, as it mimics some of the elasticity of gluten and improves the texture of gluten free products. It’s used in many other situations as well, often as a thickener, a stabilizer, or an emulsifier.
This is a more powerful option than many others, so only a little is needed. You can even start with just 1/4 teaspoon of xanthan gum and go from there. Once again, it’s best to create a slurry by dissolving xanthan gum in liquid before you add it to your dish.
Xanthan gum is also useful in some situations where cornstarch isn’t. Notably, cornstarch needs to be heated for the starch to start absorbing water. If you don’t heat it enough, the thickening effect won’t happen. This requirement isn’t the case for xanthan gum, so you can use it in dishes that don’t involve much heating.
Still, it’s important to be cautious. Overdoing it with xanthan gum can make your dishes slimy, which is certainly something to avoid.
Guar gum isn’t as well known as xanthan gum and can be harder to find. Still, if you get a hold of it, you can use it for thickening. The gum is especially good if you’re thickening frozen desserts or shakes, but you can also use it for sauces and baked baking.
As with xanthan gum, you’ll need to avoid overdoing it. Try just 1/4 teaspoon of the gum to begin with and adjust from there.
Glucomannan comes from the konjac plant and is a type of soluble fiber. It’s most popular as an ingredient in low carb noodles, including the famous Miracle Noodles.
However, you can also buy glucomannan powder and use it to thicken your dishes. The idea is similar to the previous entries, where you’ll need to use a very small amount of the powder and mix it with water before adding it to your meal.
Also, it’s best to let the glucomannan and water mixture sit for a few minutes before adding it. This gives the fiber time to absorb water and reach the desired consistency.
You’ve probably heard of psyllium husk as a fiber supplement. Yet, it can help to thicken liquids as well.
Stands to reason, right? After all, psyllium husk is simply a type of soluble fiber.
Roughly half a teaspoon of psyllium husk is a good place to begin. You can increase this amount gradually until you get the thickness you’re looking for.
Strange as it might seem, gelatin works as an alternative to cornstarch. It’s also free from carbs, which is fantastic for keto dieters. Desserts aren’t even your only option for gelatin. It can sometimes be used in savory recipes, including mashed potatoes (of all things!).
There are a few tricks to using gelatin as a thickener. First, you’ll need roughly 1 1/4 teaspoons of gelatin for each tablespoon of cornstarch in your liquid. You’ll also need to dissolve the gelatin in cold water, then add this to your warm liquid (like cornstarch, gelatin is activated by heat).
As with other substitutions, it’s worth starting with less gelatin than you think you need, then add more as you go. The right amount of gelatin will vary from recipe to recipe, so a little experimentation is always needed.
Agar agar is basically the vegetarian version of gelatin, so it’s no surprise that it also works as a cornstarch substitute. Recommendations vary for the amount of agar agar you should use. Some people suggest using a 1:2 ratio, where you add one tablespoon of agar agar for every two tablespoons of cornstarch in your recipe. Others suggest a 1:1 ratio instead.
It’s best to start with the smaller amount here too. After all, you can always add more agar agar to your recipe. There isn’t much you can do if you’ve accidentally added too much.
Chia seeds are famous for absorbing water and becoming gelatinous. This gelatinous effect is strong enough to allow you to make a type of pudding using just chia seeds, liquid, and flavoring ingredients.
To use chia seeds instead of cornstarch, you’ll need to allow them to sit in liquid for an hour or two (ideally overnight) to absorb enough liquid. Then you can use the combination instead of cornstarch in your recipe. Of course, doing so will change the texture of your recipe, as the seeds are still whole.
Ground chia seeds are an option too and these will have a smaller impact on the texture of your dish. However, the thickening effect may also be lower if you use ground seeds instead of whole ones.
You could also experiment with ground flaxseeds because these absorb water too (just not quite as well as chia seeds). Again, you’ll need to mix them with water and leave the mixture to sit for a while so that the flaxseeds absorb the liquid.
To begin, mix a tablespoon of ground flaxseeds with four tablespoons of water. This can then be used instead of two tablespoons of cornstarch in your recipe. This approach works better in some recipes than others, as ground flaxseeds are grittier than cornstarch.
Egg yolks aren’t as versatile as some of our other substitutes. Still, they have their place as a way to thicken sauces and soups. Doing so adds creaminess to your dish, making it richer and much more decadent.
Of course, you’ll need to be cautious with egg yolks. You can’t just throw them into a hot sauce or you’ll end up with scrambled eggs. You often need to temper them first, which involves whisking your eggs on their own and adding little bits of hot liquid at a time.
Alternatively, you can sometimes add the egg yolks after everything else has cooked. If your sauce is still hot, the residual heat should be enough to cook the eggs without scrambling them.
Time And Temperature
Finally, you can sometimes simply skip cornstarch entirely. Liquids naturally reduce and thicken if you leave them on heat long enough.
Sometimes, simply allowing more water to evaporate is all you need to reach the desired thickness. The approach is especially powerful for sauces and gravies. It works for other situations too, so don’t be afraid to experiment.
Which Cornstarch Substitutes Are Right For You?
The Easiest To Find Cornstarch Substitutes
Wheat flour is one of the easiest substitutes, as most people have some at home. While it isn’t as effective as cornstarch for thickening or frying, it works well enough in both situations.
Egg yolk, chia seeds, and mashed potatoes are other easy options, but they don’t have the same versatility. You could also consider rice flour, especially if you have it on hand from gluten free baking.
Best Cornstarch Substitutes For Thickening Sauces
Potato starch, arrowroot, and tapioca flour are some of the best substitutes for thickening sauces, as they have similar properties to cornstarch anyway. However, you may need to adjust the amount you use to ensure your recipe has the right thickness.
Flour is the other option to consider. You need to use twice as much to reach the thickness you’d get with cornstarch and you’ll need to cook it for long enough (as raw flour has a distinctive flavor).
While flour isn’t that powerful for thickening, it’s more widely available than many other options, so it’s worth considering.
Best Cornstarch Substitute For Frying
Cornstarch is often used for dusting before frying many foods, as it helps to keep the interior moist and the exterior crispy. While flour is the most convenient substitute, you’ll want one of the starches for the best results.
Potato starch is easily the most powerful here. It gives you similar results to cornstarch and you can use it as a 1:1 replacement.
There’s also the option of rice flour, which gives you a crispier coating than regular flour will. You’re also more likely to have some of this in your cupboard than some potato starch.
Best Keto Cornstarch Alternatives
As you’ve probably seen, cornstarch substitutes are mostly high in carbs. Still, there are some low carb options, including gelatin, egg yolks, glucomannan, xanthan gum, and guar gum.
There isn’t really a best ingredient out of this collection. Instead, they’re all powerful in different situations. It’s a matter of matching the ingredient you use to the meal you want to make.