The Food52 Hotline has been around for over nine years, so it’s no surprise that some of the most common cooking questions have come up again and again. How to substitute cornstarch is one of them (see, for instance, this thread from 2012 or this one from 2015). Today, we’ll be tackling this topic once and for all! Your pudding can thank you later.
Before we start substituting cornstarch, let’s get to know it a bit, shall we? Here are a handful of questions we see all the time about the ingredient.
What is cornstarch?
Just what it sounds like—the starch from corn! Or, if you want to get nitty-gritty about it, a superfine powder, ground from the endosperm of the corn kernel.
Is corn flour the same as cornstarch?
Depends where you’re asking the question. Cornflour in the United Kingdom is the same as cornstarch in the United States (just look at this turkey gravy recipe from Jamie Oliver). But, corn flour in the United States refers to an even finer version of fine cornmeal (dried, then ground corn); according to Bob’s Red Mill, it produces “less crumbly [cornbread] than one made with cornmeal.”
How do people use cornstarch in cooking and baking?
Phew. We’d be here all day if I listed all of them, but here are some big ones:
- Thickener in fruit pie filling. Figure ¼ cup per 5 cups fruit, depending on the ripeness.
- Thickener in pudding. Estimate 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons per 1 cup dairy, depending on your preference.
- Thickener in ice cream. Popular with gelato, this method produces an especially creamy-chewy frozen dessert, and all without egg yolks.
- Extra-crispy crust for anything fried. Hello, hot chicken! You can simply coat a protein or vegetable in cornstarch then fry, or make it part of a dredging station.
- Supplement to flour in shortbread. Using cornstarch as a dry ingredient in baking creates an extra-tender crumb; it’s the same reason you’ll see confectioners’ sugar in shortbread—it contains cornstarch!
- Marinade for stir-fried meat or seafood. This Chinese technique, known in English as velveting, mixes cornstarch with egg whites to form a protective coating, keeping the protein silky and tender.
- Slurry for soups and sauces. Mix cornstarch with a small amount of water to form a thin paste, then pour this into a hot liquid. 1 tablespoon will thicken about 2 cups of liquid, depending on the recipe.
- Scrambled eggs? Yep, it’s Genius. Adding a cornstarch-milk mixture to eggs before scrambling means they can cook fast, without getting rubbery.
Can I add cornstarch directly to a liquid to thicken?
So glad you asked. No! But, even if I sprinkle it carefully on top? Still no. Adding a spoonful of cornstarch (or any of its substitutes, see below) directly to a large amount of liquid will form clumps of no return. Form a thin paste with a small amount of liquid first, then add this mixture to the larger amount of liquid on the stove.
So, you ran out of cornstarch. It happens. Here are five ingredients that are happy to jump in, plus everything you need to know about each.
Though all-purpose wheat flour has roughly half the thickening prowess of cornstarch, it still shows up in a lot of the same recipes—say, as a thickener in fruit pie filling, or cooked with butter to form a thickening roux for gravies or soups. Estimate 2 tablespoons of flour for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in a recipe. It holds up very well when cooked and gives whatever it thickens an opaque look.
Not to be confused with glutinous or sweet rice flour, which is used for mochi. As with wheat flour, you can estimate 2 tablespoons rice flour for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch. Our contributor Alice Medrich loves to use it to thicken pastry cream and tenderize shortbread crusts.
This mild-tasting starch looks a lot like cornstarch and is equally strong when it comes to thickening. Use in slurry situations (read sauces) and figure 1 tablespoon arrowroot for every 1 tablespoon cornstarch. A couple caveats, though: “Arrowroot should only be used when the sauce is to be served within 10 minutes or preparation,” according to The Joy of Cooking. “It will not hold, nor will it reheat.”
Estimate 1 to 1 ½ tablespoons potato starch for every 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Like arrowroot, this starch’s thickening powers don’t last long beyond cooking, so eat as soon as possible. Its delicate flavor makes it great for sauces. You’ll also see it pop up in baking recipes, too, like this chocolate-nut sponge cake.
This neutral-flavored ingredient comes from the cassava root. It’s less potent than cornstarch, so you’ll need about 2 tablespoons tapioca for every 1 tablespoon cornstarch. Unlike cornstarch, which begins to break down when frozen, tapioca stays strong. Avoid boiling, which would make the thickened sauce stringy.
The good news is: Cornstarch can almost always be replaced. Here are a few of our favorite cornstarch-y recipes, and which substitutes make the most sense for each. See quantity conversions for each ingredient in the section above.
What can I use instead of cornstarch when frying?
Cornstarch’s relatively high amylose content makes it a champ at creating crispy crusts. Rice flour and potato flour make good substitutes, though all-purpose flour will work in a pinch.
What can I use instead of cornstarch for sauces?
Combining cornstarch with water to create a slurry, then pouring that mixture into a cooking liquid, is a tried-and-true sauce technique. In lieu of cornstarch, call in arrowroot powder or tapioca starch; just make sure to use the sauces right away.
What can I use instead of cornstarch for puddings?
Cornstarch often teams up with egg yolks to thicken a custard or pudding. Swapping in all-purpose or rice flour is your best bet here, since tapioca, potato starch, and arrowroot powder can be finicky with respect to cooking and holding.
What can I use instead of cornstarch for fruit pie fillings?
Cornstarch is my go-to thickener for fruit pies, but for a lot of people, it’s all-purpose flour (after all, you already have the ingredient out for your pie crust). Beyond that, tapioca starch is a smart replacement.
What can I use instead of cornstarch in baked goods?
Cornstarch adds a crumbly, melt-in-your-mouth tenderness to baked goods. You can swap in all-purpose flour, but the texture won’t be as lovely. Rice flour is a great swap in cookie recipes and potato starch is lovely in cakes, as it encourages moistness and extends shelf life.
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