If You Don't Have Cornstarch, What Can You Use Instead?
A pantry staple that doesn't get a lot of credit, cornstarch is essential for a myriad of important culinary purposes. Whether you're using it to thicken a sauce, soup, or pastry cream, make a sturdier filling for a fruit pie or crisp, create a delectable candy, provide a super-crispy coating to fried chicken or roasted potatoes, or soften gluten-free baked goods, the possibilities are endless. But what if you open the cupboard and find you're out of cornstarch? Here, we explain how cornstarch works and what you can use as a substitute should you find you're out of the staple.
What Is Cornstarch, and How Is It Used in Cooking?
First, let's get a better understanding of what exactly cornstarch is and how it behaves when cooked. Cornstarch is made from the endosperm of corn kernels (the part of the plant that provides energy, and one of its most popular uses is as a thickening agent, as it is extremely effective in this role; in fact, it's twice as powerful as flour (also used as a thickener). Note that in order for cornstarch's thickening qualities to work its magic, it has to be brought up to a simmering temperature.
Also, if a recipe instructs you to combine your cornstarch with water (called a "slurry") before adding it to your dish, do not skip this step—though it may seem tempting to save a mixing bowl and add your cornstarch directly to your dish, it's prone to clumping when it makes contact with hot liquid. Thoroughly combining it with a small amount of cold or room temperature water (or other liquid) beforehand will ensure it incorporates smoothly and your dish remains clump-free. This is similar to a roux when using flour as a thickener, except that cornstarch slurries are typically added toward the end of cooking, rather than the beginning.
The Best Cornstarch Substitutes
So, what can you do if you don't have cornstarch on hand? If you have all-purpose flour, you're in luck; just substitute with twice the amount of flour (so if a recipe calls for one tablespoon cornstarch, you'll want to use two tablespoons of flour). If you're considering using flour as a thickener in a recipe like a pie or crisp, we recommend using it only for recipes that use less juicy fruits or with fruits that are naturally rich in pectin (this is a naturally occurring thickening agent found in certain fruits), such as blueberries or apples.
If you don't have flour, there are other easy options. Try another starch, such as arrowroot, potato starch, tapioca, or sweet white rice flour. They all act the same way and are activated by heat, but there will be slight variations when it comes to thickening temperature, overall look, taste, and thickening longevity. If you're using a substitution, you'll want to make sure you're using it in the same way the original recipe treats the cornstarch (making a slurry first, for example).
As far as starch swapping ratios go, if you're using tapioca starch, it's a 1:1 ratio (so if your recipe calls for one tablespoon cornstarch, you can use one tablespoon tapioca starch). Arrowroot starch is also a 1:1 ratio. Potato starch is a 1: 1.75 ratio (so if your recipe calls for one tablespoon cornstarch, you can use 1 3/4 tablespoon potato starch). And with sweet white rice flour, it's also a 1:1 ratio.