Somewhere along my culinary journey, I began using arrowroot powder in my recipes rather than cornstarch. My readers would often ask about arrowroot: what is it, what does it do, is it necessary? Arrowroot powder is a starch derived from a South American plant and is used as a thickener in recipes. This powder is used in the same way cornstarch is, though there are some differences between the two starches. Arrowroot is a root starch that acts as a thickener. It is best used at the end of cooking as it might break down in long, high-heat cooking. It really has no taste in the food and it leaves sauces glossy and silky.
Cornstarch, on the other hand, is a grain starch that thickens food quickly and at higher temperatures. It’s good for food that will cook a long time at high heat. Sauces thickened with cornstarch are more opaque and have a slight taste from the starch.
Arrowroot powder is extracted from plants by a process of soaking the plants in hot water, peeling the tubers to remove their fibrous covers, mashing the tubers into a pulp and then washing the pulp to separate the starch. The starch is then filtered and ground to powder. Cornstarch is usually made from genetically modified corn and is extracted by a harsh chemical process. You can buy non-GMO cornstarch but it will be more expensive. For me, arrowroot powder is the healthier choice and I use it more often. If it’s new to you, here are some ways to cook with arrowroot powder.
Arrowroot powder can be used as a way to thicken soups, stews, gravies, and sauces. You do this by making a “slurry.” Mix the arrowroot into a cold liquid such as water or non-dairy milk and whisk until smooth. Then you pour the slurry into the hot sauce or gravy to thicken it and make it glossy. Slurries are added at the end of the cooking process; usually, it’s the last step before serving.
I use arrowroot whenever I make my own Chinese food at home. For example, here’s how to make Black Bean Sauce. Heat 1 Tbs. oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 1 Tbs. freshly grated ginger, 2 minced garlic cloves, and ¼ of a red onion minced and saute until softened, about 4 minutes. Add ½ cup cooked black soybeans and 1 red or green chile that has been seeded and minced. Then, add 1 cup water, ½ cup tamari or soy sauce, ¼ cup brown rice vinegar, and 1 Tbs. sugar. Stir everything well. In a small bowl or mug, combine 2 tsp. arrowroot powder and 1 Tbs. water to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the saucepan and allow the sauce to cook on low heat until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro. Pour over steamed vegetables and rice.
Arrowroot is used in my Steamed Vegetables with Garlic Sauce, Sesame Tofu and any of my Chinese dishes that have a sauce. Try it in this Stir-Fried Tofu with Veggies and Shiitake Mushrooms with Arrowroot Sauce, this Sweet and Sour Sauce or any of these 10 Simple and Awesome Homemade Saute Sauces. Arrowroot powder can be used in place of flour to thicken a stew-like this Seitan Pot Roast where the gravy is made towards the end of cooking. Try this Easy Mushroom Gravy the next time you make biscuits or mashed potatoes.
People often ask me how to get tofu, tempeh, and seitan crispy in dishes especially Chinese dishes. It’s easy. Be sure to buy extra-firm tofu, drain it well and press it to get the extra moisture out. You can even freeze the tofu in advance and then thaw it out and press it. Cut the tofu into cubes and pat them dry. Tempeh and seitan can be cut into cubes or slices and they should also be dry.
Put the tofu, tempeh, or seitan pieces into a large bowl or a plastic storage bag. Sprinkle a few spoons of arrowroot powder over the proteins. This is also your chance to season the tofu, tempeh, or seitan. I like to add kosher salt, black pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, and sometimes, Chinese 5-Spice Powder for Chinese recipes. Mix it up so the starch and the seasonings coat the proteins. Set aside until ready to cook.
Heat vegetable oil in the pan over high heat. Place the tofu, tempeh or seitan into the pan and don’t move it. Let it cook and sear over high heat for a few minutes until it gets browned and crispy. Flip the pieces and do the same until browned and crisp on all sides. I make sure it’s extra-crispy (but not burnt) if I know hot sauce is going to go over it which will immediately soften it a bit. Transfer the crispy proteins to a plate lined with a paper towel and set it aside. Try not to eat a piece; I dare you. Ok, eat one piece for quality assurance. Then step away from the crispy seitan.
Use this method to make crispy General Tso’s Tofu , Pan-Fried Tofu with Zucchini, Carrot and Black Bean Sesame Noodles and Tempeh “Fish” and Chips. You can also toss potatoes into arrowroot for the crispiest French fries ever.
Arrowroot can be used when making creams, custards, puddings and pie fillings to give them structure and body. I use it when I make creamy, luscious Chocolate Pudding. Whisk 2/3 cup of non-dairy milk with 3 Tbs. arrowroot powder in a bowl or mug. Set aside. Combine 3 1/3 cups non-dairy milk, ½ cup cocoa powder, ¼ cups chocolate chips, 1/3 cup sugar and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Warm over medium heat until the chocolate has melted and is smooth. Whisk in the arrowroot/milk mixture and cook for about 5-7 minutes over medium-low heat or until it thickens.
Don’t let it get too thick; if it does, remove it from the heat and stir in more milk until you have the consistency you want. Remove the pudding from the heat and add 1 tsp. vanilla extract. Pour the pudding into serving cups or bowls. Cover with plastic wrap touching the surface of the pudding so a skin doesn’t form. Keep refrigerated until the pudding is well-chilled.
Try using arrowroot as in this Maple Creme and Mocha Spice Cake Trifle with Fresh Blueberries and this Pumpkin Pie Custard with Brulee Topping. Add it to pie fillings like this Strawberry Rhubarb Pie and this Grilled Vegan Apple Pie with Vanilla Coconut Whipped Cream. You can also use arrowroot to make your own powdered confectioner’s sugar. In a spice grinder, grind ¼ cup raw sugar and ¾ tsp. arrowroot powder until it is a fine powder. This makes about 1/3 cup confectioner’s sugar that you can use in desserts like Rosemary Lemon Sandwich Cookies and Baked Blueberry Donuts or sprinkle on top of Banana Beignets.
Some recipes for vegan omelets use flour, starch, or xanthan gum to give the batter structure and help the omelet hold together. You can also use arrowroot powder for this purpose. Check out How to Make a Vegan Omelet and then try making this Chickpea Flour Omelet with Spinach, Onions, and Bell Peppers or this Low-Fat Silken Tofu Omelet with your favorite toppings. It also works for this yummy Vegetable Frittata and vegan Matzoh Brei.
If you need to substitute eggs for the binders in recipes such as veggie burgers or a veggie loaf, try arrowroot powder. It will thicken and gel with other ingredients to create a binding effect as well as (if not better than) flour or other starches. Use it to make burgers that won’t fall apart like these Quinoa and White Bean Burgers or these Roasted Beet Burgers. Don’t worry about slicing this Diner-Style Vegan Meat Loaf because arrowroot powder will help hold it together. Arrowroot powder is also one of the binders in Gluten-Free and Vegan Plant-Based Meat recipes, V-Meat, V-Chicken, and V-Turkey.
Whenever you need to use starches in cooking such as cornstarch, think about using arrowroot powder instead. It’s a healthier choice and it works wonderfully in all these ways plus many more. How do you use arrowroot powder? Tell us in the comments!
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