No Cornstarch? Here's What to Substitute

If you're out of cornstarch, turn to these other pantry ingredients.

Let's say you're standing at the stove-top, making banana pudding, or some sausage gravy, or a stir-fry sauce. It's all coming together nicely, but you need to thicken things up. Enter cornstarch. This pantry staple makes thin liquids rich and smooth without changing their flavor. It also adds an attractive glossy sheen—a bonus when you're making a fruit pie filling or a buttery pan sauce. And it's gluten-free!

What Is a Slurry?

Adding cornstarch directly into what needs thickening will only result in clumps. All you have to do is make a slurry—cornstarch and cold water mixed until completely smooth—then add it to the recipe. Typically you'll need 1 tablespoon cornstarch to 1 tablespoon cold water for each cup of liquid. A slurry prevents lumps from forming in your recipe.

It's important to make the slurry with cold liquid, and then add the slurry to the simmering sauce. Stir into the hot sauce until the liquid thickens and starts to bubble, then continue cooking for one more minute to make sure the cornstarch is completely cooked.

If your sauce is quite acidic (like maybe it's tomato-based), the acid will cause cornstarch to lose some of its effectiveness as a thickener. But what if you are completely out of cornstarch? Don't fear, there are other options.

Using Flour Instead

Chances are, you have all-purpose flour in your pantry. Flour makes a fine thickener, although you must treat it a little differently from cornstarch. Unlike cornstarch, flour doesn't make sauces more glossy, and if not cooked completely, can slightly change the flavor of a dish.

You'll still want to make a slurry: The ratio is two tablespoons flour and ¼ cup cold water for each cup of liquid. Once you add the slurry to the hot sauce, stir until the mixture turns thick and bubbly. Continue cooking two to three more minutes to make sure the flour is cooked and doesn't have a "raw" taste.

Instant flour such as Wondra also works well as a thickening agent. Because this flour is extra-fine you don't have to cook it as long; it will dissolve quicker than all-purpose flour.

Tapioca, Arrowroot, or Potato Starch

Although you may not have these flours on hand, they all make a good gluten-free replacement for cornstarch. (Bob's Red Mill makes all three.) They can't be used exactly the same way, though. Potato starch is good for high-heat cooking, like baking Substitute two tablespoons tapioca starch for one tablespoon cornstarch. Use an equal amount of arrowroot or potato starch for cornstarch. Take a measured approach with arrowroot don't use it to thicken a cream or milk-based sauce as arrowroot combined with milk can be a bit slimy

Other Methods to Thicken Sauce

One method to thicken has to do with turning up the heat. With this trick, you are simply drying out the sauce by removing moisture. Be careful, though, this tends to heighten all the flavors and could result in the sauce coming across as too salty.

Egg yolks can be a magical thickener. Whisk some of the thin sauce into an egg yolk in a separate bowl, then whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the sauce over low heat to let it do its thing. This method is called tempering—it prevents the egg yolk from curdling when stirred into a sauce over heat.

Using instant potato flakes as a thickener is a convenient riff on the idea of adding pureed and mashed starches. Potatoes need to complement the flavor profile of the sauce to begin with—creamy sauces are a good bet—so just start small and stir away.

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