Confirmed: Arrowroot Powder Is More Than A Gluten-Free, Paleo Baking Essential
If you've been dabbling in paleo, grain-free, or gluten-free cooking and baking, chances are high that you've come across a recipe calling for arrowroot powder—but what the heck is it, and do you really need it?
The short answer: It's an awesome, healthy alternative to cornstarch (and a few other questionable ingredients you may want to avoid); and yes, you should consider using it to upgrade the texture of sweet and savory recipes. Think of it as your secret weapon for thickening up sauces and fillings, adding a crisp finish to meats and veggies, and lightening up gluten- or grain-free baked goods that might otherwise be too heavy or dense.
Here, learn all about the healthy starch that's taking food blogs by storm and how to use it to make your cleaned-up culinary creations that much more delicious.
What is arrowroot powder?
Sometimes referred to as arrowroot flour or arrowroot starch, arrowroot powder comes from the tropical South American plant Maranta arudinacea, which is similar to cassava root. It's made by cutting the root into small pieces and then mashing it into a pulp, which is then forced through a screen to obtain only the fine starch. The starch is then dried and ground into a powder. Fun fact: The Maranta arudinacea plant became known as "arrowroot" because it was commonly used by the Mayans to treat those suffering from poison-tipped arrow wounds.
Today, the uses for arrowroot powder are much tastier—and far less intense. It's commonly used as a thickening agent for fruit fillings, soups, and sauces and added to baked goods like muffins, cookies, and cakes for a lighter, spongier texture.
"I often use it as a paleo alternative to cornstarch in savory cooking," says Phoebe Lapine, gluten-free chef, mindbodygreen Collective member, and author of The Wellness Project. "Especially with sauces that need to be a bit heftier, arrowroot can give your mixtures some gelatinous thickness—perfect for holiday gravies!"
How is arrowroot powder different from cornstarch?
Arrowroot powder is often used in place of highly processed cornstarch. Nutritionally, arrowroot powder and cornstarch are fairly similar, both clocking in at around 35 calories and 8 grams of carbohydrates per tablespoon. However, cornstarch is typically made of genetically modified corn and extracted via a chemical process, making it a less desirable choice. Additionally, arrowroot powder carries a more neutral taste than cornstarch, which makes it a smart pick when working with delicate flavors that you don't want to overpower.
In recipes calling for cornstarch, arrowroot powder can typically be used as a one-to-one substitute, and in recipes that call for flour as a thickener (e.g., to create a roux), arrowroot powder can be used in its place at a ratio of 1 teaspoon arrowroot powder per 1 tablespoon flour.
Does arrowroot powder have any nutritional benefits?
From a nutrition standpoint, arrowroot powder may not seem that impressive upon first glance—it's pretty much void of any meaningful vitamin, mineral, protein, or fiber content—but it does have some perks from a digestive and gut health standpoint.
Not only is it one of the most easily broken-down starches, but it's been shown to alleviate diarrhea and abdominal pain. This may be due to the fact that arrowroot has demulcent properties—meaning, it's a substance that soothes irritation and inflammation of the mucus membranes (including those in the gut) by forming a protective film. For these reasons, arrowroot powder may be a smart starch and/or flour substitute for people looking to support gut health.
However, despite arrowroot powder's relative ease of digestion, people dealing with serious issues like a leaky gut or irritable bowel syndrome may not always be able to tolerate it—at least initially. Arrowroot is not allowed on the GAPS Diet, which is designed specifically to treat chronic inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract because starches can be difficult for those with a compromised gut to properly digest. Once you've sufficiently healed your gut, however, arrowroot is thought to be one of the gentlest starches to first reintroduce.
10 uses for arrowroot powder in gluten-free & paleo cooking.
Here, discover some of our favorite chef- and food-blogger-approved tips for using arrowroot powder in sweet and savory dishes. We've included links to some tried-and-true recipes so you can get to cooking (and baking) with confidence.
1. Swap it in for cornstarch or flour in savory sauces, stews, and gravies.
As mentioned above, arrowroot can replace cornstarch or flour in most savory applications. "Any stew or sauce that calls for a roux—aka butter sprinkled with a little white flour to thicken it—is a great place for arrowroot powder," says Lapine.
One important note is that arrowroot should typically be mixed with a room-temperature liquid before being added to a hot liquid, and it's best to add arrowroot toward the end of cooking. "I typically use it toward the end because it can become a little too jelly-like with extended periods of cooking," says Lapine. "I used it recently in a mushroom stroganoff recipe I was recreating to be gluten-free, adding it after the veggies were fully cooked."
2. Use it to thicken up sweet pie fillings, custards, and puddings.
Much like it's used to thicken up savory sauces, arrowroot powder can be used to create sweet fillings and creamy desserts. "For desserts, I'll sometimes use it as a thickener for fruit compotes or pie fillings, like the filling for these Red, White, and Blueberry Galettes," says Lapine. For something a little more seasonal, try this Vegan & Gluten-Free Pumpkin Pie recipe, which uses arrowroot in its creamy filling and perfectly crispy crust.
3. Think of it as a baking powder substitute.
If a recipe calls for baking powder, but you want to avoid the cornstarch that comes along with it, create your own healthy replacement: Simply combine ¼ cup baking soda, ½ cup cream of tartar, and 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder. Measure out the amount you need for the recipe, and store the remainder in an airtight container.
4. Use it as a plant-based binder for pastas and veggie burgers.
Gluten and eggs are two ingredients that lend that classic elasticity and a chewy texture to gnocchi and other pastas. And if you happen to be cutting out both of these natural binders (say, you're vegan), things can get tricky. Luckily, arrowroot powder is great at keeping it all together. To see for yourself, try out this recipe: Tricolor Sweet Potato Gnocchi, which contains just three ingredients: sweet potato, arrowroot powder, and tapioca starch. The arrowroot thickens and gels to the other ingredients to create a binding effect.
Another great place arrowroot can work its binding magic is in veggie burgers, plant-based "meat" loaves, or these drool-worthy Gluten-Free Veggie Waffles.
5. Use it to make (healthier) Chinese dishes inspired by takeout.
Chinese dishes frequently call for using cornstarch to coat meat before stir-frying it to yield a crispier texture (think: General Tso's chicken) that holds up well to sauces. But the cornstarch can easily be substituted for an equal amount of arrowroot powder, says Lapine. To test it out, consider making Lapine's healthy Sesame Chicken With Broccoli recipe—and toss that takeout menu in the trash.
6. Consider it your secret weapon for making fluffier pancakes, spongier muffins, and chewier cookies.
In the early days of paleo, almond and coconut flour reigned supreme, and many recipes failed to include ingredients that would add necessary structure and body to reasonably mimic their gluten-laden counterparts. This often resulted in overly dense muffins, crumbly cookies, and pancakes that were anything but fluffy.
Fast-forward to today, however, and healthy foodies have mastered the grain-free baked good by tweaking their recipes to contain the right ratios of alternative flours to starches and other ingredients. These Vegan, Grain-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies are perfectly chewy, these Gluten-Free Sweet Teff Pancakes mimic your favorite diner short stack, and these Paleo Cinnamon Rolls definitely won't crumble on contact—all thanks in part to arrowroot powder.
7. Use it as an egg replacement in baked goods.
If you want your muffin or cookie recipe to be gluten-free and vegan, arrowroot powder can pull double duty by improving texture and acting as a replacement for eggs—at least when combined with the right ingredients. To replace one egg in your recipe, simply whisk together 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder, 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, and ¼ cup water.
8. Coat your veggie fries with it for a crispier coating.
You know how the best restaurant French fries taste almost like they've been battered and fried to yield a perfectly crispy (almost bubbly) exterior and soft interior? Well...they have been battered and fried. The good news: You can recreate them at home, only much healthier. "Arrowroot powder is really great for crisping up veggie fries like these Baked Sweet Potato Fries With Sriracha Aioli."
9. Use some to make smoother, creamier dairy-free ice cream.
Arrowroot powder is great for making homemade ice cream that's extra smooth and delicious since it interferes with the formation of large ice crystals that could create a gritty texture. This goes for both dairy-based ice creams and nondairy ice creams that utilize ingredients like coconut milk. Don't use arrowroot powder with any form of dairy that's not frozen, though, as it can produce an odd, slimy texture. For a perfectly smooth, guilt-free scoop, try this Vegan Triple Berry Ice Cream recipe featuring arrowroot powder.
10. Use it as a corn flour substitute in grain-free tortillas.
Even on a grain-free, paleo diet, you don't have to give up tacos, thanks to these Vegan, Gluten-Free Tortillas! This recipe features arrowroot powder, along with another starchy ingredient called cassava flour, which perfectly mimics the binding properties of the masa harina (aka corn flour) traditionally used to make corn tortillas.
Where can you buy arrowroot powder?
You can find arrowroot powder sold by itself or incorporated into gluten-free flour blends. "Most all-purpose gluten-free flour blends have to include some sort of starch to hold the batter together so it's not one big crumbly mess after coming out of the oven," according to Lapine. "Grain-free or paleo flour blends in particular, like Bob's Red Mill Paleo Baking Flour, almost always include arrowroot powder as the preferred starch."
Arrowroot powder should be stored in a cool, dry, dark place. Consider transferring it to an airtight container if it doesn't come sold in a resealable bag. If you live in a warm climate, store it in the fridge. Stored properly, arrowroot powder should retain its beneficial properties for two to three years.
Stephanie Eckelkamp is a writer and editor who has been working for leading health publications for the past 10 years. She received her B.S. in journalism from Syracuse University with a minor in nutrition. In addition to contributing to mindbodygreen, she has written for Women's Health, Prevention, and Health. She is also a certified holistic health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She has a passion for natural, toxin-free living, particularly when it comes to managing issues like anxiety and chronic Lyme disease (read about how she personally overcame Lyme disease here).