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Looking for a substitute for corn starch?

Cornstarch, also labeled as corn flour or corn starch, is a white and powdery thickening agent that’s commonly used in soups, sauces, glazes, and baked goods. With a long shelf life and a ton of different uses, it’s a pretty standard pantry staple for home cooks and bakers. And fortunately, if you need a corn starch substitute, you’ve got quite a few options to choose from.

Here’s a look at some of the most common solutions for when you’re looking for a substitute for corn starch in baking and cooking, including quick tips for ensuring you get similar results. 

cornstarch
Source: Unsplash
Cornstarch is a white powdery substance that’s commonly used as a thickener in cooking and baking applications. 

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What is Cornstarch Used For?

To better understand what makes a suitable substitute for corn starch, it helps to first understand the basic properties of what cornstarch is and how it’s used.

Cornstarch, which is extracted from the starchy portion of corn kernels (known as the endosperm), is one of the most popular thickening agents used in baking and cooking. It also has a number of household uses, including use as a dry shampoo, bath component, itch reliever, and stain remover.

Because it does so many things, there’s no one-size-fits-all corn starch substitute that will work equally well in all applications. So if you’re asking what can I substitute for corn starch?, your best bet is to work backward, starting with what you want to achieve and then looking at your options.

For our purposes, we’re going to be looking at what to substitute for corn starch in baking and cooking, with seven items you can use in a pinch if your recipe calls for cornstarch (or corn flour) and you don’t have it available. 

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7 Options When You Need a Cornstarch Substitute

So, what is a substitute for corn starch?

Cornstarch isn’t the only thickener out there. Here’s what to substitute for corn starch in recipes when you’re in a bind.

1. Potato Starch

Pros: Gluten-free, vegan, paleo-friendly.  

How to sub: Use a 1:1 ratio of potato starch to cornstarch.  

Just like cornstarch makes use of the extra-starchy part of corn, potato starch does the same with potatoes.

This refined starch is gluten-free and vegan, which makes it a good choice for many cooks. However, it thickens faster than cornstarch and can break down when exposed to heat for a long time, so if you’re using it in sauces, gravies, or glazes, add it later in the cooking process.

2. Arrowroot Powder

Pros: Gluten-free, vegan, paleo-friendly.

How to sub: Use a 2:1 ratio of arrowroot to cornstarch.

Another good pick when you need to substitute cornstarch is arrowroot powder, a starchy flour made from plant roots. In fact, some people actually prefer using arrowroot to cornstarch since it’s higher in fiber, totally tasteless, and leaves baked goods with a nice glossy finish.

3. All-Purpose Flour

Pros: Vegan.

How to sub: Use a 2:1 ratio of all-purpose flour to cornstarch.

The easiest solution might just be to substitute flour for cornstarch, since they share many of the same properties. And, as you’re probably well aware, all-purpose flour is already proven to hold up well in all sorts of baking and cooking projects.

Keep in mind that all types of flours won’t have the same thickening effect. So while the answer to “can I use all-purpose flour instead of cornstarch?” is a definite yes, you might have less luck if you substitute flour for cornstarch and use a non-wheat variety.

4. Xanthan Gum

Pros: Gluten-free, vegan, keto-friendly.

How to sub: Add xanthan gum slowly working up to no more than a 1:1 ratio of xanthan gum to cornstarch

What about a xanthan gum substitute? Corn starch and xanthan gum are both great thickeners, which make the latter a good fix when you need to substitute cornstarch. Be wary of going for a straight 1:1 replacement though, since it can make the end result a bit slimy. Go slow and see how your recipe is thickening, then add more if needed.

5. Tapioca

Pros: Gluten-free, vegan, keto-friendly.

How to sub: Use a 2:1 ratio of tapioca to cornstarch.

Tapioca is a purified starch made from cassava root, and is typically purchased as a flour. It’s got a nice neutral flavor which means you shouldn’t detect it in your recipes or baked goods, though do note that you don’t want to boil it because that could make a sauce break down instead of thicken.

6. Rice Flour

Pros: Gluten-free, vegan.

How to sub: Use a 2:1 ratio of rice flour to cornstarch.

Gluten-free cooks and bakers are probably well associated with rice flour, a wheat-free starch made from finely ground rice. It works well in both savory applications and desserts, including finicky recipes like those for crusts and pastry creams.  

7. Guar Gum

Pros: Gluten-free, vegan, keto-friendly.

How to sub: Use an eighth of the amount of guar gum as you would cornstarch.

Like cornstarch, guar gum is also made from endosperm, though it’s bean-based instead of corn-based. It’s similar to xanthan gum as a cornstarch substitute both in structure and end result, and also needs to be added gradually to ensure you don’t overthicken your recipe.

No cornstarch? No problem. Use one of the thickening agents above to get a similar thickening effect—sometimes with a few extra health benefits to boot. 

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