These gluten-free and vegan thickening agents will redefine your next creamy, decadent sauce or soup.
Often for a soup or sauce, I am reduced to making a “roux” – a mixture of equal parts butter and flour – to thicken the dish. Even after all the vegetable goodness thrown into the soup, there is that itchy overtone bringing down my dish’s nutritional integrity – the empty calories, gluten and lack of nutrition inherent in wheat flour. While it’s not the end of the world, I’d rather not mess up my plant-based flow with wheat and non-vegan butter. Fortunately, there are vegan and gluten-free thickening agents that can do the trick.
Arrowroot is a powder-like starch that comes from the rhizomes of the Maranta arundinacea plant, commonly found in St. Vincent and Jamaica. It is a gluten-free, easy-to-digest starch that works well in sauces, gravies, pie fillings and puddings. Whisk arrowroot powder into a bit of cold water before adding to a hot liquid. Use 1/2 tablespoon per cup of liquid. Its flavor is neutral.
Derived from the corn grain, cornstarch is already widely popular and called for in many recipes. Cornstarch is often preferred over flour to thicken sauces and soups, because it forms a translucent mixture, rather than an opaque one. However, cornstarch retains a slightly sweet overtone that may be sensed by the palate. To thicken a sauce, use ½ tablespoon per cup of liquid and let it sit for a minute before it thickens. For those abstaining from corn-derived products, arrowroot replaces cornstarch in a 1:1 ratio.
3. Guar Gum
Guar gum is the ground seeds of guar beans, which are de-husked, milled and screened before becoming guar gum. Grown mostly in India, guar gum is traditionally used as a thickener, binder and volume enhancer. It is stronger than arrowroot and cornstarch, so one cup of liquid requires only ¼ to ½ teaspoon.
4. Kuzu Root
A common ingredient used in macrobiotic recipes, kuzu root starch has long been considered medicinal by Eastern healers for more than 2,000 years. It is believed to cure common ailments, such as digestive and nervous system related problems. Use ½ teaspoon per cup of liquid. Whisk into a bit of cold water before adding to a hot liquid.
Tapioca starch derives from the Manioc root. Native to Northern Brazil, tapioca is now widely used around the world. It creates a jelly-like texture. Neutral in taste and a great thickener for low-temperature sauces or gravies, tapioca starch requires one tablespoon per cup of liquid. Whisk into a bit of cold water before adding to a hot liquid.
Aylin Erman is founder of GlowKitchen. There she shares step-by-step picture recipes of her plant-based creations. Aylin lives and works in Istanbul as a writer and editor at the country’s first-ever green-living and sustainability platform, Yesilist. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter to keep up with food news and recipes.
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Photo Credit: Hey Tiffany!