Tips for Best Uses of Different Starches as Thickeners:
This article was originally published on December 18, 2009 and expired on March 1, 2010. It is provided here for archival purposes and may contain dated information.
I was asked a question last week about Tapioca.... "can it be frozen, such as if it's been used in a pie filling?" I decided to write a helpful column about thickening agents and their differences from one another. By the way the answer is "yes... Tapioca can be successfully frozen!"
First question and problem..... Lumps!
Every one wants to know how to avoid lumps. Once you have the lumps, it is next to impossible to get them out so it is best to know and remember the order of mixing. You will never have trouble again. Mix the starch with an equal amount of cold liquid until it forms a paste, then whisk it into the liquid you're trying to thicken. Once the thickener is added, cook it briefly to remove the starchy flavor. Don't overcook--liquids thickened with some starches will thin again if cooked too long or at too high a temperature.We will talk about that below.
Most popular thickeners:
Cornstarch, arrowroot, and tapioca are some of the most popular starch thickeners. They have different strengths and weaknesses, so it's a good idea to stock all three in your pantry.
High Gloss and Low Gloss
Starch thickeners give food a transparent, glistening sheen, which looks nice in a pie filling, but a bit artificial in a gravy or sauce.If you want high gloss, choose tapioca or arrowroot. If you want low gloss, choose cornstarch.
Best Choice for Dairy Based Sauces
Cornstarch is the best choice for thickening dairy-based sauces.Arrowroot becomes slimy when mixed with milk products.
Thickening with an Acidic Liquid
Choose arrowroot if you're thickening an acidic liquid. Cornstarch loses potency when mixed with acids.
Best for Freezing a Dish
If you plan to freeze a dish, use tapioca starch or arrowroot as a thickener. If you are going to freeze a dish don't use sauces made with cornstarch. They turn spongy when they're frozen.
Flour turns sauces opaque, imparts a starchy flavor, thins out if cooked too long, and breaks down if frozen and thawed.)
Most Neutral Tasting
Starch thickeners don't add much flavor to a dish, although they can impart a starchy flavor if they're undercooked. If you worried that your thickener will mask delicate flavors in your dish, choose arrowroot. It's the most neutral tasting of the starch thickeners.
An Easy Thickener to "fix" Dishes
Tapioca starch thickens quickly, and at a relatively low temperature. It's a good choice if you want to correct a sauce just before serving it.
OR potato (Adding grated potato to soups or stews will thicken them.)
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