I grew up using three starch thickeners that I haven’t worked with in a while. Arrowroot was used primarily in coconut pudding, cookies, and healthy porridge. Cornstarch bulked up Indian-Chinese dishes, and tapioca helped to set both sweet and savory food. As I tried to perfect roux with white flour and butter last week, I decided to revisit the three starches of my childhood.
Tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch have distinct properties. All three starches are neutral in taste and have a lighter, more powdery texture than flour. They can replace flour to thicken a stew or gravy and glaze a fruit pie. Tapioca and arrowroot are being rediscovered because of their gluten-free properties and are now commonly available; choosing between them depends on the type of ingredients needed for a dish. If the ingredients are acidic, then tapioca and arrowroot starch are preferable. If the dish is dairy-based, use cornstarch. Unlike flour that makes sauce opaque, tapioca, arrowroot, and cornstarch offer glazes that range from clear to glossy. Depending on whether a chocolate pudding benefits from shimmering glaze (use arrowroot), a fruit pie from a clear glaze (use tapioca starch), or creamy soup from a translucent glaze (use cornstarch), these starches offer a variety of ways to present the final dish.
What all three starches do have in common is that none of them can be added directly to a hot stock or liquid. They should first be mixed with equal parts water to form a watery mixture called slurry. The slurry is then added to the simmering stock and whisked continuously so that the starch gelatinizes and thickens. The slurry prevents the starch from clumping together. As with all starch thickeners, the key to achieving a smooth rich stock is to continuously whisk the starch so that the mix does not taste floury, until you reach the right consistency. Be mindful of overcooking.
|Arrowroot Starch||Cassava/Tapioca Starch||Cornstarch|
|Source||From a ginger-like rhizome||From a root tuber||From endosperm of corn|
|Slurry||Mix in cold liquid||Mix in cold liquid||Mix in cold liquid|
|Substitution for 1 tbsp. all purpose flour||1 ½ tsp||1 ½ tsp||1 tbsp|
|Best for||Fruits or similar highly acidic medium||Fruits and similar acidic medium||Dairy-based medium|
|Cooking times||Cannot be cooked for long periods, best below boiling point. Does not do as well as tapioca with dishes that have to be frozen. Does not do well reheated, so add just before needed.||Cannot be cooked for long periods. Good for dishes that are going to be frozen, like a fruit pie||Can be cooked for longer periods than the other two. Does not do well when the dish has to be frozen|
|Appearance of Final Dish||Shiny glossy glaze||Clear glaze||Translucent glaze|
Coconut-Chocolate Pudding with Arrowroot
Organic unsweetened coconut milk – 1 ¾ cup
Cocoa powder – 4 tbsp
Semi-sweet chocolate morsels – 5 tbsp
Arrowroot powder – ¼ tsp
Salt – ½ tsp
Sugar – 2 tbsp
Cinnamon and nutmeg (freshly powdered) – ½ tsp
Crushed arrowroot biscuits or sugar cookies – topping
- To a ¼ cup of coconut milk, add cocoa powder and cinnamon, nutmeg powder and arrowroot. Mix well to form the slurry.
- Bring the remaining coconut milk to a simmer.
- Add salt and sugar to the warm coconut milk. Stir to dissolve.
- Take ½ cup of simmering liquid and mix well with the slurry. Add this mixture back to the simmering coconut milk. Whisk for a minute. Add the chocolate and continue whisking until it starts becoming thick, about 30 seconds or so. Remove immediately from heat.
- Pour into ramekins and chill for 8 hours or more.
- Before serving, sprinkle the crushed cookies on top.