Gluten Free Thickeners

Friday December 18, 2015

Image for gravy thickeners

Wheat flour is the most common type of thickener used today for soups, pies, sauces and gravies. What is a celiac or gluten intolerant person to do? Don’t fear this is one of the most simple switch outs.  Each thickener has its benefits and drawbacks so choose the type best suited for what you are making. It’s so easy and no one will know the difference! Enjoy.

  1. Cornstarch/Corn flour - is the starch derived from the endosperm (the food store for the developing plant) of the corn kernel. To thicken a liquid use one tablespoon cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon cold water. Be sure to thoroughly mix the water with the starch to prevent lumps. After stirring the combined starch and water into the liquid to be thickened, cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly.
  2. Tapioca Starch/Flour – is a starch extracted from cassava root which is a woody shrub native to South America.  Instant tapioca and tapioca starch are the best choices for thickening. To substitute for wheat flour in a sauce or pie recipe use 1 tablespoon instant tapioca or 1 1/2 teaspoons tapioca starch for each tablespoon wheat flour in the original recipe.
  3. Arrowroot – is a starch obtained from the rhizomes of several different types of tropical plants.  It is important with arrowroot as with other starches to create a slurry when thickening a sauce or gravy.  Mix equal parts arrowroot and water until dissolved and then add the slurry to warm, or simmering liquid with a whisk. As soon as sauce thickens (about 30 seconds to 1 minute), remove from heat—overheating will break down arrowroot’s thickening properties.
  4. Xanthan gum - is made by fermenting corn, with the bacteria Xanthomas Campestris.  The ferment is dried and ground to a powder. This ingredient is a common additive to processed foods as it acts as an emulsifier and a thickening agent.  It is also used in gluten free baking to create more of a chewy bite and to hold together ingredients that tend to be dry and crumbly.  Use sparingly in sauces. * Important to note some xanthan gums can be derived from wheat or soy. Ensure to purchase the gluten free variety.
  5. Guar gum – is the ground endosperm of guar beans. The guar seeds are de-husked, milled and screened to obtain the guar gum. It is an economical thickener because it has almost eight times the water-thickening potency of cornstarch - only a very small quantity is needed and can be used interchangeably with xanthan which is significantly more expensive.
  6. Brown rice flour - brown rice flour is exactly that brown rice. While cornstarch has the advantage of thickening liquids without changing their color or clarity, it is not stable in sauces if frozen or boiled. Rice flour works in a fashion more similar to that of wheat flour.
  7. Coconut flour – is a soft flour produced from dry coconut meat. It’s often used as a gluten and grain-free baking agent for cookies, smoothies, puddings, pies, cookies, cake, and muffins.  It can be used for thickening soups and stews however because of the sweet flavor it should be used accordingly. Coconut flour is full of protein and high in fiber.
  8. Chia seeds - Chia seeds are tiny black seeds from the plant Salvia Hispanica, which is related to mint. This plant grows natively in South America. Soak 1tbsp of seeds in 225ml of water overnight and the next morning you will have a jelly-like mixture.  Add to stews, casseroles and the like. Along with being used as a thickener chia seeds have the added benefits of being packed with fiber, protein and omega 3’s.