Healthy Living

Arrowroot Powder vs. Cornstarch: Why Arrowroot Powder is a Better Choice

February 15, 2013

The other night at our house we had a make-your-own-nacho bar and we have this amazing Food Renegade recipe for homemade cheese sauce (which is earth shatteringly phenomenal!) a few months prior so I had to make it for our get together!

Arrowroot Powder

Instead of thickening the sauce with corn starch or a roux (a flour and butter mixture); you use an egg yolk, milk, and some arrowroot powder. We ended up throwing in a couple more tablespoons of the arrowroot powder and I was amazed to see how it thickened the milk base like a roux or cornstarch would! Which prompted me to ask myself: what on earth is arrowroot powder?!

What is Arrowroot Powder?

Arrowroot Powder (sometimes known as Arrowroot Starch) is white and powdery just like cornstarch. It is derived from a tropical South American plant and, like cornstarch, is used as a thickener in recipes. The plant was given the name “Arrowroot” because it was once used to treat those injured with wounds from poison arrows. The Native Caribbean Arawak people made arrowroot a foundation of their diet and valued it for its amazing healing benefits (i.e., it would draw out the poison from wounds).

What are the differences between Arrowroot Powder and Cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a powdery substance made from (surprise!) corn and is used to thicken gravies and sauces. However, since the advent of Genetically Modifier Organisms (GMOs), almost all cornstarch is made from corn that has been genetically engineered (which to me is a bad science fiction version of food!). You can buy non-GMO cornstarch but it is usually more expensive. The process of extracting cornstarch can be quite harsh as well, utilizing chemicals and high heat to transform the corn into the powder in the can.

Cornstarch is not only for food, it also used in adhesives, batteries, garbage bags, deodorant, make-up, and more. The process of obtaining cornstarch is as follows: the corn is hulled from the cob and then soaked in warm water (around 130 degrees) mixed with sulfur dioxide (which is also used to extract metal from ore and, according to dictionary.com: “used chiefly in the manufacture of chemicals such as sulfuric acid, in preserving fruits and vegetables, and in bleaching, disinfecting, and fumigating.”). It will then soak for one to two days. During this time, the corn and starch separate and create sulfurous acid. The corn is drained and then the endo-sperm is separated from the corn to make the starch. The endo-sperm travels through strainers and screens to separate the gluten and starch. The separated starch is at this point considered “common” cornstarch and can be converted into fermented products or sweeteners. For any “modified” cornstarch, it is treated in another step with chemicals or enzymes. I would strongly recommending reading this PDF from Corn.org if you would like to learn more about cornstarch and how it is derived.

You use cornstarch by making a “slurry”, which is mixing the powder into a cold liquid such as water or milk and whisking until the powder is dissolved. You then pour the “slurry” into the hot liquid creating a thickened sauce.

Arrowroot powder is extracted in a much different manner. The arrowroot is a tuberous plant which is washed, peeled, and grated into finer pieces. These arrowroot pieces are strained, allowing the liquid to drip off. The starch is in this liquid. In traditional societies, they would throw sea water on top of the grated arrowroot throughout the process to draw out the starch. They would then catch the liquid and let it settle. The sea water would rise to the top and the starch would settle to the bottom. It is rinsed several more times with clean water and then drained of all liquid. What is left is harden starch ball that will finish drying in a shaded place for another two to three days. It is then broken down into the fine, white powder we can get on our grocery shelves. The modern process of obtaining arrowroot powder is very similar to the process of traditional people with just a few differences in tools and processes. I found this explanation of the extraction process:

“After being soaked in hot water, the tubers are peeled to remove their fibrous covering (this prevents a bitter taste and off-color in the final product.) Next they’re cut into small pieces. The cut tubers are then mashed to a pulp and macerated to break down the tough cells surrounding the starch.
The pulp is washed on screens to separate the starch from the fibrous material. The settled starch is then centrifuged or filtered to further separate it from fiber fines and other soluble material (this process can be repeated to obtain greater purity). The separated starch is finally dried and ground to powder.”

How Can I Use Arrowroot Powder?

Arrowroot powder can be used very similarly to cornstarch by way of making a “slurry”. You must be careful to not overheat it though as arrowroot is more delicate than cornstarch and will breakdown quicker when heated too long or at too high of a temperature.

You can use arrowroot powder to thicken soups, sauces, and stews. It works exactly like cornstarch but without the scary refinement process or question of: “are there GMOs in this?”. It is one of the easiest starches for the body to digest as well, which gives it bonus points in my book!

Tapioca root and arrowroot are commonly confused, but are truly much different things. Due to mislabeling throughout the years be sure to buy the best arrowroot powder you can with only one ingredient: arrowroot, pure.

Cheerio!

Katie

Sources:
1. http://www.bobsredmill.com/arrowroot-starch.html
2. About.com – Arrowroot
3. Dictionary.com – Cornstarch
4. Corn.org (PDF)
5. EPA.gov (sulfur dioxide)
6. PubMed.gov
7. Dictionary.com – Sulfur Dixoide
8. Traditional Arrowroot Production and Utilzation in the Marshall Islands by Spenneman
9. https://www.frontiercoop.com/products.php?cn=Arrowroot%2C+Pure&ct=spicesaz

This post is a part of Thank Your Body Thursdays, Fight Back Friday.

PAID ENDORSEMENT DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Please note that I only ever endorse products that are in alignment with Girl Meets Nourishment's ideals and that I believe would be of value to my readers. You may read my full disclosure statements here.

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58 Comments

  • Reply men's hair loss products February 17, 2013 at 2:54 am

    Keep on writing, great job!

  • Reply KS February 20, 2013 at 8:03 pm

    Can you substitute arrowroot powder 1:1 for cornstarch, or what is the ratio?

    • Reply Katie February 21, 2013 at 4:58 pm

      In my personal experience, yes! I have been able to use arrowroot exactly like cornstarch with no weird side effects. :)

      – K

      • Reply Perin June 22, 2014 at 12:12 pm

        I love your site, just fell upon it by chance browsing, and I think you are an asset to the world of fresh foods without additives! Thanks for being that asset Katie!

        Kindest Regards,

        ~Perin

        • Reply Perin June 22, 2014 at 12:14 pm

          Oh yes, I forgot, I made cookies with cornstarch, do you know if arrowroot keeps the same consistency in cookies as well? Would it be the exact same measurement?

          • Katie June 22, 2014 at 2:36 pm

            Thank you, Perin! I think arrowroot would be a great substitute for cornstarch in cooking. Just be sure to shift the arrowroot before mixing it in. And it would be a 1:1 substitute. :)

  • Reply Amanda February 22, 2013 at 11:39 am

    I am so glad I found this post! I just made deodorant yesterday and I couldn’t find the Arrowroot anywhere. So I used cornstarch. I’m from Minnesota, so I feel like where I live we don’t have a lot of variety when it comes to these kinds of products. I will have to see if my grocer will bring it in the store. Thanks for sharing!!

    • Reply Katie February 22, 2013 at 2:04 pm

      So glad you found it helpful! :)

      -K

      • Reply KimN February 26, 2013 at 11:30 am

        I’m from MN as well. If you are near the cities, there are grocers that carry arrowroot, but you would probably need to go to places like Whole foods, Fresh and Natural Foods, or a co-op. I get arrowroot from the Wedge Co-op in the bulk bins.

        • Reply Krista July 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm

          I am also from MN and I found arrowroot at GrassRoots co-op….I used it to make deodorant (which I absolutely love!)

    • Reply Charles July 7, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      Order it online easiest way really.

    • Reply Yocasta August 13, 2013 at 5:33 am

      Amanda, you can buy arrowroot at Mountain Rose Herbs. They sell high quality herbs and products.

    • Reply Kelly August 28, 2013 at 7:21 pm

      I live in Rochester and I found arrowroot at HyVee. It was in the natural food section. Bob’s Red Mill makes it, so you might even be able to find it at Walmart.

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  • Reply Jeanie February 23, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for this post. I use cornstarch in my milk recipes because I had always heard arrowroot wasn’t good for using with dairy products. But it sounds like you had good results with it in your cheese. After hearing about the process to produce cornstarch, I think I’ve been converted!

    • Reply kim August 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

      Hi,
      I always heard that combining arrowroot powder with dairy made a gel like consistency, and found that to be true myself. Have you had success with using arrowroot powder with dairy? I don’t use cornstarch and have a hard time thickening dairy based sauces. Thank you so much for your blog! I’m very new to it, but am LOVING it!
      Kim

  • Reply Heather@Mommypotamus February 26, 2013 at 10:06 am

    That is really interesting about the way they’re processed!

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  • Reply GMN's February Link Love 2013 - Girl Meets NourishmentGirl Meets Nourishment March 3, 2013 at 4:13 pm

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  • Reply Melissa March 4, 2013 at 10:33 am

    Why is arrowroot powder better than cassava powder (from which tapioca is derived)?

    • Reply Katie March 12, 2013 at 6:52 pm

      Organic cassava powder can be a great alternative as well, I just prefer arrowroot powder myself. Tapioca is used mostly in desserts in it’s bulbous form but it can be ground to be used in savory dishes as well. I use arrowroot powder because the flavor is mild and it can be mixed in to many recipes without altering flavor.

      Do you use tapioca over arrowroot? :)

      Thanks for stopping by!
      Katie

  • Reply Chris March 17, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Thanks Katie for the “well duh!” moment, by that I mean I didn’t even think about corn starch being GMO. Since most corn products are these days I don’t know why it didn’t dawn on me but sometimes you just need a kick in the pants. I don’t use it that often but unfortunately I’m pretty sure we have two containers of it (thanks to a trying to be helpful mother-in-law who got us an extra one when making Yorkshire pudding on a recent visit). I’ve also seen arrowroot powder in the store but didn’t know what it was used for – I’ll definitely have to give it a try now.

    • Reply Katie March 17, 2013 at 11:14 am

      It’s a really versatile ingredient, Chris! I love using arrowroot and hope that it’s finds a nice spot in your kitchen. :)

      — Katie

  • Reply Kristy April 2, 2013 at 10:26 am

    Ok! Now the ultimate question – can I grow my own? I know the article says a South American plant, but any chance of cultivating it ot be grown in zone 6?

  • Reply Rachael May 30, 2013 at 7:13 am

    Because of this post, I switched to Bob’s Red Mill Arrowroot Powder. I use it when rolling out crackers, in my homemade deodorant, and any time I need a cornstarch like product. I love knowing it’s easily digestible and NOT made with GMOs. Thanks for sharing!

    • Reply Katie May 31, 2013 at 1:42 pm

      Awesome, Rachael – I use that as well! I love it as well and it is so versatile :)

      -K

  • Reply Anna@stuffedveggies July 4, 2013 at 7:55 am

    I have used arrowroot for years, buying many different brands. But the last time I bought it, I turned the package over, and right there on the ingredients, it said “Cornstarch” – that was the SOLE ingredient in my “Arrowroot powder.”

    If you have allergies to corn, or simply want product purity, be sure to read the label VERY carefully before buying.

    I have been using Tapioca starch instead lately – it seems to work exactly the same as arrowroot, but is much cheaper in our area. It also gives a nice “oily” mouth feel to some foods like stir fries & salad dressings for those avoiding oil.

  • Reply Amy @ Wildflower Ramblings July 7, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    Thank you for such an informative post — I just bought arrowroot (Bob’s Red Mill) because Sally Fallon has it in a lot of her recipes. I am so glad to hear I can substitute corn starch with it — I will try making pudding with it this week :)

    • Reply Katie July 7, 2013 at 8:55 pm

      Nice! I hope the pudding comes out delicious!

      – K

  • Reply Kimberly July 12, 2013 at 7:27 am

    What is the exchange for diabetics?

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  • Reply Jill November 8, 2013 at 7:32 pm

    hi! thank you for sharing this, I’m a newer mom — BIGGEST responsibility EVER! — and new to improving my family’s life thrush better food. do you know if Arrowroot will do the job of corn starch in homemade powdered sugar? Thanks in advance!

    • Reply Katie November 10, 2013 at 5:13 pm

      Hi Jill! Congrats on your new mom-hood. :) I use arrowroot in place of whatever cornstarch is in; I haven’t tried it in homemade powdered sugar – but I have a feeling it will work just fine. Give it a try and let us know – good luck!

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  • Reply Lisa February 13, 2014 at 10:20 am

    I am snowed in today and decided to make a gluten free bread my friend gave me a recipe for. It calls for 3/4 cup of arrowroot powder. I bought the arrowroot in a little 2 oz bottle like a spice bottle. Should I mix it with another flour to make up the 3/4 cup? Should I use the whole jar?

  • Reply Rachel February 15, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for the post! Just made a delicious gelato recipe from Saveur magazine online that called for cornstarch, but I am looking for a grain-free alternative. May try arrowroot 1:1 and see how it works, since several comments said there wasn’t a problem using it with dairy.

    • Reply Katie February 15, 2014 at 6:09 pm

      Good luck! :)

  • Reply Toxteth February 20, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    I know I’m late to this discussion, but I’ve been researching this question and found some interesting things. The issue of GMOs is certainly one aspect to consider. Another is nutrition. According to Google, comparing equal weights of arrowroot to corn starch, arrowroot has 7 times more carbs than corn starch. Corn starch has more sodium (3x), potassium (lots more), fiber, protein, vitamins A, C, and B-6, calcium, iron, and magnesium. There are other considerations, such as cornstarch being better for thickening dairy sauces and arrowroot being better for acidic sauces. Bottom line, the decision of which to use is not as simple as it may initially seem.

    • Reply Dee July 26, 2014 at 4:34 am

      I googled and found tge exact opposite information. It said cornstarch has 7 times more carbs and calories than arrowroot and arrowroot has much more nutrition.

  • Reply annette March 9, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    Do arrowroot go rancid and how could one tell if it is bad? Is arrowroot the same as arrowroot flour?

  • Reply Jodi May 17, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    Thank you so much for this information. We have just started a low starch diet as a perminant change in our eating habits for life. I was trying to figure out what is the best choice for us in starch thickeners. (a tablespoon in a recipe that serves 7 should affect our total consumption of starch much) We are also removing all processed foods, which I didn’t realize that corn starch was so nasty.

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  • Reply Kayla July 13, 2014 at 8:42 am

    Thank you for a very informative article! I am new to ‘clean’ eating (in my book, that means staying away from unnatural, processed ingredients as much as possible). When trying to discover if cornstarch is okay or not for a supposed ‘clean’ recipe I want to make tonight, I found a lot of ‘clean’ recipes including it. Thank goodness I found this too! As I have arrowroot powder on hand, I’ll skip the cornstarch and the GMOs.

    • Reply Katie July 15, 2014 at 8:46 pm

      So happy to help, Kayla!

  • Reply Renee August 17, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Hi Katie,

    Just curious, is there a temp guide at which you shouldn’t use arrowroot- e.g. if you wanted to use it in a fruit crisp instead of cornstarch, do you know what temp would be too high for arrowroot? Thanks! I cook for people with multiple food allergies and one of the common ones is corn. Thanks!

    • Reply Katie August 19, 2014 at 8:06 am

      Hello Renee,

      I haven’t seen too much of a difference in using arrowroot at different temperatures – I have baked with it, as well as made simple stove top sauces with it. Hope this helps!

      Katie

  • Reply Chelsea October 9, 2014 at 4:15 am

    Hello there.
    I attempted to make an arrowroot jelly using apple juice today , but really the result was like a very un palatable thick slime and not at all like jelly. What could I be doing wrong? Thankyou for your help.
    All the best.

    • Reply Katie October 13, 2014 at 9:15 am

      Hello Chelsea,

      Arrowroot is used more to “thicken” sauces and gravies. I have not tried to make a jelly with arrowroot myself. To make a jelly, I would recommend using a gelatin base instead. I love this brand because it works REALLY well at thickening juices and fruit mixes: http://amzn.to/11aUevv

      I hope this helps!!
      Katie

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