Cornstarch, is commonly used as a thickening agent in cooking. It has a relatively transparent end result and a mild flavor. In recipes where the corn flour is heated through, it has almost no distinct flavor and it can be easily substituted without changing the taste of a recipe. All thickener substitutions may change the taste and texture of the end product depending on the recipe being used.
All-purpose flour: Stocked pantries typically have all-purpose flour. Two tablespoons will replace one tablespoon of cornstarch as a thickener. All-purpose flour tends to have a thicker texture than cornstarch and may be noticeable in your finished recipe. It is best used for thick or creamy soups where the texture change won’t be noticeable.
Potato or rice flour: Both potato and rice flours work similarly as all-purpose flour as thickeners. Both tend to work best for thicker soups and gravies but have less of a grainy texture and very little flavor. One tablespoon of either replaces one tablespoon of cornstarch.
Instant tapioca pudding: For recipes that are more sweet than savory, instant tapioca pudding works well without the thicker texture. However, the tapioca balls will need to sifted out if you do not want them in your final result. Instant tapioca can be used as a substitution in all recipes but carefully monitor the flavor as it is added because it has a sweet and creamy taste. Two tablespoons replace one tablespoon of cornstarch.
Arrowroot powder: Found in the baking aisle at grocery stores, arrowroot powder is an excellent substitute for light, clear results. It has even less of a taste and texture than cornstarch and thickens transparently making it perfect for jellies, syrups and fruit-based sauces. It does not mix well with milk based-recipes and if it is heated on too high of a temperature, it will become thin. However, it freezes well, inhibiting the formation of ice crystals on food. One tablespoon replaces a tablespoon of cornstarch.
ClearJel: A modified form of cornstarch, ClearJel also thickens transparently with almost no flavor. Created to not change the acid level in foods, ClearJel is recommended for canning foods because it does not interfere with the bacteria-killing effect of heating canned foods before sealing. Like arrowroot, it can also be used in foods that will be frozen. SureJel, because it is made from cornstarch, measures the same as cornstarch in recipes.
If using cornstarch for canning purposes, do not use any substitutions unless you are certain they won’t interfere with the anti-bacterial process of canning. Each substitution has different properties and may react differently than what is intended in your recipe.
Before adding a thickener to your recipe, mix it with a little bit of cold water until a thin paste is formed. If added directly to heat, the thickener may become lumpy.