Arrowroot: how to use this nutritious & versatile ingredient
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Arrowroot is a unique ingredient that is getting popular among the masses with every passing day.
Some use it as a thickener for soups, puddings, and jellies; others put it in their sauces.
This can be attributed to the numerous health benefits associated with it and, of course, its widespread use as a gluten-free corn and wheat flour substitute.
Arrowroot is a starch from the rhizomes of various tropical plants native to Asian and Caribbean regions. It can be used in many different ways – simply add arrowroot powder to any dish that needs thickening or use it as a flour substitute in baked goods.
In this article, I will walk you through everything you need to know about arrowroot, from its definition to its nutritional and medical information.
Plus, it’s various uses in the kitchen. I mean, that’s what this blog is all about!
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In this post we'll cover:
- 1 What is arrowroot?
- 2 How is arrowroot used in recipes?
- 3 Other uses for arrow root powder
- 4 Origin of arrowroot
- 5 What is the difference between arrowroot and cornstarch?
- 6 What’s the difference between arrowroot and tapioca flour?
- 7 Is arrowroot healthy?
- 8 Health benefits of arrowroot
- 9 Where to get arrowroot?
- 10 How to make arrowroot powder
- 11 FAQs
- 12 Conclusion
What is arrowroot?
Arrowroot is a starch obtained from the rhizomes of numerous tropical plants. It is typically processed into arrowroot flour or arrowroot powder before it can be put to culinary uses.
Since the ingredient is a rhizome (a continuously growing underground stem), it can be obtained from many plant species of particular rhizome varieties.
Some of the most common species include Maranta arundinacea, Zamia integrifolia, and Pueraria lobata.
Available data shows about 50 species of arrowroot plants are found throughout the world’s tropical regions.
Amongst them, the majority are found in the Caribbean, Indonesia, Srilanka, and Okinawa Islands of Japan (not to be confused with Okinawa prefecture).
The roots obtained from the so-called arrowroot plant family are often processed at an industrial scale and converted to arrowroot flour or arrowroot powder.
The powder is then used as a thickener and stabilizer in various recipes.
Apart from being used as thickeners in the form of powder, arrowroots are also eaten whole, either raw or in cooked form.
Their preparation method is similar to a common potato or a water chestnut.
I like to fry arrowroot in bacon fat and other similar veggies. It brings out the richness of this starch-filled vegetable which tastes great when combined with the other ingredients.
If you like to get a little experimenial with your ingredients, you can also make its peels into fries. They taste very neutral and combine well with different dippings and toppings.
As for the powder, It requires a whole section of its own.
Arrowroot is also a nutrient-rich food. For example, It’s super rich in fiber, which is why it is often recommended to people with digestive problems.
All in all, you could easily fit it into a “super-food” category.
Where does the name “arrowroot” come from?
The word “Arrowroot” was first recorded in the English language in 1696, which is said to have been derived from the Arawak word Aru-aru, which means “meal of meals.”
However, there’s some ambiguity in it since some sources associate the name with the South American Indian word “araruta,” which means “root flour.”
Other sources associate the name with the fact that vegetation was used to treat poison arrow wounds in ancient times.
What does arrowroot taste like?
Arrowroot powder tastes like nothing… because it has no taste at all!
That’s one of the reasons it’s one of the most versatile thickening ingredients and why arrowroot starch or flour is commonly used to substitute cornstarch in every recipe.
It just blends in, regardless of the taste and flavor of the dish.
When eaten whole, it is similar to other tubers like yucca and has a juicy, mildly sweet taste.
How is arrowroot used in recipes?
Arrowroot has a lot of uses, both in and out of the kitchen, and most of them require the ingredient to be in its powdered form.
That said, the following are some of the most common culinary and non-culinary applications of arrowroot powder you would like to know.
An original ingredient of very few recipes, arrowroot has long been holding the status of a “healthy substitute” for gluten-filled wheat flour and cornstarch.
Following are some of the most common applications of arrowroot powder in the kitchen:
Use as a thickener
Arrowroot is a great gluten-free thickener and a popular alternative to cornstarch and other traditional thickeners.
It works conveniently in almost every soup, stew, sauce, and even dessert.
However, there are some precautions you need to keep in mind first.
The most important among them is to mix the arrowroot powder with some water at room temperature beforehand, and NOT mix it in too early
That’s because when arrowroot is left at high heat for too long, its thickening power weakens, and your beloved soup can get way too thin.
So when making something like a hot and sour soup or sauce, I like to add arrowroot just a few minutes before I’m to remove the dish from the heat.
This ensures that the soup or sauce is neither too jelly-like nor too flowy, having just the right consistency to keep my tastebuds and tummy happy.
Use as a baking powder substitute
Want to whip up a perfect cake but don’t want to consume all the gluten that comes with it?
Common baking powders often contain wheat flour as a base.
Don’t worry! Just mix two teaspoons of arrowroot powder with 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1/2 cup of cream of tartar, and voila!
You’ve made yourself a healthier and paleo-friendly baking powder.
Use in Chinese dishes
If you have been making or just eating fried Chinese dishes, you might probably know the importance of cornstarch in the cuisine.
Almost every fried dish uses cornstarch as a coating, whether it’s simple chicken or seafood.
But then again, everyone doesn’t want to eat cornstarch, due to a corn allergy or desire to cut carbs.
If you are one of them and still crave a bite or two of delicious crunchy chicken, you can easily replace cornstarch with arrowroot powder.
It will give the food the same crunchy texture but with no side effects to worry about!
Use as an egg replacement
Arrowroot powder is an excellent egg alternative in recipes like muffins and cookies.
To replace a single egg, combine 1 tablespoon of arrowroot powder with 1 tablespoon of oil and 1/4 cup of water and see the magic.
The texture of the final dish will be as good, with the same outclass taste!
Use in ice cream
Fond of making homemade ice cream but struggling to get the perfect texture? Try adding arrowroot powder to it.
Due to its unique ability to interfere with the formation of ice crystals, it ensures that you make the smoothest ice cream each time!
You can add it to both dairy and non-dairy ice creams.
Just make sure not to combine it with dairy ingredients that are not frozen, though.
Arrowroot in dairy can give it a slimy texture, running the whole fun of your milkshake.
Use in fried veggies
Each time I bought a meal from McDonald’s, I would pick up the fries box before anyone could get their hand on it.
I loved how the fries were super crunchy on the outside while staying perfectly soft and fluffy on the inside.
But each time I munched on a pack, it left me in wonder; what is it that I’m doing wrong while preparing these at home?
No matter what, they would end up soggy… like super soggy!
Well, the trick was in corn flour coating. However, if you can’t seem to use it for any reason, you can always replace the cornstarch with arrowroot powder.
It will make you some of the healthiest, crunchiest, and flavorful fries you will ever try, hands down!
Arrowroot is also the secret ingredient in karaage, one of Asia’s most delicious deep-fried foods
Other uses for arrow root powder
Apart from being a useful culinary ingredient, arrowroot has many non-culinary applications. Among them, the cosmetic ones are at the top.
Some of the most common non-culinary uses of arrowroot include:
Use as a dry shampoo
This might seem a little absurd, but many people use arrowroot powder as a dry shampoo to refresh their scalp.
Though not supported by scientific evidence, it is said to have high oil-absorbing power, making it ideal for treating oily hair.
Use in deodorant
Ran out of deodorant? Mix equal parts of coconut oil, arrowroot powder, and baking soda to make homemade deodorant.
You can add some drops of your favorite essential oil for fragrance.
Making your own beauty products saves a ton of packaging and money as well!
Talcum powder substitute
You can also use arrowroot powder in place of talcum powder. It keeps the skin dry and smooth.
Arrowroot powder is one of the most versatile cosmetic ingredients.
You can combine it with cinnamon to make a foundation, beetroot to make rouge, and cocoa powder to make bronzer. Awesome! Isn’t it?
Origin of arrowroot
According to the historical data available about arrowroot, it is said to have been cultivated in the tropical regions of Central Ameria, South America, and the Caribbean since 8200 CE.
However, as far as Europe and Asia are concerned, it wasn’t until the 18th century that the particular vegetable got popular in their cuisines.
Arrowroot has also been mentioned as a primary ingredient in most recipes in “The Whitehouse Cookbook,” by Fanny Lemira Gillett, published in 1887.
This means that the use of the ingredient had gotten pretty popular by the end of the 19th century in the English-speaking world, with its use only diversifying with time.
Right now, arrowroot (in its powdered form) is used in hundreds of dishes and can be obtained from approximately 50 different rhizomes-bearing plants.
These plants are spread over all tropical regions worldwide, and the arrowroot starch obtained from them has become a staple ingredient of many cuisines.
Some regions where arrowroot is commonly cultivated and used include the Caribbean, America, Indonesia, Srilanka, and Japan.
What is the difference between arrowroot and cornstarch?
The first and foremost difference between arrowroot and cornstarch is their very nature.
Corn starch comes from the endosperm of corn kernels, while arrowroot comes from the rhizomes of various tropical plants.
The second difference is their specific behaviors when added to a dish. Cornstarch gives the dish a cloudy appearance, which turns glossy when heated for a longer time.
Arrowroot powder doesn’t do anything like that.
It simply thickens the liquid while keeping its overall appearance and texture intact, just with a bit of glossiness.
Plus, it doesn’t require that much heat to work.
Additionally, arrowroot is also ideal for thickening foods with acidic ingredients. So that’s another thing that makes it better.
Arrowroot powder is also gluten-free, like corn starch, but with zero GMOs involved.
In other words, it’s much healthier, natural, easily digestible, and thus, a preferable option over cornstarch.
What’s the difference between arrowroot and tapioca flour?
Both arrowroot and tapioca flour comes from the same source; rhizomes or tropical tubers. However, what makes them different is the species of plants they are obtained from.
Tapioca flour is obtained from the rhizomes of a specific plant called cassava.
On the other hand, arrowroot powder is obtained from the rhizomes of several plants, the most common one being Maranda arundinacea.
Though both options mentioned above thicken the food quite rapidly when added, tapioca is better if you are more into long cooking sessions.
That’s because it holds its thickness at higher temperatures compared to arrowroot, which takes a watery consistency after passing a certain threshold.
That said, you would like to use arrowroot in thickening sauces, puddings, cakes, and dishes you intend to serve cold or keep frozen, while tapioca flour in dishes that require super high temperatures for cooking, like pies, etc.
Is arrowroot healthy?
Since arrowroot is a starchy food, expect some serious carbohydrates with each intake.
But if we put that aside for a while and look at the overall health benefits of arrowroot, they’re shockingly numerous.
To make my point more elaborate, let’s have a look at everything arrowroot has to offer on the health front:
The nutritional profile of arrowroot powder (per 100 grams)
- Calories: 357
- Protein: 0.3 grams
- Carbs: 88.15 grams
- Fat: 0.1 grams
- Cholesterol: 0mg
- Iron: 0.33mg
- Potassium: 11mg
- Sodium: 2mg
- Calcium: 40mg
- Fiber: 3.4g
Health benefits of arrowroot
Following are some of the most important health benefits of arrowroot you would like to look at:
Yup, I know that’s more of a medical benefit of the plant, but since it directly correlates with your health, I thought I should point that out.
Just in case you don’t know, Ayurveda is a Hindu medical system based on the belief of “bringing balance to the bodily systems,” using herbal medicines and diet.
In Ayurvedic practices, arrowroot treats numerous health conditions, including skin irritation, excessive oil secretion, gut problems, high blood cholesterol levels, and countless other problems.
Whether you believe in Ayurvedic practices or not, health practitioners strongly recommend taking at least 10 grams of arrowroot (raw or powdered) to stay in your best shape.
Aid in weight loss
Each serving of arrowroot contains about 32% of resistant starch. Resistant starch means that it cannot be digested by the body.
Instead, it becomes a gel when mixed with the water content in your gut and stays there, behaving like a soluble fiber that isn’t easily broken down by the digestive system.
Hence it makes you feel fuller for longer and reduces your cravings, making your weight loss journey much faster and easier.
Role in promoting better sleep
According to a 2012 report published by the National Library of Medicine, USA, a good amount of magnesium in the body significantly improves the sleeping time and pattern of insomnia patients.
If you seem to be struggling with insomnia, it would be great if you started daily arrowroot starch intake.
Containing about 25mg of magnesium per 100g of serving, it helps balance the magnesium levels in the body.
As a result, it gives you the sleep you have been craving for months, or maybe, years? Who knows!
Role in improving heart health
Every heartbeat in your body is triggered by potassium, a mineral appreciated much less than it should be.
Potassium is a natural vasodilator that ensures efficient blood flow through the heart. This ensures that your heart is minimally stressed, preventing diseases like hypertension, stroke, and arteriosclerosis.
Experimental data published by NIH also shows a direct relation between heart-related diseases and the total amount of potassium in the body.
People with high potassium have more healthy arteries and significantly better heart health than those with minimal potassium.
Role in Improving overall blood circulation
Arrowroot contains many valuable minerals and nutrients, including copper, iron, and, most importantly, the vitamin B complex.
While iron and copper are associated with the production of red blood cells, the vitamin B complex ensures that these cells remain safe from infections.
As a result, you have ample blood in your body to supply to all of your muscles and every vital organ.
This keeps you safe from the development of numerous problems, including anemia, fatigue, and weakness, which are just a few to name.
It also helps improve your cognitive and memory power, with the brain being supplied with all the blood it needs to keep running efficiently.
Role in improving kidney health
Apart from being a fantastic vasodilator, potassium is also packed with other amazing benefits, and detoxing your kidneys is one of them.
With arrowroot as a part of your daily diet, you get just enough potassium to keep your kidneys clean from waste.
This helps maintain normal blood pressure and saves you from various urinary tract and bladder infections you would be exposed to otherwise.
Role in improving skin health
Arrowroot is filled with antioxidants and other skin-friendly nutrients. These are extremely helpful in keeping the glow of your skin as healthy as possible.
You can apply arrowroot powder to your skin as a mask to exfoliate dead skin cells and open skin pores.
This leads to better hydration and hence, overall better-maintained skin complexion.
Role in strengthening the immune system
Arrowroot contains ample prebiotics, a non-digestible food ingredient that feeds the probiotics or the good bacteria in your gut.
With the probiotics remaining healthy, your overall immunity increases significantly, and your body is less likely to catch any disease easily.
This was proved in a 14-day lab experiment in which the lab rats were consistently fed with arrowroot powder.
After the specified period, the results showed a very high level of immunoglobulins G, A, and M.
Just so you know, immunoglobulin G plays a crucial role in defending your body against infectious elements such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, etc.
The immunoglobulins, A and M, are responsible for the protection of mucosal tissues from bacterial invasion and overall immune system regulation.
Where to get arrowroot?
In regions other than the native one,s arrowroot powder is most commonly available in powdered form.
You will easily find it in the flour, grains, or baking supplies section.
If you can’t find it there, look for a “gluten-free specialty” section if there’s one in the store.
There is also the option to buy it online.
How to make arrowroot powder
You can also prepare arrowroot powder at home. Just get some fresh arrowroot, and follow the below-given steps:
- Clean the arrowroot thoroughly and trim any black spots and the edges.
- Chop the rhizomes into small pieces, and put them into a grinder.
- Add some water and grind the arrowroot in batches.
- Keep grinding until it achieves a liquid consistency.
- Pour the liquid into another bowl through a strainer and let the thick substance found within settle down.
- Now pour the water from the top layer into another bowl carefully.
- Mix the thick substance with fresh water again, let it settle down, and then pour the water on top after a while.
- Keep repeating this until the liquid on top is nothing but clear water.
- Finally, dry the thick, white substance in the sun for a day (or in a dehydrator overnight).
When the moisture is completely gone, give the dried substance another grind, and you have made yourself fine arrowroot powder, ready to use!
Here’s a video that might help you do it right:
Is arrowroot healthier than cornstarch?
Yes, arrowroot is indeed a much healthier and nutritious substitute for cornstarch. It contains fewer calories, has comparatively high fiber content, and works even at significantly lower temperatures.
Does arrowroot raise blood sugar?
Arrowroot contains a low amount of sugar and ample potassium that is shown to help people with diabetes. Still, people with severe conditions should avoid consuming arrowroot starch.
Are cornstarch and arrowroot the same?
Arrowroot is obtained from the rhizomes of tropical vegetation, while cornstarch is contained from the endosperm of corn kernels.
Though both have a similar function, they have very different chemistry and nutritional value.
Are arrowroot and tapioca the same?
Although both are obtained from rhizomes of tropical plants, the species of plants are totally different.
Arrowroot is obtained from numerous tropical plant species, specifically maranta arundinacea, while tapioca flour is obtained only from cassava tubers.
Arrowroot has long been used for its medicinal and culinary significance.
Though its use has diversified as cuisines worldwide moved through modernization, it’s still hard to separate its application from its medicinal benefits.
Today, we use it as a substitute in almost every cornstarch dish due to its high nutritional value and countless health benefits.
These include its role in treating numerous health conditions, its aid in weight loss, and the treatment of various skin problems.
In short, arrowroot is a food for everyone!
Did you know arrowroot works well in a pinch as a substitute for sweet rice flour (or mochiko)
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Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.