Types of Thickeners in Cooking: What You Need to Know

I love creating free content full of tips for my readers, you. I don't accept paid sponsorships, my opinion is my own, but if you find my recommendations helpful and you end up buying something you like through one of my links, I could earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Learn more

Thickeners are used to increase the viscosity or thickness of a liquid or semi-solid food substance. Common thickening agents include starches, gums, and proteins. Thickeners can be used in both savory and sweet dishes to achieve desired texture.

In this guide, I’ll tell you everything you need to know about thickeners in cooking and how to use them properly.

What are food thickeners

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

Read for free

What Exactly is a Food Thickener?

A food thickener is a substance that is added to a mixture to increase its viscosity or thickness. This can be achieved by controlling the size of particles in the mixture or by adding carbohydrates or starch to the mixture. Knowing how to use a food thickener is essential in preparing various dishes, as it can significantly affect the final product’s texture and appearance.

The Unique Properties of Starch-Based Thickeners

Starch-based thickeners are the most common type of food thickener and are used in a wide range of dishes. Some of the unique properties of starch-based thickeners include:

  • They are generally cheap and readily available.
  • They are highly versatile and can be used in a wide range of dishes.
  • They are extremely effective at thickening liquids.
  • They can be used to control the texture of a dish, from a fine, smooth consistency to a more rustic, chunky texture.
  • They are unique in that they can be used to prevent liquids from separating and maintain a consistent texture throughout the cooking process.

The Science Behind Food Thickening

The process of food thickening is dependent on a variety of factors, including the molecular weight of the thickener, the size of the particles in the mixture, and the amount of water present. Some of the key scientific principles behind food thickening include:

  • Amylose and amylopectin are two types of polysaccharides found in starches that are responsible for thickening liquids.
  • The viscosity of a liquid increases as the molecular weight of the thickener increases.
  • The size of particles in a mixture affects its viscosity, with smaller particles generally resulting in a thicker mixture.
  • Mixing and stirring a mixture can help to evenly distribute the thickener and maintain a consistent texture.
  • Adding air to a mixture can help to increase its viscosity and create a lighter, fluffier texture.
  • Certain materials, such as clays and gels, can be used as thickeners in modern applications such as ink and paint.

The Role of Thickeners in Specific Dishes

Different dishes require different types of thickeners to achieve the desired texture and consistency. Some examples include:

  • Sauces: Starch-based thickeners such as cornstarch or flour are commonly used to thicken sauces, gravies, and soups.
  • Pies and puddings: Starch-based thickeners such as cornstarch or tapioca are commonly used to thicken fruit fillings for pies and puddings.
  • Ice cream: Gums such as xanthan gum or carrageenan are commonly used to thicken and stabilize ice cream.
  • Salad dressings: Gums such as guar gum or xanthan gum are commonly used to thicken and stabilize salad dressings.

The Benefits of Using a Food Thickener

Using a food thickener can provide a range of benefits, including:

  • Improving the texture and consistency of a dish.
  • Preventing liquids from separating and maintaining a consistent texture.
  • Enhancing the appearance of a dish by making it thicker and more visually appealing.
  • Allowing for better control over the cooking process by thickening liquids at a specific stage.
  • Allowing for the use of less expensive ingredients by thickening liquids and creating a more substantial dish.

Thickening Techniques: Taking Your Cooking to the Next Level

One of the most popular and widely used methods of thickening food is by adding starch to a liquid. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Combine equal parts of starch and cold water to create a slurry.
  • Add the slurry to your hot liquid and stir continuously.
  • Allow the mixture to cook for a couple of minutes until it thickens.
  • Remove from heat and serve.

Cornstarch: The Great Thickener

Cornstarch is a highly recommended thickening agent for many dishes. Here are some tips for using cornstarch:

  • Mix cornstarch with cold water before adding it to your hot liquid.
  • Stir continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
  • Make sure to cook the mixture for a couple of minutes to remove the starchy taste.
  • Use approximately 1 tablespoon of cornstarch for every cup of liquid.

Roux: The French Thickening Technique

Roux is a French technique that involves cooking equal parts of fat and flour. Here’s how to make a roux:

  • Melt butter or oil in a pan over medium heat.
  • Add an equal amount of flour and stir continuously until it forms a smooth mixture.
  • Cook the roux for a couple of minutes until it turns slightly brown.
  • Add the roux to your hot liquid and stir continuously until it thickens.

Using Vegetables to Thicken Your Food

Vegetables can also be used as a thickening agent. Here are some tips for using vegetables:

  • Cook starchy vegetables like potatoes or sweet potatoes until they are soft.
  • Mash the vegetables and add them to your hot liquid.
  • Stir continuously until the mixture thickens.
  • Remove from heat and serve.

Chinese Cornstarch Technique: Making Your Sauces Smoother

The Chinese cornstarch technique is a popular method for making sauces smoother. Here’s how to do it:

  • Mix cornstarch with cold water before adding it to your hot liquid.
  • Stir continuously to prevent lumps from forming.
  • Add the cornstarch mixture to your hot liquid and stir continuously until it thickens.
  • Remove from heat and add a couple of drops of oil to the mixture.
  • Stir the mixture until the oil is fully incorporated.

Knowing how to thicken your food is essential for preparing great dishes. Whether you’re making a sweet apple sauce or a spicy beef stir-fry, these techniques will allow you to achieve the perfect consistency every time. So, click away and try out these methods to take your cooking to the next level!

Exploring the Different Types of Food Thickeners

Thickening agents are essential ingredients in preparing various recipes, especially in creating sauces, soups, and desserts. These agents increase the viscosity of the liquid by interfering with the movement of the molecules, resulting in a thickened mixture. Knowing the different types of food thickeners is crucial in achieving the desired consistency of your dish.

Commonly Used Thickening Agents

Here are some of the commonly used thickening agents in cooking:

  • Flour: This is the most common thickener used in cooking. It is versatile and can be used in various recipes. Flour thickens by gelatinization, which is the process of heating the starch molecules in the flour, causing them to absorb water and swell, resulting in a thickened mixture.
  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch is another popular thickener used in cooking. It is a fine powder that thickens by gelatinization, just like flour. However, cornstarch is a more potent thickener than flour, so a smaller amount is needed.
  • Arrowroot: Arrowroot is a starch extracted from the root of the arrowroot plant. It is a gluten-free thickener that thickens by gelatinization. Arrowroot is best suited for recipes that require a clear, glossy finish, such as fruit glazes and pie fillings.
  • Gelatin: Gelatin is a protein-based thickener that is commonly used in desserts such as puddings, custards, and jellies. It thickens by forming a gel-like substance when mixed with liquid.

The Best Food Thickeners for Your Cooking Needs

Knowing the best food thickeners to use in specific situations is essential in preparing thickened sauces, desserts, and other recipes. Thickening agents increase the viscosity of liquid without interfering with the taste of the dish. In this section, we will discuss the best food thickeners commonly used in cooking.

Starch-Based Thickeners

Starch-based thickeners are the most typical kind of thickener used in cooking. They work by gelatinization, which is the process of heating starch in a liquid to thicken it. The most commonly known starch-based thickeners are:

  • Wheat Flour: This old pantry staple is a thickener that increases the viscosity of liquids. It is best suited for thickening sauces and gravies.
  • Potato Starch: This thickener is gluten-free and is best suited for thickening sauces and soups. It has a neutral flavor and can be used in both sweet and savory dishes.
  • Tapioca Starch: This thickener is gluten-free and is best suited for thickening fruit pies and desserts. It has a unique texture and properties that make it ideal for thickening.

Mastering the Art of Using Food Thickeners

There are many types of food thickeners, each with its own specific uses. Here are some examples:

  • Starchy thickeners, such as cornstarch and flour, are commonly used in cooking and baking.
  • Modern thickeners, such as xanthan gum and guar gum, are commonly used in the food industry to achieve a specific texture or viscosity.
  • Rheology modifiers, such as clays, are commonly used in paint and pigment products to increase viscosity and prevent settling.
  • Gelling agents, such as hydroxyl propyl methylcellulose and castor oil, are commonly used in the cosmetic industry to create gels and creams.

Affect of Heat on Food Thickeners

Heat can significantly affect the thickening process of food thickeners. Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Heat is required to activate the thickening process of starches.
  • Overheating can cause the mixture to break down and lose its thickening properties.
  • Adding thickener to a hot liquid can cause it to clump and not thicken properly.
  • Some thickeners, such as gelling agents, require heat to activate and thicken properly.

Using Food Thickeners in Liquid

Using food thickeners in liquid can be a bit tricky. Here are some tips to help you achieve the desired thickness:

  • Adding air to the mixture can help thicken it. This is why whipped cream is thicker than liquid cream.
  • Adding a small amount of thickener at a time and stirring constantly can help prevent clumps from forming.
  • Adding a small amount of liquid to the thickener before adding it to the main mixture can help prevent clumps from forming.
  • Adding too much thickener can cause the mixture to become too thick and difficult to work with.

Conclusion

Thickeners are a great way to add texture and thickness to your cooking. Thickening agents are a type of additive that increase the viscosity of a liquid by increasing its molecular weight. Thickeners can be used to improve the texture and appearance of your dishes, and they’re especially useful for making sauces and gravies. Thickeners can be either carbohydrates or proteins, and they’re often used in cooking to make dishes like soups, stews, and gravies.

Check out our new cookbook

Bitemybun's family recipes with complete meal planner and recipe guide.

Try it out for free with Kindle Unlimited:

Read for free

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.