Welcome to What Is It? Wednesday! This week's topic is Arrowroot Starch, AKA: Arrowroot Powder, Arrowroot Flour. A lesser-known ingredient than its starch brethren—corn, potato, tapioca—arrowroot is an incredibly useful ingredient that is often overlooked. It is frequently used in gluten free and allergy free baking. Use it in place of cornstarch in baking, or for thickening cool liquids (read: ice cream). If you have questions we don't address, leave them in the comments and I'll do my best to find you an answer.
What is it? Arrowroot starch is a very fine, white powder akin to cornstarch made from the tubers of the arrowroot plant. The arrowroot plant, Maranta arundinacea, is a perennial herb found in tropical climates. The origins of its name are a little mysterious. One source claims that the Arawak Indians called the plant aru-aru, “meal of meals.” While another claims that arrowroot was used medicinally, being placed on wounds made with poisoned arrows to draw out the toxins. With its medicinal properties, it might just be a little of both. How do you use it? Like other starches, arrowroot starch is used as a thickening agent in liquids and supports proteins in baking to give baked goods form. It has virtually no flavor and is allergy-friendly, making it a great option for those avoiding corn, potatoes, or gluten in general. Arrowroot does not hold its thickening abilities like other starches and is best added near the end of heating. It should be mixed with liquid to create a slurry before adding to hot liquids to prevent clumping. There is a secret to a smooth sauce with arrowroot starch. Bring the sauce base to a simmer over medium-low heat. Next, whisk ¼ cup water and 2 tablespoons arrowroot starch together to make a slurry. Stir the slurry into the simmering sauce and heat for one minute or until thickened. How is it different from other starches? First off, arrowroot starch does not turn sauces cloudy like some starches, and it works at temperatures below a simmer. Arrowroot starch is neutral tasting and tolerates acidic ingredients, such as citrus (hello, lemon curd!). The starch also freezes well and dissolves well at lower temperatures. In fact, it must be cooked over low heat as it doesn't endure high temperature cooking and does not reheat well. A final word to the wise, arrowroot does not do well in milk-based cream sauces (it changes the texture), but it bakes well in cakes, cookies and biscuits made with milk.