Arrowroot is the starch made from the roots of the tropical plant Maranta arundinacea, also known as arrowroot or maranta.
Arrowroot powder, or starch, is one of the most sought after thickeners for sauces, gravies and stews, right up there with corn starch and wheat flour, the latter often the starch used in making a roux. Arrowroot is remarkably versatile, used for several applications in the kitchen, notably in puddings, cakes, and biscuits. Pure arrowroot is highly digestible, as it is a pure starch, and that is why it is such a great cookie for babies. Read on for more from the fascinating world of arrowroot!
Used as a thickener, it produces clear jellies and has a neutral taste. It mixes well with acids, and is often used in making thick clear sweet and sour sauces. It is also great to use in pie fillings, especially fruit pies where you want a nice, clear and colourful fruit filling, Cornstarch and flour make a more opaque or cloudy filling. Arrowroot is not a good choice for thickening dairy, as the result has been described by many as “slimy”. Stick to flour for your roux!
Arrowroot is slightly more delicate than cornstarch. Like cornstarch, it dissolves quickly and lump free when is best to mixed in a little in cold liquid like water before adding it to your sauce. It thickens at a lower temperature, but it doesn’t react well to prolonged or intense heat, so once your sauce thickens, remove it from the heat source.
One of the attractive things about arrowroot is the fact that it has no gluten, so those on a gluten free diet have a great option; when substituting use one teaspoon of arrowroot for each teaspoon of flour, and two teaspoons of arrowroot for one tablespoon cornstarch. Arrowroot is also a non GMO food, so it hasn’t been tinkered with in a lab and genetically modified, wreaking indeterminate havoc with the biosphere. Cornstarch, hailing from the poster child for GMO food, cannot make such a claim.
The bulk of arrowroot comes from the Caribbean, notably Jamaica and St Vincent and the Grenadines, from the manta plant. Tapioca, a similar starch, comes from cassava, and Japanese arrowroot comes from the Japanese Kudzu, an invasive species here in North America, relentlessly covering and smothering native species. Especially in the American South. America! Eat more Japanese Arrowroot!
The root, or tuber of the manta plant can be eaten and prepared similarly to cassava; first cultivated 7000 years ago, it was a staple food for Caribbean peoples like the Arawak for centuries and is still enjoyed boiled, roasted, mashed, in stews and so on.
The manner in which the arrowroot starch is obtained hasn’t changed much in centuries either. The tubers are washed, the outer skin is removed, the roots are bashed and thrashed into a pulp. The pulp is strained and drained of the liquid, and the liquid dries into a powder. Voila. Arrowroot. Compare that to the chemicals (sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid and sulphur dioxide) used and the elaborate extraction process involved in the making of cornstarch and you can see why arrowroot is an attractive alternative.
There you have it, everything you ever wanted to know about arrowroot. You’re welcome!