Your recipe calls for cornstarch, but you don’t have any. You find a packet of baking soda in the cupboard and wonder whether you can use it as a substitute for cornstarch.
You cannot substitute baking soda for cornstarch. Baking soda is a raising agent that enables batter to rise. Cornstarch is used for thickening food such as soups, stews, gravies, and custards. They serve entirely different purposes in cooking.
Fortunately, there are numerous substitutes you can use if you don’t have cornstarch on hand. Some are gluten-free, which is an advantage if you cannot tolerate gluten.
Discover which products will work as well as cornstarch in your cooking. There are also interesting tips about baking soda that will raise your cooking to the next level.
What Can I Use Instead Of Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is an excellent thickening product because the starches inside the white, chalk-like powder unravel and swell when heated with a liquid. This swelling results in the thickening of sauces, stews, soups, custards, dressings, and some desserts.
There are several ways you can thicken what you’re cooking if you don’t have cornstarch. Here are some of the options.
1 – All-Purpose Flour
Using all-purpose flour won’t result in the glossy shine you would get from cornstarch, but your sauce will thicken. Since all-purpose flour contains about half the thickening power of cornstarch, you need to double the amount of all-purpose flour when using it as a substitute for cornstarch. It must be cooked very well to avoid the “uncooked flour” taste.
The mixture of flour and a fat such as butter is known as a “roux” and is used to thicken some sauces, gravies, and stews. The flour and fat are first cooked to make a paste, and then the liquid is added. This is different from cornstarch which doesn’t need pre-cooking.
2 – Potato Starch
Potato starch is different from potato flour which is much denser and heavier. As with cornstarch, you need to mix one part of potato starch in two parts of cold water or liquid until it forms a smooth paste (or “slurry”) before adding it to your dish as a thickener. If it’s added directly to the food you’re cooking, it will form lumps that will be difficult to smooth out.
Whereas flour will make the liquid look a little “cloudy”, both potato starch and cornstarch help the sauce remain translucent. Both are also gluten-free.
You can use potato starch to thicken gravies and soups, but it must never be boiled. It can replace cornstarch in a 1:1 ratio and should be added towards the end of the cooking process.
Whereas cornstarch and other grain-based foods may not be used as ingredients for Passover dishes, potato starch can be used during this holy period.
3 – Rice Flour
Rice flour is made from rice that has been finely ground and is not the same as rice starch. It can replace cornstarch in a 3:1 ratio. It’s good to use as a thickening agent when the recipe calls for the dish to be refrigerated or frozen because it helps prevent liquids from separating.
It’s also a good substitute for wheat flour, as it’s gluten-free.
4 – Arrowroot Powder
Arrowroot powder comes from the tropical arrowroot plant and can replace cornstarch in a 2:1 ratio. It doesn’t blend well with dairy, forming a slimy mixture.
It must be whisked well to prevent lumps from forming. As with cornstarch, you should first combine arrowroot with a cool liquid and then add it to a hot fluid.
Cook only until the mixture thickens. It must then be removed from the heat, or it will start thinning. It thickens at a lower temperature than flour or cornstarch. Overheating will destroy arrowroot’s thickening power. It also doesn’t hold heat or reheat well, so it’s best to serve the dish immediately.
5 – Tapioca Starch
This is extracted from the root of the cassava plant, which grows in the tropics. It doesn’t have the same thickening power as cornstarch and can replace cornstarch in a 2:1 ratio. (For every tablespoon of cornstarch you need, replace it with two tablespoons of tapioca starch.)
It immediately dissolves when used to thicken sauces. The sauce will become stringy if it’s boiled.
Other Ways to Thicken Sauces Without Cornstarch
If you don’t have cornstarch on hand, there are other ways to thicken a sauce or stew. These involve using protein or fat as thickening agents or thickening by reduction.
Protein and Fats As Thickening Agents
Egg yolks are the most effective protein thickening agents. They have a good flavor and can produce a smooth texture. One of the challenges with using egg yolks is the need to “temper” the yolks so that the yolk doesn’t set when you add it to the hot liquid, or you end up with scrambled eggs.
Yogurt is another protein that can be used to thicken soups and stews. Cooks in Eastern Europe and the Middle East use yogurt for this purpose.
Butter is an excellent fat for thickening wine and stock-based sauces. Take the sauce off the heat when whisking in some butter, or the mixture can separate.
Thickening By Reduction
If you allow the sauce to simmer over a low heat, the moisture will start to evaporate, and the remaining ingredients become more concentrated. The ingredients will appear thicker. You can combine this method with using some softened butter to complete the thickening process. Be sure to take the pot off the heat before whisking in the butter.
Are Cornstarch and Its Substitutes Gluten-Free?
Pure cornstarch made from the kernel of corn is 100% gluten-free. However, it may be contaminated with traces of gluten if it’s made in a factory that manufactures foods containing gluten. It’s best to check the label carefully.
Other cornstarch substitutes that are also gluten-free are rice flour, potato starch, arrowroot powder, and tapioca starch.
A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds mixed with four tablespoons of water will make a gluten-free gel that replaces two tablespoons of cornstarch.
Is Cornstarch the Same as Corn Flour?
The starches found inside the corn kernel are ground and dried to make the white, chalky powder called cornstarch. It contains mainly starch and has no protein, fat, or fiber. It also has no specific taste and is used as a thickener.
Corn flour, on the other hand, is made by grinding whole corn kernels into a fine powder and is typically yellow. It contains protein, fiber, starch, and the vitamins and minerals found in whole corn. It can be used in addition to or in place of wheat flour in breads, pancakes, waffles, and pastries to add a distinct corn-like taste and yellow color.
However, since corn flour doesn’t contain gluten, the final product may be denser and more likely to crumble than if wheat flour is used. (The gluten in wheat flour is the protein that adds elasticity and strength to bread and baked goods.)
A naming aspect that can be confusing is that people refer to cornstarch as corn flour in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Israel, and some other countries. So if you find recipes from countries outside of the USA, they may call for corn flour when referring to what in stateside is called cornstarch.
In the USA, you can overcome this potential confusion in recipes by seeing how the product is used. If it’s being used as an alternative to wheat flour, it means corn flour. If it’s used as a thickening agent for sauces and stews, then best to use cornstarch.
What Is Baking Soda Used For?
Baking soda, which is sodium bicarbonate, is an ingredient used to make doughs and batters rise. When it’s mixed with an acidic substance like vinegar, buttermilk, or lemon juice, it reacts. “Reacting” in baking terms means forming gas bubbles, which help the batter rise.
Baking soda is used when the other ingredients in a recipe provide the acid. So it’s used if the recipe, for example, calls for buttermilk, honey, sour cream, molasses, or cocoa which all provide the acid necessary.
When baking soda doesn’t react with an acid, it leaves a distinctive metallic taste as well as undesirable smells in the food. So make sure you measure ingredients carefully to balance the quantity of baking soda with the amount of the acidic components. It’s also best to handle the mixture quickly so that most of the gas doesn’t escape before baking.
Is Baking Powder the Same as Baking Soda?
Baking powder consists of baking soda as well as the acids that it will react to. The acidic component that reacts to the baking soda is already in the baking powder. Creating the air bubbles that will make the batter rise starts after it is mixed and heated. So baking powder is not the same as baking soda.
However, if a recipe calls for baking soda and you only have baking powder, you can – as a last resort – increase the amount of baking powder to have nearly the same effect as baking soda. For example, you could use one teaspoon of baking powder if the recipe calls for a quarter teaspoon of baking soda.
You can make baking powder yourself by mixing baking soda with cream of tartar, which is acidic. If you combine a teaspoon of baking soda and two teaspoons of cream of tartar and sift the mixture, you’ve created baking powder.
Checking If Your Baking Soda and Baking Powder Are Still Good
What if these ingredients have been in your cupboard for a long time, and you’re unsure whether or not they’re still active? Here are two tests you can do.
Baking powder: place half a teaspoon into hot water. If it fizzes and forms bubbles, it’s still effective as a raising agent.
Baking soda: mix half a teaspoon into a small quantity of vinegar. If it fizzes, it’s still good.
If there’s no reaction when you do these tests, you know it’s time to buy new baking soda and baking powder.
Other Uses for Cornstarch
In addition to its use as a thickening agent, the cornstarch in your pantry can be used in other ways
Cornstarch Can Replace Eggs in Baked Food
Cornstarch is used as a replacement for eggs in vegan baking. One tablespoon of cornstarch mixed with three tablespoons of warm water can be substituted for an egg in breads, cakes, or biscuits.
Use Cornstarch to Turn All-purpose Flour Into Cake Flour
What to do if the recipe calls for cake flour, and you don’t have any? As long as you have all-purpose flour and cornstarch, you can create your own cake flour. Remove 2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour from every cup, and replace them with 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Mix well to combine. And now you have cake flour.
You Can Use Cornstarch to Make Gluten-Free Fried Coatings
Since cornstarch is gluten-free, it’s a good substitute for flour or breadcrumbs when you need to coat chicken or fish, or tofu before frying. The result will be a crispy coating on your meat or veggies.
Cornstarch Will Help Thicken Fruit Pie Fillings
When fruit is cooking in a pie, some juice may ooze out. This could make the pie too runny. If you add a little cornstarch mixed with sugar (to prevent lumps) to your filling, the pie should be firm when you take it out of the oven.
Cornstarch Can Make an Omelet Fluffy
When prepping your eggs to make an omelet, mix a pinch of cornstarch with each egg, and your omelet should turn out nice and fluffy.
You Can Use Cornstarch to Clean Grease Marks
If there are some grease splashes on your kitchen wall or backsplash, you can clean those with cornstarch. Sprinkle a little on a soft cloth and wipe away the grease.
Add Sparkle to Your Silver With Cornstarch
You don’t need polish to give your silver that shine you like. You can make a paste using cornstarch and water and then apply it to your silverware using a damp cloth. When the paste has dried, use a clean, soft cloth to give it a rub. You’ll find that the dullness has gone, and the cornstarch has buffed it away without being too abrasive.
Although baking soda is not a substitute for cornstarch, many other ingredients, such as wheat flour, can be used as substitutes. Gluten-free cornstarch substitutes are rice flour, potato starch, arrowroot powder, and tapioca starch.
While not appropriate as a substitute for cornstarch, baking soda is an excellent raising agent, whether used on its own in dishes with acidic ingredients, or included in baking powder.
I have a bachelor’s degree in Film/Video/Media Studies, as well as an associates degree in Communications. I began producing videos and musical recordings nearly 15 years ago. I am a guitarist and bassist in Southwest MI and have been in a few different bands since 2009, and in 2012 I began building custom guitars and basses in my home workshop as well. When I’m home, I love spending time with my three pets (a dog, cat, and snake) and gardening in my backyard.