What's the Best Cornstarch Substitute?

No cornstarch? No problem. You probably have one of these 5 substitutes on hand.

February 08, 2022
Corn starch is the corn flour used in cooking to prepare creams, as a thickener

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Corn starch is the corn flour used in cooking to prepare creams, as a thickener

Photo by: RHJ/Getty Images

RHJ/Getty Images

By Fraya Berg for Food Network Kitchen

Fraya is a chef and a contributing writer at Food Network.

Cornstarch is most commonly used to thicken dishes, including sauces, soups and desserts. Our story How to Thicken Soups, Sauces, Chili and Other Foods will teach you how to harness its thickening powers. But if you don’t have it on hand, there are other ingredients that you can easily use instead. Below, we walk you through the best substitutions and how to use each in place of cornstarch.

Food ingredients theme image with a corn cob, grains and corn flour on a wooden trencher and spoon, on a rustic wooden table.

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Food ingredients theme image with a corn cob, grains and corn flour on a wooden trencher and spoon, on a rustic wooden table.

Photo by: Say-Cheese/Getty Images

Say-Cheese/Getty Images

What Is Cornstarch?

It's helpful to understand cornstarch and how it functions before discussing the best substitutes for it.

Cornstarch is pure starch that's extracted from the endosperm of corn kernels. To sprout, a corn kernel converts the carbohydrates in the endosperm into energy. When cornstarch is made, the carbohydrate is instead turned into a powdery substance.

Cornstarch's uses are numerous: it thickens pie filling and sauces, it makes waffles crispier and shortbread cookies more tender. Mixed with egg white, it tenderizes meats in a process called velveting that's often used in Asian cooking. You can make slime with it. And you should always have some on hand in case you drip olive oil on your favorite blouse - it soaks up oil stains. For more info on all the magical things cornstarch can do, check out our story, 6 Things You Might Not Know You Could Do with Cornstarch.

What Is Corn Flour?

Depending on where you live, corn flour can be one of two things.

In the U.S., corn flour is super-fine corn meal. It's used to make cornbread and corn muffins.

In Great Britain, corn flour means cornstarch. If you're using a recipe that calls for "corn flour" and all the measurements are metric, chances are it's a British recipe and you should buy cornstarch.

The Best Cornstarch Substitutes

Cornstarch is always on the pantry list but an ingredient, but most people don’t use every day. It’s not like eggs or milk: when you use the last of it, you don’t have to immediately get more. Then four days go by and you forget to put it on the grocery list and the next time you need it the cupboard is bare.

How to Substitute All-Purpose Flour for Cornstarch

Uses: All-purpose flour is used in many of the same ways as cornstarch: as a thickener for pie and as a thickener for sauces that lean on roux. Flour will make a robustly flavored, opaque roux. Therefore, any sauces made with it won't be as shiny as a cornstarch-thickened sauce. But you’ll actually be able to freeze them better than a cornstarch-thickened sauce; when reheated, they won't lose their thickness and glossy consistency.

How to Substitute: It has half the thickening power of cornstarch. Therefore, for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch called for in a recipe, use 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

How to Substitute Potato Starch for Cornstarch

Uses: If you have potato starch, use it. In our opinion, it's the best substitute for cornstarch. It's a fantastic way to thicken soups and sauces without adding gluten, and also thickens baking recipes well.

How to Substitute: It's a direct substitute. Substitute 1 tablespoon cornstarch for 1 tablespoon potato starch.

How to Substitute Tapioca Starch (Tapioca Flour) for Cornstarch

Uses: It's a great thickener for puddings and fruit pies: it soaks up lots of fruit juice and disappears, leaving no color or flavor. You can also use it to thicken sauces that you don't need to cook for long after adding (when cooked for too long, it loses its thickening power). Sauces thickened with tapioca freeze well, while those thickened with cornstarch don't.

How to substitute: It has half the thickening power of cornstarch. Therefore, for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch called for in a recipe, use 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.

How to Substitute Arrowroot Powder for Cornstarch

Uses: Like cornstarch, it needs to be dissolved in cold water before being added to a simmering sauce. Also like cornstarch, it will give you a beautifully shiny sauce. However, its thickening power fades quickly when used in a hot sauce and it can’t be frozen. When arrowroot is used in a baking application like shortbread it’s perfect. The only real drawback to arrowroot is its price: a pound of cornstarch is less than two dollars while arrowroot is around ten dollars a pound.

How to Substitute: Its thickening power is stronger than that of cornstarch, so the formula for using it is 2 teaspoons arrowroot for 1 tablespoon cornstarch.

How to Substitute Rice Flour for Cornstarch

Uses: Rice flour is a good substitute for cornstarch in batter recipes like tempura where you need some extra crispiness. It can also be used in puddings and custards.

How to Substitute: It’s a one-to-one stand-in.

Other Cornstarch Substitutes

Ground flaxseeds, glucomannan, psyllium husk, xanthan gum and guar gum are also substitutes for cornstarch, and you may come across mentions of them. On the whole, we prefer the substitutes we already discussed because they’re more readily available, affordable and easy to use.

Recipes Using Cornstarch 

Here: two of the most popular pudding desserts combined in one bowl. Cornstarch is the thickener that keeps the pudding stable.

Classic 100 Fried Chicken

Classic 100 Fried Chicken

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Because cornstarch is pure starch, the crispiness it brings to any fried food is unbeatable. You might just want to add it to the batter of anything you're frying.

Dumplings with a Crispy Skirt

Dumplings with a Crispy Skirt

Photo by: Teri Lyn Fisher

Teri Lyn Fisher

This dumpling hack is for everyone who loves a crispy-bottomed pot sticker (so basically, for everyone).

Weekend Chocolate Pudding with whipped topping in small glasses

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Weekend Chocolate Pudding with whipped topping in small glasses

Cornstarch helps thicken the eggs as they cook. Whisking the cornstarch into the eggs disperses it so you don’t get lumps.

Classic 100 Vanilla Cake

Classic 100 Vanilla Cake

Photo by: Caitlin Ochs

Caitlin Ochs

Cornstarch plays a big role in the cake batter of our Best Vanilla Cake: it replaces some of the flour so you don’t have to buy a box of cake flour, and it blocks some of the gluten from forming when the cake bakes, giving you a very tender crumb.

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