The question inevitably comes up if you are eating (or serving) gluten-free: what can I use to thicken gravy or sauce or stew…
Most recipes call for flour as a thickening agent.
But gluten-free flour does NOT always work well (in my experience)…
The reason it does not work well is because a) most gf flours are a mix of many grains..and b) because the taste will be off.
Gluten-free flours tend to be a mixture of several different grains – rice flour, tapioca starch, potato starch, millet flour, and more. In some cases, gluten-free flour mixes may contain xanthan gum…which has some properties that make it similar to gluten and help give more rise in baking.
Together these different grain flours are combined to create a flavor profile that works for cookies, pancakes, or bread.
But in order to get rise, loft, or thickening, most gluten-free recipes will call for you to use additional ingredients – like baking soda or eggs or cornstarch.
The combined flours by themselves do not work very well for thickening though.
What Can I Use Instead of Flour to Thicken a Sauce?
My favorite of the thickening agents is to use corn starch. It’s easy to find and is gluten free.
All it takes is about one teaspoon per cup of liquid.
Of course, always start with just a little. You can add more as you need it (just like if you were making gravy with regular flour).
Generally, the rule is that you need half as much cornstarch as regular flour. So if your recipe calls for 2 tablespoons of flour…then all you need is one tablespoon of corn starch.
The reason cornstarch makes a good thickener is because it is starchy and has a very mild taste compared to the other starches.
Hints for Using Cornstarch
Corn starch will not begin to thicken until it reaches just over 200 degrees F.
So be sure to get the roux or gravy or whatever you are making to that temperature…
Once it gets over 200F, it will start to thicken quickly!
Do not over mix…once the gravy thickens to the consistency you want, stop mixing it or it will begin to un-thicken 🙂
Use 1 (one ) Tablespoon of cornstarch per 1 (one) cup of liquid. If that seems like too much for what you are making, then start with less…you can add more later!
If you need to thicken icing or frosting, then mix cornstarch in with a little cold water and your other ingredients.
What Other Gluten-Free Flours Can Be Used?
Besides cornstarch there are also some other good gluten-free flours to use as thickeners:
- arrowroot (my wifes favorite…it does have more taste though)
- brown rice flour
- white rice flour (sweeter)
- potato starch (sweet)
- tapioca starch (sweet and fairly strong taste)
Technically, those listed above are gluten-free flours…but by themselves, they do not work well to make baked goods! That’s why most of the mainstream gluten free flours now are mixes – combinations of many gf flours.
But individually they work for thickening a sauce!
And corn starch is ideal because it works well and is relatively mild in taste.