You’ve probably Googled “alternatives to tapioca starch” once or twice

Cooking Cornstarch PotatoStarch Starch Starches

(We know we’ve gotten people asking for it when making our pao de quiejo recipe.) And you’ve likely gotten a list of different starches. So then you use something else, but it doesn’t give you the result you’re hoping for. That’s because although starches are all technically starches (i.e. long strands of sugar molecules), they each perform differently. So while you can use one for the other in some cases, it doesn’t always work. This guide gives you a quick breakdown of the different starches we commonly encounter—and how you can use each one in cooking or baking for the best results.
Cornstarch, aka maize starch or cornflour, is perhaps the most common starch (besides flour, of course). It’s a white, powdery substance made from the starch-rich endosperm of corn kernels. It’s commonly used as a thickening agent for soups, sauces, and puddings. And it works best in high-heat dishes that need a lot of stirring since it needs boiling hot liquid to thicken and can withstand a lot of agitation before breaking down. That said always pay close attention to recipes that use cornstarch, especially when it’s being used as a slurry and the recipe asks you to wait for bubbles before adding it.

You can also use cornstarch instead of or mixed in with flour when breading or coating food. The cornstarch helps gives the meat, fish, or vegetable a crisper exterior. Meanwhile, in baking, cornstarch is often added to give baked goods a more tender crumb.

Cornstarch is also used as an anti-caking agent, so you’ll likely see them in products like bottled grated cheese and powdered sugar. Don’t worry, these are just so they don’t clump up together!
Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch is made from the finely grated pulp of cassava roots. Similar to cornstarch, it’s used as a thickening agent for puddings, sauces, and other gluten-free baked goods; it just has a stronger thickening power. When used for baking (or as the main starch), it gives the product a sticky, chewy, and elastic texture.

Tapioca starch works great for products that need to be refrigerated or frozen because it holds liquid and retains its texture when frozen. You can even use it to thicken ice creams and smoothies! It’s what’s also used to make tapioca balls or taro balls, also known as boba in milk teas.

Cassava flour, on the other hand, is taken from cassava roots, as well. However, it uses ground-up roots, instead of the pulp. It has more fiber, so it’s even stronger as a thickener.
Potato Starch
As its name suggests, potato starch is made from potatoes. It functions similarly to cornstarch (i.e. it can withstand high heat), so it can be used as an alternative as a thickening agent. Since it’s root-based starch, though, it breaks down easily even at a low temperature. It has a neutral flavor, making it easy to add to any recipe. Potato starch is an essential ingredient for gluten-free baking, helping baked goods retain their moisture. It works best for stuff that need to be soft, fluffy, and tender such as sweet bread rolls.
Rice Flour
Rice flour is made from ground long-grain or medium-grain white rice. It’s commonly used as an alternative for all-purpose flour or wheat flour in gluten-free cooking and baking. That said you can’t use it on its own; it also needs other starches (i.e. potato and corn) and gums to produce and mimic gluten. It’s not as strong as a thickener, but it does prove helpful when used in recipes that need to be cooled or frozen since it inhibits liquid separation.

Noodles and wrappers are often made using rice flour. There are also a variety of desserts and snacks made with it. Rice flour has a short shelf life, so make sure to use up what you have as soon as you can!
Glutinous Rice Flour
Glutinous rice flour, aka sweet rice flour, is made from glutinous rice. It has a high starch content, making it efficient in thickening liquids and as a binder. When cooked or heated, products that use glutinous rice flour become very sticky and chewy. It’s used to make several kakanins, as well as cakes and dumplings.

You can use glutinous rice flour instead of tapioca starch or potato starch in some recipes, usually those that use this as a thickener.
A Thing About Slurries:
As mentioned, cornstarch, tapioca starch, potato starch, and rice flour work as a thickener through “gelatinization.” This describes when heated liquid is added to the starch then heated, causing the molecules to swell. This is the science behind slurries—starch mixed with water—that’s added to boiling liquid like soups and sauces to thicken them. Slurries thicken the liquid quickly, so it’s important to whisk it into the dish continuously to prevent it from creating lumps and scorching.

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