Hi there! I’m trying something a little different at Your Lighter Side. You told me that you want to see more helpful “cooking lessons, substitutions and tips.” This feature is meant to help with everything from cooking hacks, to kitchen replacements, to shortcuts and tips. I hope you like it! Please leave me a comment below and let me know what you’d like me to share next! Now let’s cut it up!
It’s so fun to verb out in the kitchen. Here are three I like in particular: Mash, Bake…Thicken…
So what can you do when it comes to replacing flour in your soups for thickening, adding some absorbency to your baking, and making sure those mashed, pureed vegetables zip your bip–all without the glutens or higher-carb staples we used to use back in the day?
I am here to help with a few tips for easy substitutions based on your personal needs.
But first of all I’m going to clue you into a discovery I have made over time–and I hope it helps. Put clearly,
Gums are a hot mess.
I hate to be the bearer of grumpy gum tidings, but there’s no way around it. Xanthan, acacia, and guar, on their own, tend to be so particular and prissy that they have rendered many a food item inedible or unappetizing. Add too much or too little, and you’re messing with ingredients that you may have ruined now (if not your appetite). Adding to this, the gums aren’t that widely available, and are–I believe anyway–best left in commercial thickeners (I list one I like below) and not in your cupboards.
Want something easier to use and to find? Lucky you, because I have some answers. I even went a little spreadsheet nerd girl.
While wheat flour is the standard in baking, what’s pretty remarkable, however, is that regular wheat flour requires 2-3 times the amount to thicken as either cornstarch or the arrowroot. In short, a little arrowroot goes a long way, and cornstarch, while not perfect, is inexpensive, is double the potency of flour for thickening, and is easy to find.
1 Tablespoon of wheat flour thickens the same as 0.5 Tbsp of cornstarch or the same as 1 tsp arrowroot
Chia seeds and flax seed meal are also useful, but since both tend to absorb and expand, the results depend on the recipe. I will, as an example, use chia and flax in brownies or cakes where I need added absorbency from a solid (links below to those recipes), but I tend to avoid chia and flax seed in gravies, soups, or sauces, where the seeds are visual (and sometimes a little unappetizing). I save these primarily for baking.
Almond and coconut flours are also valid possibilities for thickening, providing your guests like the taste of coconut (coconut flour), or aren’t harboring nut allergies (nut flours). I am not typically thrilled with either in soups, roues or sauces, and typically relegate these to baking status as well.
Jamie’s Pick: Arrowroot for gravies, soups and where texture/appearance matters. It’s harder to locate, but a little goes a very long way. Double bag and freeze for long-lasting use.
Making a soup, thickening a puree, or pumping up a sauce? Consider giving these options a whirl.
Cream Cheese. While you’re going to add more calories in the form of fat to your soups, sauces, and mashed, pureed vegetables with cream cheese than you would with the dry, single ingredients, look at what you’re not adding to your dish: carbohydrates. In fact, the gums in cream cheese helps thicken not only the cream cheese, but the dish to which you add it. Protein is off the charts in this ingredient, too, for even greater staying power.
Sour Cream. Lower in calories, sour cream works wizardly wonders as an ingredient for thickening your moist sides, soups and sauces. It adds a bit of pep, too, so consider adding this wherever sour cream would be welcome, from your mashed cauliflower to your meatball soup.
Greek Yogurt. A thick, Greek yogurt is a terrific thickening agent, particularly in place of sour cream or where you need to add some zip to the dip.
Heavy Cream. In many soups and sauces, the heft of the cream, when cooked gently and reduced, thickens. I didn’t add this one to the spreadsheet, since typically you’re using more of it than a wee bit to thicken–you’re basing the entire base on the cream.
Egg yolks. Perfect for adding heft to egg drop soup, be careful to not cook the eggs if added to a hot soup or sauce, or they will curdle and harden. Each large egg yolk nets only about .75 carbohydrates and about 99 calories.
Jamie’s Pick: Cream Cheese. Though higher in calories, you can’t go wrong with an ingredient that already contains gums and has removed the guesswork. If you have to avoid dairy, I really like the idea of pureeing some root veggies to thicken your base.
Making a soup, thickening a puree, or pumping up a sauce?
LC Thick’n Saucy. Since LC Foods is a site sponsor, I have reviewed this product and can attest to its efficacy in dishes, soups and sauces. A proprietary mix of tree, vegetable and other gums, a tsp will perform as well as a tablespoon of other flours. And while the price tag is a little spendier than you might be used to, each 3 ounce bag contains 36 servings.
Jamie’s Pick: The LC-Thick’n Saucy. While there are other commercial thickeners on the market, this one is the one I like, only after ThicknThin/Not Starch, which, incidentally, isn’t sold anymore.
What should you look for in a thickener?
Cost. First and foremost, if you can’t afford it, it’s not much of an option for pantry stocking, now is it? That’s why I recommend cornstarch to so many as a viable option. It’s easy to use, comes in a large container, and it’s reasonably-priced, which means I can use it in more applications.
Ingredients. Are you allergic to any of the ingredients, or are these options you can knowingly use without any problems? As an example, while I am allergic to wheat and soy, corn and arrowroot don’t bother me, making those flours an option. Be sure to check the labels so you’re not buying something that will knock you out.
Taste and Behavior. Make sure the ingredient you buy works with the recipe you’re making. If you’re mashing a vegetable, as an example, it makes more sense to go with dairy than with, say, tapioca pearls.
Ways I have incorporated different thickening agents:
- Tzatziki Sauce (Yogurt thickener)
- Alfredo Sauce (Arrowroot thickener)
- Chia Blueberry Smoothie (Chia thickener)
- Cream of Mushroom Bacon Soup (Cream thickener)
- Carrot Cake (Flax Seed Meal thickener)
- Chocolate Chia Seed Brownies (Chia thickener)
- Pies (Tapioca pearls thickener)
My ultimate suggestion?
When it comes to thickening, a little time and patience (and evaporation/cooking reduction) help many foods thicken naturally without any added ingredients. And when you do add a thickener, remember, less is more.