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THICKENING AGENTS
The primary reasons for thickening cooked liquids is simply mouth feel with a pinch of visual attractiveness thrown in. It imparts a “richness” to a dish without altering the flavor (for the most part). Food thickening is for certain an exact science. Different cooking methods call for different types of thickening agents. Soups, Stews, Gravies, Jams, Sauces, Creams and other foods often require a thickening agent to provide weight, depth and texture to those thinner still runny liquids, including Stocks and Juices. Most food thickeners are derived from vegetable and refined starches as well as animal and plant proteins.
=== JUMP TO INFORMATION (CLICK ON UNDERLINED TEXT) === -- GENERAL INFORMATION -- THICKEN 2 CUPS OF SAUCE -- -- BEGINNERS SHELF STOCK -- FRENCH CHEF DUTIES -- NATURAL THICKENERS -- -- ALL PURPOSE FLOUR -- ARROWROOT -- BUERRE MANIE -- CORN STARCH -- -- GUMBO FILE -- PECTIN -- POTATO STARCH -- ROUX -- -- 100% FOOLPROOF ROUX -- NO STARCH METHODS --
MAIN

BACK TO TOP           GENERAL INFORMATION:

The primary reasons for thickening cooked liquids is simply mouth feel with a pinch of visual attractiveness thrown in. It imparts a “richness” to a dish without altering the flavor for the most part.

Liquid thickening is for certain an exact science. Different cooking methods call for different types of thickening agents. Experience and practice is the best teacher about the many different kinds of food thickeners in order to determine which is best for your next thick and hearty meal. Soups, Stews, Gravies, Jams, Sauces, Creams and other foods often require a thickening agent to provide weight, depth and texture to those thinner still runny liquids, including Stocks and Juices. Most food thickeners are derived from vegetable and refined starches as well as animal and plant proteins. There are a tremendous number of "Flours" available to be used as thickeners, used mostly in the form of making a Roux, with each imparting it's own flavors and characteristics to the dish.

BACK TO TOP           DIFFERENT THICKENING METHODS FOR 2 +/- CUPS OF SAUCE

LIQUID FACTS: Liquids that are heated enough to boil (even slightly) or use Flour as a thickener WILL become cloudy. Liquids that are heated ALMOST to boiling (a low simmer) WILL remain clear or at worst transparent. Those beautiful Asian dishes with the clear, flavorful broths HAVE NEVER BEEN BOILED.

FLOUR SLURRY

2 Tbsp All Purpose Flour

1/4 Cup Cold Water.

Mix the Flour and Water thoroughly. Stir the sauce while slowly drizzling in the Slurry - Cook for a Minimum of three minutes.

FLOUR ROUX

4 Tbsp All Purpose Flour

4 Tbsp Butter, Grease or Oil

Heat the Fat in a skillet, slowly sprinkle in the Flour while constantly stirring until there is no white Flour visible. Cook for a minimum of three minutes. Stir the Roux into the Sauce you want to thicken.

STARCH SLURRY

1 Tbsp Starch

1 Tbsp Cold Water

Mix the Starch and Water thoroughly. Stir the sauce while slowly drizzling in the Slurry

EGG YOLK THICKENING

4 to 6 Egg Yolks

Use a spoon to remove those ugly White Chalaza strings attached to the Yolk Skin. Beat the Egg Yolks until they are an even color & texture. S L O W L Y add an equal amount of the hot sauce you want to thicken into the Egg Yolks while vigorously whisking. Conversely, adding the Egg Yolks into your hot sauce WILL give you scrambled Egg Yolks in the sauce. Slowly drizzle the sauce/egg mixture into the sauce you want to thicken while constantly whisking. 

LIQUID REDUCTION

Liquids are normally runny because of their water content. You can thicken most liquids by boiling off excess water (as steam) until the desired thickness is attained. Two cups reduced to one or 1 1/2 cups.

THICKENING COLD SAUCES

Slowly add in Guar, Xanthan Gum or Unflavored Gelatin while constantly whisking until the desired thickness is reached

BACK TO TOP           BEGINNERS SHELF STOCK NECESSARIES: 

All Purpose Flour, Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour & Arrowroot. The words "Starch" and "Flour" are completely interchangeable in reference to thickening agents, always meaning a very “fine powder”. Corn Starch is indeed simply fine-ground Corn Flour. There is a reason that every "class" restaurant has on staff, one or more third-in-command "Saucier Chef's". Sauces are considered to be as important to the overall impression and flavor of a meal as is the main ingredient itself.

BACK TO TOP           FRENCH CHEF DUTIES:

1) EXECUTIVE CHEF: Responsibility for E V E R Y T H I N G!

2) SOUS CHEF: Pronounced: "soo". Does anything that the Executive Chef is either too lazy or indifferent to do.

3) SAUCIER CHEF: Pronounced: "sah-see-ayy". This person is the master of ANYTHING either containing or consisting of a sauce and therefore the go-to expert in the usage of thickening agents.

4) GARDE MANGER: Pronounced "gard man-jay". Responsible for all cold food preparation, including cold sauces such as Vinagrettes and Dressings.

5)PERSONAL CHEF: Pronounced "go-fur". That would be you and me.

BACK TO TOP           NATURAL THICKENERS:

Eggs, Milks, Okra, Potatoes, Irish Sea Moss, Etc.

1) Egg Yolks make wonderful thickeners, imparting both a rich flavor and velvety smooth texture, but they're tricky to use. You can't just whisk them into a simmering sauce, they will curdle on contact. Instead, you need to "temper" them by adding some of the hot liquid to the Egg Yolks (See Hollandaise Sauce), whisking the mixture together to bring the temperature up gradually, and then adding it back into to the Sauce.  To prevent the Yolks from coagulating, you need to keep the Sauce below 190°, although this rule can be broken if the Sauce has a lot of Flour in it. 

NEVER - EVER cook Sauces with Egg Yolks in aluminum pans or they'll turn gray.

2) Okra (a.k.a. Lady Fingers) are a long, thin, pointed, green pod-like vegetable that is used pretty much exclusively as a seasonal broth thickener in Creole and Cajun cooking. it is sliced about 1/2 inch thick and added into the nearly complete dish to boil until just tender and release it's thickening properties. Do NOT wash Okra until just prior to use. Overcooking Okra makes it slimy - cook until just tender and ALWAYS avoid re-heating any dishes containing it if possible.

3) Potatoes can be added into Soups and Stews to thicken the broth. You want to use Potatoes with the highest starch content possible (Russets, Long Whites, etc.) because when heated, they tend to break down quickly in liquids.

4) Irish Sea Moss is not a true moss and is not exclusive to Ireland, so go figure. Many people use it for its culinary benefits. If you blend or cook it, the moss forms a mucilaginous gel, turning it into a jelly-like substance. This natural jelly thickens up Smoothies and Shakes and is a key ingredient in Cheesecakes, Puddings and raw Ice Creams. Raw Irish Sea Moss has long been an important ingredient in Jamaican cuisine and raw food preparation.

BACK TO TOP           ALL PURPOSE FLOUR:

All Purpose Flour can be used to thicken runny sauces, both easily and inexpensively. “Raw” Flour has a distinctly unpleasant taste & mouth feel. Flour acts as a starch, but it takes TWICE as much Flour as pure Starches (Corn, Potato, etc.) in order to attain the same liquid thickness. The main advantage to using Flour over Starch comes after refrigeration and then re-heating. Flour thickened liquids will refrigerate and then reheat back to the same texture and silkiness. Starch thickened liquids tend to THICKLY GEL once refrigerated and are difficult to reheat to the same texture later.

BACK TO TOP           ARROWROOT:

Arrowroot is very similar in properties to Corn Starch, albeit, a little more expensive. It makes for a clearer more transparent finished product. It is also used exclusively to thicken foods that are high in acid content as most of the "starch" type thickeners are broken down by acids.

USAGE: Mix into cold water and then add to your hot liquid.

BACK TO TOP           BUERRE MANIE:

A Beurre Manie is pronounced "burr mahn-yay". Made by using your fingers to thoroughly combine flour and softened butter to create a smooth, very thick paste.  It is usually used for quick thickening at the end of any cooking process and it makes everything delicious and a little glossy! Technically, it is a foolproof, lump-free version of a Roux.

USAGE: Add into your hot liquid at any time.

BACK TO TOP           CORN STARCH (Inexpensive):

Reasonably priced thickeners are readily available in all grocery stores today. Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour, etc.  

Corn starch is a proper flour, used as a thickener when we want to confer a translucent look to the dish. However, since it has quite a strong taste, it is preferable to use it in situations requiring very little cooking,

Tapioca Flour is considered to be the new frontier in the ambit of starch thickeners. It dissolves well without having to be diluted, it has an almost neutral flavour and excellent thickening properties, on condition that it is not used at excessively high temperatures, which would entirely neutralize the effect.

Kuzu Flour, the dehydrated and pulverized root of the eponymous plant is another excellent thickener, considered to be even better than Tapioca. In fact, it has extraordinary thickening properties, with half a spoonful of this powder being sufficient to turn 250 ml of liquid into a jelly.

BACK TO TOP           GUMBO FILE:

File powder, also called Gumbo File, is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree, native to eastern North America. Choctaw Indians of the American South (Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana) were the first to use dried, ground sassafras leaves as a seasoning, what is now called File, or Gumbo File, used in Creole cooking. It is used in the making of some types of Gumbo, a Creole and Cajun soup/stew often served over rice; other versions of Gumbo use Okra or a Roux as a thickener instead. Sprinkled sparingly over Gumbo as a seasoning and a thickening agent, it ADDS a distinctive, earthy flavor and texture. File can provide thickening when Okra is not in season. Filé translates to "string", suggestive of the powder's thickening ability.

USAGE: Mix into your hot liquid near the end of cooking.

BACK TO TOP           PECTIN:

Pectin is naturally derived from plant cells and is used mainly for making Jams, Jellies and Gelatins. Most grocery stores carry Fruit Pectin Powder, but you can also make your own pectin extract. Boil 2 pounds of tart apples, such as Granny Smith, in 4 cups of water until tender. Pour the juice and pulp into a cheesecloth and suspend overnight with a shallow dish underneath to catch the drippings. Boil the filtered drippings in a small saucepan, reducing the liquid by half. You now have a homemade fruit-based pectin thickening agent that is great for Jams, Jellies and even Fruit Pies.

BACK TO TOP           POTATO STARCH:

Potato Starch is one of the most expensive among traditional thickening agents. Taking care to dissolve it beforehand in a small amount of water to form a “paste”. If added directly to the dish without mixing first with water, would form lumps that are practically impossible to get rid of. Potato Starch performs better at low temperatures. You are advised to add the diluted Potato Starch when you have already removed the dish from the heat, without ever actually boiling the Starch.

USAGE: Mix into cold water and then add to your hot liquid.

1) Great strength and holding power – Use only a little bit to yield a thick sauce.

2) Stability: Quite weak. When you’re heating up a sauce that requires thickening, consider bringing it to a close boil, add the Starch and turn off the fire as soon as possible. Overheating will cause the molecules in Potato Starch to break their bond and will end up resulting in a thin liquid. Be cautious when re-heating dishes that you used Potato Starch to thicken.

3) Semi-light flavor – Not very powering to the tongue when you thicken your liquid. Since its strength is good, you do not need to add too much, this will leave the liquid clear of its flour-like flavor.

4) Potato Starch has no color influence when it’s added to your liquid. But, don’t ask for trouble by cross-contaminating it.

5) Consistency – Silky and stringy. When you scoop some up in a spoon and pour it back down, it should be in a very steady stream, with little silky strings dropping off like a calm waterfall, then when it goes back up, the stream will slightly bounce back up to the spoon.

Potato Starches are great for quick, thin, transparent sauces that require only a small amount of cooking time or reheating of it. Keep in mind that in order to get a consistent thickening agent, ensure that your ratio of flour to water is at least 1:5. Mix them well – Because after leaving it set for long, the starch will fall off and you’ll see water puddled on top of the flour.

BACK TO TOP           ROUX (CAJUN / CREOLE):

A Roux is the one best and most commonly used agents added to thicken up any Sauce or Soup. A Roux is simply equal volumes of all purpose flour and some kind of liquid fat (oil, bacon fat, butter, etc., etc.). Cooked over medium high heat while constantly stirring, scraping and with CAREFUL observation. A burnt (even SLIGHTLY so) Roux is absolutely useless as either a flavoring or a thickening agent - TRASH IT IMMEDIATELY and start all over.

The longer a Roux is cooked, the darker in color and more flavorful it becomes. Conversely, the longer a Roux is cooked, it's ability to thicken those liquids you will be adding it to decreases greatly. There are 4 "normal" named types of Roux: In reality, the possible combinations in between those 4 are limitless. I sincerely believe it takes a Cajun Mother to consistently and properly make a Dark Roux on the stovetop WITHOUT burning it. In defense of that belief, I have enclosed a foolproof method of making a Brick Red Roux in the oven:

BACK TO TOP           100% FOOL-PROOF ROUX:

Unless you count yourself among experienced Cajun or Creole Grandmothers, creating any of the darker Roux can be considered an art form. The stovetop method of creating a dark Roux is extremely quick and extremeleir more difficult… Dark Roux provide extremely rich flavors but are extremely EASY to burn (Especially those Butter versions). ANY burning at all (small BLACK flecks begin to appear) and the Roux is COMPLETELY RUINED, there is NO WAY to repair a burned Roux. The only fix for a burned roux is to wash the pan and begin over. The below link takes you to a Recipe for an oven baked Roux. Slow and time consuming, but you can make a Brick Red Roux that isn’t burnt on your FIRST TRY.

(FOOLPROOF Roux Method Recipe - No-Burn)

CAUTION: The darker Roux mixtures are known in Louisiana as "Cajun Napalm". DO NOT splash any on bare skin. NEVER make a Roux in an aluminum pan - Use ONLY stainless steel or cast iron due to all of the constant scraping required during cooking.

USAGE: Make by sprinkling All Purpose Flour into fat over medium high heat while constantly stirring until the desired color is achieved. Liquids are then added into the hot roux while stirring to release any fond stuck on the bottom of the pan.

WHITE: Colorless, very little flavor and by far the best thickening agent.

BLOND: Ivory colored, a mild flavor and has moderate thickening powers.

MEDIUM: Peanut butter colored, a rich, nutty flavor and even less thickening powers.

DARK: Brick red colored, a strong, earthy caramel flavor and minimal thickening powers.

Naturally, the volume of the Roux you use vs the volume of liquid in the dish will determine the eventual balance between flavor and thickening.

1) Medium-weak holding power. Cooking the Roux too long will further weaken its holding power.

2) Stability – The good part about a Roux is that it holds (after being incorporated well) the sauce at its thickening point even after the liquid has cooled off. Certain starches like Tapioca and Corn do not hold very well when they are cooled down.

3) Robust flavor – a Roux imparts a very complex flavor of its own, especially when it comes to the kind of fats you want to add in. Choose fats that have higher heating points. E.g. sunflower seed oil or peanut oil. Butter is commonly used, but animal fats are desirable, if you want a more robust flavor.

4) Color – Varies. If you’re looking for the traditional Dark Roux, cook the flour a little longer before incorporating your fats. If you’re looking for a White Roux which needs little color influence, don’t burn your flour.

5) Consistency – Like the Potato Starch, it should be running from a spoon in a very streamlined position and springing back up a little.

BACK TO TOP           WITHOUT USING STARCH:

If you prefer not to use starch thickeners, there are plenty of alternatives. Of these, the most widely known is agar-agar. This is a jelly-like substance obtained from an algae which is widely used in pastry-making, since it is composed of sugar galactose molecules. It has good thickening properties and may also be used at high temperatures.

If, on the other hand, you need to jellify a liquid at low temperatures, it is preferable to use xantham gum, a linear polysaccharide structure made up of molecules of mannose, glucose and glucuronic acid. It can also be used for stabilizing emulsions, sauces in particular, together with pectin, another well known gelling agent based on the formation of an interlaced structure.

Finally, it is also worth remembering some protein-based thickeners which are cheap and effective. Collagen for example, obtained from Meat Broth, and Egg Yolk, on the condition that it is used at a temperature of approximately 60°C, to prevent it from solidifying.

BACK TO TOP

NAME POWER DESCRIPTION & USAGE
STARCHES
All Purpose Flour 0.5 A good thickener for sauces and gravies which does not make them look glossy (but also they will not be clear). Very stable and holds about the same as it cools. It thickens at boiling temperature and must be thoroughly cooked before or after adding. Most commonly this is done by cooking in butter to make a roux, but too much cooking will weaken its thickening power. A dark roux has very little thickening power. Cake flour has the most thickening power, bread flour the least, but all purpose flour is usually used.
Arrowroot 1.5 Flavor neutral and better for thickening acidic foods than cornstarch. Freezes well and is more resistant to breaking down from heat than cornstarch. It will thicken well below the boiling point so can be used for fragile sauces. It produces a clear sauce and the appearance is less glossy than cornstarch. It is relatively expensive but that's not really significant for home use. Arrowroot should not be used in dairy based sauces as it turns them slimy. It should be made into a slurry with cold water before adding to hot liquids.
Beurre Manie 0.5 This is a kneaded mixture of butter and flour, but it isn't pre-cooked, so it must have sufficient cooking time in the soup or sauce.
ClearJel ® 1.0 A modified corn starch much used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It is also much used in home canning as the only thickener approved by the USDA for canning applications (Instant ClearJel® is not suitable). Unlike Instant ClearJel® it is not usable where the product will be frozen.
Corn Starch (Corn Flour) 0.7 Good all-around thickener, but with relatively strong flavor. It makes sauces glossy but somewhat cloudy. Liquid must be at boiling when added, but long cooking after adding will break it down, as will stirring while re-heating. Make a slurry with an equal amount of water before stirring in to avoid lumps. It does not take well to freezing and doesn't work well with acidic foods. It will do better if taken off the heat before acids are stirred in. 1 teaspoon will thicken about 1/2 cup of sauce.
Glutinous Rice Flour 2.0 This is actually "gluten free", this thickener freezes well. Do not confuse it with regular Rice Flour. This flour can be sprinkled over simmering liquids and stirred in without clumping until you have the right thickness. Substitute: Tapioca Starch.
Instant ClearJel ® 2.0 A modified corn starch much used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It thickens without cooking, is acid stable, stable at high temperatures and takes freezing well
Kudzu 1.0 Kudzu flour will thicken at room temperature. Rare and expensive - Southerners would rather complain about kudzu than learn to use it. When cooking with kudzu it should be mixed with cold water before stirring into hot liquids and should be stirred well for a while as it has a tendency to sink to the bottom.
Potato Starch 2.0 A good, powerful thickener, but its thickening power is quickly weakened by boiling. Add at the end of cooking and avoid boiling. In Chinese recipes, do not substitute for cornstarch where the coating is also the thickener for the sauce or you'll end up with far too much sauce. Potato starch thickened sauces reheat better than cornstarch thickened, but don't bring to a full boil. Potato starch is preferred for baking as it withstands higher temperatures. It is acceptable for Passover.
Sago 8.0 Made from the inner pulp of a palm. Sometimes found in Asian markets. It needs to be cooked fairly long to develop its thickening power, but is thus rather heat stable. There is another Sago starch made from the inner pulp of a Cycad, but it is seldom found in commerce.
Sahlab 3.0 Made from the root tubers of an orchid grown ONLY in Turkey. Export is currently forbidden and therefore, most "Sahlab" on the market is fake.
Sweet Potato Starch Sweet potato starch is seldom used for thickening - it is used mainly for coating meats and vegetables for frying where a crisp surface is desired. It is sold in Asian markets as a powder and as granules for this purpose. It is also made into noodles.
Tapioca Starch Thickens well at lower temperatures than cornstarch. It is often used to correct the thickness of a sauce at the last minute. Freezes well. Add to hot liquids at the last minute because it breaks down with heat faster than potato starch and a lot faster than cornstarch. No flavor and makes a clear but rather glossy sauce. Sub: instant tapioca (grind to powder unless you desire some texture); glutinous rice flour; potato starch (not for freezing).
NON-STARCHES
Agar Kanten Agar-Agar Made from seaweed, this is similar to gelatin, but stronger and gels without refrigeration. Approved for vegetarians. It can be substituted about 1:1 for gelatin. it is available in Asian markets. It does not work well with acid foods, or foods containing oxalic acid.
Blood Formerly used as a thickener by almost all meat eating peoples (though forbidden by Jewish law), blood has fallen out of favor in "mainstream" (squeamish) North American societies, and is banned by law in some regions. Here in Southern California, tubs of blood (coagulated and non-coagulated) are widely available in Asian and other ethnic markets
Carragenan Derived from seaweed (Irish moss), this gel agent is widely used in commercial products, particularly dairy products such as yogurt or sour cream. This ingredient has been found to cause inflammation, even in the quantities used in commercial products, and it can possibly result in gluten sensitivity. It is best avoided.
Collagens Collagen, obtained from Meat Broth, and Egg Yolk, on the condition that it is used at a temperature of approximately 140°F, to prevent it from solidifying.
Gelatin 8.0 A natural product of meat and fish released with heat. Commercial gelatin is made by boiling hides and bones of domesticated animals. Commercial gelatin is used mostly to produce gels and aspics. 1/4 ounce will set 16 ounces of liquid.
Glucomannan Kon jack Flour 3.0 This white powder is a soluble fiber extracted from Konjack corms. It can gel at room temperature, has 0 carbs, nearly 0 calories, and is diabetic and vegan safe. It firms up more with wet cooking.
Guar Gum Made from a South Asian bean, it's powerful but clumps like crazy. Best mixed with sugar or salt (whichever goes into your recipe) and stir briskly while adding. Some add through a salt shaker for better dispersal. Do not attempt to use as a slurry, it will clump. It will thicken at room temperature, but takes a long time so heat is often used. Prevents formation of ice crystals in frozen foods.
Pectin A natural gel agent found in fruit. It's main use is in the production of fruit jellies and jams
Xanthan Gum This non-starch thickener is increasingly popular with the fancy chef set because its high thickening power allows it to be used in very small amounts which do not affect flavor. At room temperature it is an effective thickener at 1% concentration. It looses strength with heat so it's most used in room temperature or cooled applications. It has unique properties that make it particularly useful in salad dressings and chili sauces. It's made by fermenting sugar with a particular bacterium.
The Recipes and information contained in these pages are for private use only. They are NOT to be used commercially or published.
THICKENING AGENTS
Your favorite seafood has a lot of health benefits and almost an equal number of health hazards. Seafood such as fish, crustaceans and molluscs are a darling of the diet world with its wealth of nutritional components. It has rich reserves of n-3 polyunsaturated long chain fatty acids (PUFAs) and essential micronutrients such as selenium, iodine, potassium, Vitamins A, B (12), D and E, and low sodium concentrations. As a protein, seafood is easily digestible due to its low connective tissue content along with a negligible cholesterol content.
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NAME POWER DESCRIPTION & USAGE
STARCHES
All Purpose Flour 0.5 A good thickener for sauces and gravies which does not make them look glossy (but also they will not be clear). Very stable and holds about the same as it cools. It thickens at boiling temperature and must be thoroughly cooked before or after adding. Most commonly this is done by cooking in butter to make a roux, but too much cooking will weaken its thickening power. A dark roux has very little thickening power. Cake flour has the most thickening power, bread flour the least, but all purpose flour is usually used.
Arrowroot 1.5 Flavor neutral and better for thickening acidic foods than cornstarch. Freezes well and is more resistant to breaking down from heat than cornstarch. It will thicken well below the boiling point so can be used for fragile sauces. It produces a clear sauce and the appearance is less glossy than cornstarch. It is relatively expensive but that's not really significant for home use. Arrowroot should not be used in dairy based sauces as it turns them slimy. It should be made into a slurry with cold water before adding to hot liquids.
Beurre Manie 0.5 This is a kneaded mixture of butter and flour, but it isn't pre-cooked, so it must have sufficient cooking time in the soup or sauce.
ClearJel ® 1.0 A modified corn starch much used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It is also much used in home canning as the only thickener approved by the USDA for canning applications (Instant ClearJel® is not suitable). Unlike Instant ClearJel® it is not usable where the product will be frozen.
Corn Starch (Corn Flour) 0.7 Good all-around thickener, but with relatively strong flavor. It makes sauces glossy but somewhat cloudy. Liquid must be at boiling when added, but long cooking after adding will break it down, as will stirring while re-heating. Make a slurry with an equal amount of water before stirring in to avoid lumps. It does not take well to freezing and doesn't work well with acidic foods. It will do better if taken off the heat before acids are stirred in. 1 teaspoon will thicken about 1/2 cup of sauce.
Glutinous Rice Flour 2.0 This is actually "gluten free", this thickener freezes well. Do not confuse it with regular Rice Flour. This flour can be sprinkled over simmering liquids and stirred in without clumping until you have the right thickness. Substitute: Tapioca Starch.
Instant ClearJel ® 2.0 A modified corn starch much used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It thickens without cooking, is acid stable, stable at high temperatures and takes freezing well
Kudzu 1.0 Kudzu flour will thicken at room temperature. Rare and expensive - Southerners would rather complain about kudzu than learn to use it. When cooking with kudzu it should be mixed with cold water before stirring into hot liquids and should be stirred well for a while as it has a tendency to sink to the bottom.
Potato Starch 2.0 A good, powerful thickener, but its thickening power is quickly weakened by boiling. Add at the end of cooking and avoid boiling. In Chinese recipes, do not substitute for cornstarch where the coating is also the thickener for the sauce or you'll end up with far too much sauce. Potato starch thickened sauces reheat better than cornstarch thickened, but don't bring to a full boil. Potato starch is preferred for baking as it withstands higher temperatures. It is acceptable for Passover.
Sago 8.0 Made from the inner pulp of a palm. Sometimes found in Asian markets. It needs to be cooked fairly long to develop its thickening power, but is thus rather heat stable. There is another Sago starch made from the inner pulp of a Cycad, but it is seldom found in commerce.
Sahlab 3.0 Made from the root tubers of an orchid grown ONLY in Turkey. Export is currently forbidden and therefore, most "Sahlab" on the market is fake.
Sweet Potato Starch Sweet potato starch is seldom used for thickening - it is used mainly for coating meats and vegetables for frying where a crisp surface is desired. It is sold in Asian markets as a powder and as granules for this purpose. It is also made into noodles.
Tapioca Starch Thickens well at lower temperatures than cornstarch. It is often used to correct the thickness of a sauce at the last minute. Freezes well. Add to hot liquids at the last minute because it breaks down with heat faster than potato starch and a lot faster than cornstarch. No flavor and makes a clear but rather glossy sauce. Sub: instant tapioca (grind to powder unless you desire some texture); glutinous rice flour; potato starch (not for freezing).
NON-STARCHES
Agar Kanten Agar-Agar Made from seaweed, this is similar to gelatin, but stronger and gels without refrigeration. Approved for vegetarians. It can be substituted about 1:1 for gelatin. it is available in Asian markets. It does not work well with acid foods, or foods containing oxalic acid.
Blood Formerly used as a thickener by almost all meat eating peoples (though forbidden by Jewish law), blood has fallen out of favor in "mainstream" (squeamish) North American societies, and is banned by law in some regions. Here in Southern California, tubs of blood (coagulated and non-coagulated) are widely available in Asian and other ethnic markets
Carragenan Derived from seaweed (Irish moss), this gel agent is widely used in commercial products, particularly dairy products such as yogurt or sour cream. This ingredient has been found to cause inflammation, even in the quantities used in commercial products, and it can possibly result in gluten sensitivity. It is best avoided.
Collagens Collagen, obtained from Meat Broth, and Egg Yolk, on the condition that it is used at a temperature of approximately 140°F, to prevent it from solidifying.
Gelatin 8.0 A natural product of meat and fish released with heat. Commercial gelatin is made by boiling hides and bones of domesticated animals. Commercial gelatin is used mostly to produce gels and aspics. 1/4 ounce will set 16 ounces of liquid.
Glucomannan Kon jack Flour 3.0 This white powder is a soluble fiber extracted from Konjack corms. It can gel at room temperature, has 0 carbs, nearly 0 calories, and is diabetic and vegan safe. It firms up more with wet cooking.
Guar Gum Made from a South Asian bean, it's powerful but clumps like crazy. Best mixed with sugar or salt (whichever goes into your recipe) and stir briskly while adding. Some add through a salt shaker for better dispersal. Do not attempt to use as a slurry, it will clump. It will thicken at room temperature, but takes a long time so heat is often used. Prevents formation of ice crystals in frozen foods.
Pectin A natural gel agent found in fruit. It's main use is in the production of fruit jellies and jams
Xanthan Gum This non-starch thickener is increasingly popular with the fancy chef set because its high thickening power allows it to be used in very small amounts which do not affect flavor. At room temperature it is an effective thickener at 1% concentration. It looses strength with heat so it's most used in room temperature or cooled applications. It has unique properties that make it particularly useful in salad dressings and chili sauces. It's made by fermenting sugar with a particular bacterium.
=== JUMP TO INFORMATION (CLICK ON UNDERLINED TEXT) === -- GENERAL INFORMATION -- THICKEN 2 CUPS OF SAUCE -- -- BEGINNERS SHELF STOCK -- FRENCH CHEF DUTIES -- NATURAL THICKENERS -- -- ALL PURPOSE FLOUR -- ARROWROOT -- BUERRE MANIE -- CORN STARCH -- -- GUMBO FILE -- PECTIN -- POTATO STARCH -- ROUX -- -- 100% FOOLPROOF ROUX -- NO STARCH METHODS --

BACK TO TOP           GENERAL INFORMATION:

The primary reasons for thickening cooked liquids is simply mouth feel with a pinch of visual attractiveness thrown in. It imparts a “richness” to a dish without altering the flavor for the most part.

Liquid thickening is for certain an exact science. Different cooking methods call for different types of thickening agents. Experience and practice is the best teacher about the many different kinds of food thickeners in order to determine which is best for your next thick and hearty meal. Soups, Stews, Gravies, Jams, Sauces, Creams and other foods often require a thickening agent to provide weight, depth and texture to those thinner still runny liquids, including Stocks and Juices. Most food thickeners are derived from vegetable and refined starches as well as animal and plant proteins. There are a tremendous number of "Flours" available to be used as thickeners, used mostly in the form of making a Roux, with each imparting it's own flavors and characteristics to the dish.

BACK TO TOP           DIFFERENT THICKENING METHODS FOR 2 +/- CUPS OF SAUCE

LIQUID FACTS: Liquids that are heated enough to boil (even slightly) or use Flour as a thickener WILL become cloudy. Liquids that are heated ALMOST to boiling (a low simmer) WILL remain clear or at worst transparent. Those beautiful Asian dishes with the clear, flavorful broths HAVE NEVER BEEN BOILED.

FLOUR SLURRY

2 Tbsp All Purpose Flour

1/4 Cup Cold Water.

Mix the Flour and Water thoroughly. Stir the sauce while slowly drizzling in the Slurry - Cook for a Minimum of three minutes.

FLOUR ROUX

4 Tbsp All Purpose Flour

4 Tbsp Butter, Grease or Oil

Heat the Fat in a skillet, slowly sprinkle in the Flour while constantly stirring until there is no white Flour visible. Cook for a minimum of three minutes. Stir the Roux into the Sauce you want to thicken.

STARCH SLURRY

1 Tbsp Starch

1 Tbsp Cold Water

Mix the Starch and Water thoroughly. Stir the sauce while slowly drizzling in the Slurry

EGG YOLK THICKENING

4 to 6 Egg Yolks

Use a spoon to remove those ugly White Chalaza strings attached to the Yolk Skin. Beat the Egg Yolks until they are an even color & texture. S L O W L Y add an equal amount of the hot sauce you want to thicken into the Egg Yolks while vigorously whisking. Conversely, adding the Egg Yolks into your hot sauce WILL give you scrambled Egg Yolks in the sauce. Slowly drizzle the sauce/egg mixture into the sauce you want to thicken while constantly whisking. 

LIQUID REDUCTION

Liquids are normally runny because of their water content. You can thicken most liquids by boiling off excess water (as steam) until the desired thickness is attained. Two cups reduced to one or 1 1/2 cups.

THICKENING COLD SAUCES

Slowly add in Guar, Xanthan Gum or Unflavored Gelatin while constantly whisking until the desired thickness is reached

BACK TO TOP           BEGINNERS SHELF STOCK NECESSARIES: 

All Purpose Flour, Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour & Arrowroot. The words "Starch" and "Flour" are completely interchangeable in reference to thickening agents, always meaning a very “fine powder”. Corn Starch is indeed simply fine-ground Corn Flour. There is a reason that every "class" restaurant has on staff, one or more third-in-command "Saucier Chef's". Sauces are considered to be as important to the overall impression and flavor of a meal as is the main ingredient itself.

BACK TO TOP           FRENCH CHEF DUTIES:

1) EXECUTIVE CHEF: Responsibility for E V E R Y T H I N G!

2) SOUS CHEF: Pronounced: "soo". Does anything that the Executive Chef is either too lazy or indifferent to do.

3) SAUCIER CHEF: Pronounced: "sah-see-ayy". This person is the master of ANYTHING either containing or consisting of a sauce and therefore the go-to expert in the usage of thickening agents.

4) GARDE MANGER: Pronounced "gard man-jay". Responsible for all cold food preparation, including cold sauces such as Vinagrettes and Dressings.

5)PERSONAL CHEF: Pronounced "go-fur". That would be you and me.

BACK TO TOP           NATURAL THICKENERS:

Eggs, Milks, Okra, Potatoes, Irish Sea Moss, Etc.

1) Egg Yolks make wonderful thickeners, imparting both a rich flavor and velvety smooth texture, but they're tricky to use. You can't just whisk them into a simmering sauce, they will curdle on contact. Instead, you need to "temper" them by adding some of the hot liquid to the Egg Yolks (See Hollandaise Sauce), whisking the mixture together to bring the temperature up gradually, and then adding it back into to the Sauce.  To prevent the Yolks from coagulating, you need to keep the Sauce below 190°, although this rule can be broken if the Sauce has a lot of Flour in it. 

NEVER - EVER cook Sauces with Egg Yolks in aluminum pans or they'll turn gray.

2) Okra (a.k.a. Lady Fingers) are a long, thin, pointed, green pod-like vegetable that is used pretty much exclusively as a seasonal broth thickener in Creole and Cajun cooking. it is sliced about 1/2 inch thick and added into the nearly complete dish to boil until just tender and release it's thickening properties. Do NOT wash Okra until just prior to use. Overcooking Okra makes it slimy - cook until just tender and ALWAYS avoid re-heating any dishes containing it if possible.

3) Potatoes can be added into Soups and Stews to thicken the broth. You want to use Potatoes with the highest starch content possible (Russets, Long Whites, etc.) because when heated, they tend to break down quickly in liquids.

4) Irish Sea Moss is not a true moss and is not exclusive to Ireland, so go figure. Many people use it for its culinary benefits. If you blend or cook it, the moss forms a mucilaginous gel, turning it into a jelly-like substance. This natural jelly thickens up Smoothies and Shakes and is a key ingredient in Cheesecakes, Puddings and raw Ice Creams. Raw Irish Sea Moss has long been an important ingredient in Jamaican cuisine and raw food preparation.

BACK TO TOP           ALL PURPOSE FLOUR:

All Purpose Flour can be used to thicken runny sauces, both easily and inexpensively. “Raw” Flour has a distinctly unpleasant taste & mouth feel. Flour acts as a starch, but it takes TWICE as much Flour as pure Starches (Corn, Potato, etc.) in order to attain the same liquid thickness. The main advantage to using Flour over Starch comes after refrigeration and then re-heating. Flour thickened liquids will refrigerate and then reheat back to the same texture and silkiness. Starch thickened liquids tend to THICKLY GEL once refrigerated and are difficult to reheat to the same texture later.

BACK TO TOP           ARROWROOT:

Arrowroot is very similar in properties to Corn Starch, albeit, a little more expensive. It makes for a clearer more transparent finished product. It is also used exclusively to thicken foods that are high in acid content as most of the "starch" type thickeners are broken down by acids.

USAGE: Mix into cold water and then add to your hot liquid.

BACK TO TOP           BUERRE MANIE:

A Beurre Manie is pronounced "burr mahn-yay". Made by using your fingers to thoroughly combine flour and softened butter to create a smooth, very thick paste.  It is usually used for quick thickening at the end of any cooking process and it makes everything delicious and a little glossy! Technically, it is a foolproof, lump-free version of a Roux.

USAGE: Add into your hot liquid at any time.

BACK TO TOP           CORN STARCH (Inexpensive):

Reasonably priced thickeners are readily available in all grocery stores today. Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour, etc.  

Corn starch is a proper flour, used as a thickener when we want to confer a translucent look to the dish. However, since it has quite a strong taste, it is preferable to use it in situations requiring very little cooking,

Tapioca Flour is considered to be the new frontier in the ambit of starch thickeners. It dissolves well without having to be diluted, it has an almost neutral flavour and excellent thickening properties, on condition that it is not used at excessively high temperatures, which would entirely neutralize the effect.

Kuzu Flour, the dehydrated and pulverized root of the eponymous plant is another excellent thickener, considered to be even better than Tapioca. In fact, it has extraordinary thickening properties, with half a spoonful of this powder being sufficient to turn 250 ml of liquid into a jelly.

BACK TO TOP           GUMBO FILE:

File powder, also called Gumbo File, is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree, native to eastern North America. Choctaw Indians of the American South (Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana) were the first to use dried, ground sassafras leaves as a seasoning, what is now called File, or Gumbo File, used in Creole cooking. It is used in the making of some types of Gumbo, a Creole and Cajun soup/stew often served over rice; other versions of Gumbo use Okra or a Roux as a thickener instead. Sprinkled sparingly over Gumbo as a seasoning and a thickening agent, it ADDS a distinctive, earthy flavor and texture. File can provide thickening when Okra is not in season. Filé translates to "string", suggestive of the powder's thickening ability.

USAGE: Mix into your hot liquid near the end of cooking.

BACK TO TOP           PECTIN:

Pectin is naturally derived from plant cells and is used mainly for making Jams, Jellies and Gelatins. Most grocery stores carry Fruit Pectin Powder, but you can also make your own pectin extract. Boil 2 pounds of tart apples, such as Granny Smith, in 4 cups of water until tender. Pour the juice and pulp into a cheesecloth and suspend overnight with a shallow dish underneath to catch the drippings. Boil the filtered drippings in a small saucepan, reducing the liquid by half. You now have a homemade fruit-based pectin thickening agent that is great for Jams, Jellies and even Fruit Pies.

BACK TO TOP           POTATO STARCH:

Potato Starch is one of the most expensive among traditional thickening agents. Taking care to dissolve it beforehand in a small amount of water to form a “paste”. If added directly to the dish without mixing first with water, would form lumps that are practically impossible to get rid of. Potato Starch performs better at low temperatures. You are advised to add the diluted Potato Starch when you have already removed the dish from the heat, without ever actually boiling the Starch.

USAGE: Mix into cold water and then add to your hot liquid.

1) Great strength and holding power – Use only a little bit to yield a thick sauce.

2) Stability: Quite weak. When you’re heating up a sauce that requires thickening, consider bringing it to a close boil, add the Starch and turn off the fire as soon as possible. Overheating will cause the molecules in Potato Starch to break their bond and will end up resulting in a thin liquid. Be cautious when re-heating dishes that you used Potato Starch to thicken.

3) Semi-light flavor – Not very powering to the tongue when you thicken your liquid. Since its strength is good, you do not need to add too much, this will leave the liquid clear of its flour-like flavor.

4) Potato Starch has no color influence when it’s added to your liquid. But, don’t ask for trouble by cross-contaminating it.

5) Consistency – Silky and stringy. When you scoop some up in a spoon and pour it back down, it should be in a very steady stream, with little silky strings dropping off like a calm waterfall, then when it goes back up, the stream will slightly bounce back up to the spoon.

Potato Starches are great for quick, thin, transparent sauces that require only a small amount of cooking time or reheating of it. Keep in mind that in order to get a consistent thickening agent, ensure that your ratio of flour to water is at least 1:5. Mix them well – Because after leaving it set for long, the starch will fall off and you’ll see water puddled on top of the flour.

BACK TO TOP           ROUX (CAJUN / CREOLE):

A Roux is the one best and most commonly used agents added to thicken up any Sauce or Soup. A Roux is simply equal volumes of all purpose flour and some kind of liquid fat (oil, bacon fat, butter, etc., etc.). Cooked over medium high heat while constantly stirring, scraping and with CAREFUL observation. A burnt (even SLIGHTLY so) Roux is absolutely useless as either a flavoring or a thickening agent - TRASH IT IMMEDIATELY and start all over.

The longer a Roux is cooked, the darker in color and more flavorful it becomes. Conversely, the longer a Roux is cooked, it's ability to thicken those liquids you will be adding it to decreases greatly. There are 4 "normal" named types of Roux: In reality, the possible combinations in between those 4 are limitless. I sincerely believe it takes a Cajun Mother to consistently and properly make a Dark Roux on the stovetop WITHOUT burning it. In defense of that belief, I have enclosed a foolproof method of making a Brick Red Roux in the oven:

BACK TO TOP           100% FOOL-PROOF ROUX:

Unless you count yourself among experienced Cajun or Creole Grandmothers, creating any of the darker Roux can be considered an art form. The stovetop method of creating a dark Roux is extremely quick and extremeleir more difficult… Dark Roux provide extremely rich flavors but are extremely EASY to burn (Especially those Butter versions). ANY burning at all (small BLACK flecks begin to appear) and the Roux is COMPLETELY RUINED, there is NO WAY to repair a burned Roux. The only fix for a burned roux is to wash the pan and begin over. The below link takes you to a Recipe for an oven baked Roux. Slow and time consuming, but you can make a Brick Red Roux that isn’t burnt on your FIRST TRY.

(FOOLPROOF Roux Method Recipe - No-Burn)

CAUTION: The darker Roux mixtures are known in Louisiana as "Cajun Napalm". DO NOT splash any on bare skin. NEVER make a Roux in an aluminum pan - Use ONLY stainless steel or cast iron due to all of the constant scraping required during cooking.

USAGE: Make by sprinkling All Purpose Flour into fat over medium high heat while constantly stirring until the desired color is achieved. Liquids are then added into the hot roux while stirring to release any fond stuck on the bottom of the pan.

WHITE: Colorless, very little flavor and by far the best thickening agent.

BLOND: Ivory colored, a mild flavor and has moderate thickening powers.

MEDIUM: Peanut butter colored, a rich, nutty flavor and even less thickening powers.

DARK: Brick red colored, a strong, earthy caramel flavor and minimal thickening powers.

Naturally, the volume of the Roux you use vs the volume of liquid in the dish will determine the eventual balance between flavor and thickening.

1) Medium-weak holding power. Cooking the Roux too long will further weaken its holding power.

2) Stability – The good part about a Roux is that it holds (after being incorporated well) the sauce at its thickening point even after the liquid has cooled off. Certain starches like Tapioca and Corn do not hold very well when they are cooled down.

3) Robust flavor – a Roux imparts a very complex flavor of its own, especially when it comes to the kind of fats you want to add in. Choose fats that have higher heating points. E.g. sunflower seed oil or peanut oil. Butter is commonly used, but animal fats are desirable, if you want a more robust flavor.

4) Color – Varies. If you’re looking for the traditional Dark Roux, cook the flour a little longer before incorporating your fats. If you’re looking for a White Roux which needs little color influence, don’t burn your flour.

5) Consistency – Like the Potato Starch, it should be running from a spoon in a very streamlined position and springing back up a little.

BACK TO TOP           WITHOUT USING STARCH:

If you prefer not to use starch thickeners, there are plenty of alternatives. Of these, the most widely known is agar-agar. This is a jelly-like substance obtained from an algae which is widely used in pastry-making, since it is composed of sugar galactose molecules. It has good thickening properties and may also be used at high temperatures.

If, on the other hand, you need to jellify a liquid at low temperatures, it is preferable to use xantham gum, a linear polysaccharide structure made up of molecules of mannose, glucose and glucuronic acid. It can also be used for stabilizing emulsions, sauces in particular, together with pectin, another well known gelling agent based on the formation of an interlaced structure.

Finally, it is also worth remembering some protein-based thickeners which are cheap and effective. Collagen for example, obtained from Meat Broth, and Egg Yolk, on the condition that it is used at a temperature of approximately 60°C, to prevent it from solidifying.

BACK TO TOP

THICKENING AGENTS
Your favorite seafood has a lot of health benefits and almost an equal number of health hazards. Seafood such as fish, crustaceans and molluscs are a darling of the diet world with its wealth of nutritional components. It has rich reserves of n-3 polyunsaturated long chain fatty acids (PUFAs) and essential micronutrients such as selenium, iodine, potassium, Vitamins A, B (12), D and E, and low sodium concentrations. As a protein, seafood is easily digestible due to its low connective tissue content along with a negligible cholesterol content.
MOBILE
NAME POWER DESCRIPTION & USAGE
STARCHES
All Purpose Flour 0.5 A good thickener for sauces and gravies which does not make them look glossy (but also they will not be clear). Very stable and holds about the same as it cools. It thickens at boiling temperature and must be thoroughly cooked before or after adding. Most commonly this is done by cooking in butter to make a roux, but too much cooking will weaken its thickening power. A dark roux has very little thickening power. Cake flour has the most thickening power, bread flour the least, but all purpose flour is usually used.
Arrowroot 1.5 Flavor neutral and better for thickening acidic foods than cornstarch. Freezes well and is more resistant to breaking down from heat than cornstarch. It will thicken well below the boiling point so can be used for fragile sauces. It produces a clear sauce and the appearance is less glossy than cornstarch. It is relatively expensive but that's not really significant for home use. Arrowroot should not be used in dairy based sauces as it turns them slimy. It should be made into a slurry with cold water before adding to hot liquids.
Beurre Manie 0.5 This is a kneaded mixture of butter and flour, but it isn't pre-cooked, so it must have sufficient cooking time in the soup or sauce.
ClearJel ® 1.0 A modified corn starch much used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It is also much used in home canning as the only thickener approved by the USDA for canning applications (Instant ClearJel® is not suitable). Unlike Instant ClearJel® it is not usable where the product will be frozen.
Corn Starch (Corn Flour) 0.7 Good all-around thickener, but with relatively strong flavor. It makes sauces glossy but somewhat cloudy. Liquid must be at boiling when added, but long cooking after adding will break it down, as will stirring while re-heating. Make a slurry with an equal amount of water before stirring in to avoid lumps. It does not take well to freezing and doesn't work well with acidic foods. It will do better if taken off the heat before acids are stirred in. 1 teaspoon will thicken about 1/2 cup of sauce.
Glutinous Rice Flour 2.0 This is actually "gluten free", this thickener freezes well. Do not confuse it with regular Rice Flour. This flour can be sprinkled over simmering liquids and stirred in without clumping until you have the right thickness. Substitute: Tapioca Starch.
Instant ClearJel ® 2.0 A modified corn starch much used for commercial pie fillings and similar applications. It thickens without cooking, is acid stable, stable at high temperatures and takes freezing well
Kudzu 1.0 Kudzu flour will thicken at room temperature. Rare and expensive - Southerners would rather complain about kudzu than learn to use it. When cooking with kudzu it should be mixed with cold water before stirring into hot liquids and should be stirred well for a while as it has a tendency to sink to the bottom.
Potato Starch 2.0 A good, powerful thickener, but its thickening power is quickly weakened by boiling. Add at the end of cooking and avoid boiling. In Chinese recipes, do not substitute for cornstarch where the coating is also the thickener for the sauce or you'll end up with far too much sauce. Potato starch thickened sauces reheat better than cornstarch thickened, but don't bring to a full boil. Potato starch is preferred for baking as it withstands higher temperatures. It is acceptable for Passover.
Sago 8.0 Made from the inner pulp of a palm. Sometimes found in Asian markets. It needs to be cooked fairly long to develop its thickening power, but is thus rather heat stable. There is another Sago starch made from the inner pulp of a Cycad, but it is seldom found in commerce.
Sahlab 3.0 Made from the root tubers of an orchid grown ONLY in Turkey. Export is currently forbidden and therefore, most "Sahlab" on the market is fake.
Sweet Potato Starch Sweet potato starch is seldom used for thickening - it is used mainly for coating meats and vegetables for frying where a crisp surface is desired. It is sold in Asian markets as a powder and as granules for this purpose. It is also made into noodles.
Tapioca Starch Thickens well at lower temperatures than cornstarch. It is often used to correct the thickness of a sauce at the last minute. Freezes well. Add to hot liquids at the last minute because it breaks down with heat faster than potato starch and a lot faster than cornstarch. No flavor and makes a clear but rather glossy sauce. Sub: instant tapioca (grind to powder unless you desire some texture); glutinous rice flour; potato starch (not for freezing).
NON-STARCHES
Agar Kanten Agar-Agar Made from seaweed, this is similar to gelatin, but stronger and gels without refrigeration. Approved for vegetarians. It can be substituted about 1:1 for gelatin. it is available in Asian markets. It does not work well with acid foods, or foods containing oxalic acid.
Blood Formerly used as a thickener by almost all meat eating peoples (though forbidden by Jewish law), blood has fallen out of favor in "mainstream" (squeamish) North American societies, and is banned by law in some regions. Here in Southern California, tubs of blood (coagulated and non-coagulated) are widely available in Asian and other ethnic markets
Carragenan Derived from seaweed (Irish moss), this gel agent is widely used in commercial products, particularly dairy products such as yogurt or sour cream. This ingredient has been found to cause inflammation, even in the quantities used in commercial products, and it can possibly result in gluten sensitivity. It is best avoided.
Collagens Collagen, obtained from Meat Broth, and Egg Yolk, on the condition that it is used at a temperature of approximately 140°F, to prevent it from solidifying.
Gelatin 8.0 A natural product of meat and fish released with heat. Commercial gelatin is made by boiling hides and bones of domesticated animals. Commercial gelatin is used mostly to produce gels and aspics. 1/4 ounce will set 16 ounces of liquid.
Glucomannan Kon jack Flour 3.0 This white powder is a soluble fiber extracted from Konjack corms. It can gel at room temperature, has 0 carbs, nearly 0 calories, and is diabetic and vegan safe. It firms up more with wet cooking.
Guar Gum Made from a South Asian bean, it's powerful but clumps like crazy. Best mixed with sugar or salt (whichever goes into your recipe) and stir briskly while adding. Some add through a salt shaker for better dispersal. Do not attempt to use as a slurry, it will clump. It will thicken at room temperature, but takes a long time so heat is often used. Prevents formation of ice crystals in frozen foods.
Pectin A natural gel agent found in fruit. It's main use is in the production of fruit jellies and jams
Xanthan Gum This non-starch thickener is increasingly popular with the fancy chef set because its high thickening power allows it to be used in very small amounts which do not affect flavor. At room temperature it is an effective thickener at 1% concentration. It looses strength with heat so it's most used in room temperature or cooled applications. It has unique properties that make it particularly useful in salad dressings and chili sauces. It's made by fermenting sugar with a particular bacterium.
=== JUMP TO INFORMATION (CLICK ON UNDERLINED TEXT) === -- GENERAL INFORMATION -- THICKEN 2 CUPS OF SAUCE -- -- BEGINNERS SHELF STOCK -- FRENCH CHEF DUTIES -- NATURAL THICKENERS -- -- ALL PURPOSE FLOUR -- ARROWROOT -- BUERRE MANIE -- CORN STARCH -- -- GUMBO FILE -- PECTIN -- POTATO STARCH -- ROUX -- -- 100% FOOLPROOF ROUX -- NO STARCH METHODS --

BACK TO TOP           GENERAL INFORMATION:

The primary reasons for thickening cooked liquids is simply mouth feel with a pinch of visual attractiveness thrown in. It imparts a “richness” to a dish without altering the flavor for the most part.

Liquid thickening is for certain an exact science. Different cooking methods call for different types of thickening agents. Experience and practice is the best teacher about the many different kinds of food thickeners in order to determine which is best for your next thick and hearty meal. Soups, Stews, Gravies, Jams, Sauces, Creams and other foods often require a thickening agent to provide weight, depth and texture to those thinner still runny liquids, including Stocks and Juices. Most food thickeners are derived from vegetable and refined starches as well as animal and plant proteins. There are a tremendous number of "Flours" available to be used as thickeners, used mostly in the form of making a Roux, with each imparting it's own flavors and characteristics to the dish.

BACK TO TOP           DIFFERENT THICKENING METHODS FOR 2 +/- CUPS OF SAUCE

LIQUID FACTS: Liquids that are heated enough to boil (even slightly) or use Flour as a thickener WILL become cloudy. Liquids that are heated ALMOST to boiling (a low simmer) WILL remain clear or at worst transparent. Those beautiful Asian dishes with the clear, flavorful broths HAVE NEVER BEEN BOILED.

FLOUR SLURRY

2 Tbsp All Purpose Flour

1/4 Cup Cold Water.

Mix the Flour and Water thoroughly. Stir the sauce while slowly drizzling in the Slurry - Cook for a Minimum of three minutes.

FLOUR ROUX

4 Tbsp All Purpose Flour

4 Tbsp Butter, Grease or Oil

Heat the Fat in a skillet, slowly sprinkle in the Flour while constantly stirring until there is no white Flour visible. Cook for a minimum of three minutes. Stir the Roux into the Sauce you want to thicken.

STARCH SLURRY

1 Tbsp Starch

1 Tbsp Cold Water

Mix the Starch and Water thoroughly. Stir the sauce while slowly drizzling in the Slurry

EGG YOLK THICKENING

4 to 6 Egg Yolks

Use a spoon to remove those ugly White Chalaza strings attached to the Yolk Skin. Beat the Egg Yolks until they are an even color & texture. S L O W L Y add an equal amount of the hot sauce you want to thicken into the Egg Yolks while vigorously whisking. Conversely, adding the Egg Yolks into your hot sauce WILL give you scrambled Egg Yolks in the sauce. Slowly drizzle the sauce/egg mixture into the sauce you want to thicken while constantly whisking. 

LIQUID REDUCTION

Liquids are normally runny because of their water content. You can thicken most liquids by boiling off excess water (as steam) until the desired thickness is attained. Two cups reduced to one or 1 1/2 cups.

THICKENING COLD SAUCES

Slowly add in Guar, Xanthan Gum or Unflavored Gelatin while constantly whisking until the desired thickness is reached

BACK TO TOP           BEGINNERS SHELF STOCK NECESSARIES: 

All Purpose Flour, Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour & Arrowroot. The words "Starch" and "Flour" are completely interchangeable in reference to thickening agents, always meaning a very “fine powder”. Corn Starch is indeed simply fine-ground Corn Flour. There is a reason that every "class" restaurant has on staff, one or more third-in-command "Saucier Chef's". Sauces are considered to be as important to the overall impression and flavor of a meal as is the main ingredient itself.

BACK TO TOP           FRENCH CHEF DUTIES:

1) EXECUTIVE CHEF: Responsibility for E V E R Y T H I N G!

2) SOUS CHEF: Pronounced: "soo". Does anything that the Executive Chef is either too lazy or indifferent to do.

3) SAUCIER CHEF: Pronounced: "sah-see-ayy". This person is the master of ANYTHING either containing or consisting of a sauce and therefore the go-to expert in the usage of thickening agents.

4) GARDE MANGER: Pronounced "gard man-jay". Responsible for all cold food preparation, including cold sauces such as Vinagrettes and Dressings.

5)PERSONAL CHEF: Pronounced "go-fur". That would be you and me.

BACK TO TOP           NATURAL THICKENERS:

Eggs, Milks, Okra, Potatoes, Irish Sea Moss, Etc.

1) Egg Yolks make wonderful thickeners, imparting both a rich flavor and velvety smooth texture, but they're tricky to use. You can't just whisk them into a simmering sauce, they will curdle on contact. Instead, you need to "temper" them by adding some of the hot liquid to the Egg Yolks (See Hollandaise Sauce), whisking the mixture together to bring the temperature up gradually, and then adding it back into to the Sauce.  To prevent the Yolks from coagulating, you need to keep the Sauce below 190°, although this rule can be broken if the Sauce has a lot of Flour in it. 

NEVER - EVER cook Sauces with Egg Yolks in aluminum pans or they'll turn gray.

2) Okra (a.k.a. Lady Fingers) are a long, thin, pointed, green pod-like vegetable that is used pretty much exclusively as a seasonal broth thickener in Creole and Cajun cooking. it is sliced about 1/2 inch thick and added into the nearly complete dish to boil until just tender and release it's thickening properties. Do NOT wash Okra until just prior to use. Overcooking Okra makes it slimy - cook until just tender and ALWAYS avoid re-heating any dishes containing it if possible.

3) Potatoes can be added into Soups and Stews to thicken the broth. You want to use Potatoes with the highest starch content possible (Russets, Long Whites, etc.) because when heated, they tend to break down quickly in liquids.

4) Irish Sea Moss is not a true moss and is not exclusive to Ireland, so go figure. Many people use it for its culinary benefits. If you blend or cook it, the moss forms a mucilaginous gel, turning it into a jelly-like substance. This natural jelly thickens up Smoothies and Shakes and is a key ingredient in Cheesecakes, Puddings and raw Ice Creams. Raw Irish Sea Moss has long been an important ingredient in Jamaican cuisine and raw food preparation.

BACK TO TOP           ALL PURPOSE FLOUR:

All Purpose Flour can be used to thicken runny sauces, both easily and inexpensively. “Raw” Flour has a distinctly unpleasant taste & mouth feel. Flour acts as a starch, but it takes TWICE as much Flour as pure Starches (Corn, Potato, etc.) in order to attain the same liquid thickness. The main advantage to using Flour over Starch comes after refrigeration and then re-heating. Flour thickened liquids will refrigerate and then reheat back to the same texture and silkiness. Starch thickened liquids tend to THICKLY GEL once refrigerated and are difficult to reheat to the same texture later.

BACK TO TOP           ARROWROOT:

Arrowroot is very similar in properties to Corn Starch, albeit, a little more expensive. It makes for a clearer more transparent finished product. It is also used exclusively to thicken foods that are high in acid content as most of the "starch" type thickeners are broken down by acids.

USAGE: Mix into cold water and then add to your hot liquid.

BACK TO TOP           BUERRE MANIE:

A Beurre Manie is pronounced "burr mahn-yay". Made by using your fingers to thoroughly combine flour and softened butter to create a smooth, very thick paste.  It is usually used for quick thickening at the end of any cooking process and it makes everything delicious and a little glossy! Technically, it is a foolproof, lump-free version of a Roux.

USAGE: Add into your hot liquid at any time.

BACK TO TOP           CORN STARCH (Inexpensive):

Reasonably priced thickeners are readily available in all grocery stores today. Corn Starch, Rice Flour, Tapioca Flour, etc.  

Corn starch is a proper flour, used as a thickener when we want to confer a translucent look to the dish. However, since it has quite a strong taste, it is preferable to use it in situations requiring very little cooking,

Tapioca Flour is considered to be the new frontier in the ambit of starch thickeners. It dissolves well without having to be diluted, it has an almost neutral flavour and excellent thickening properties, on condition that it is not used at excessively high temperatures, which would entirely neutralize the effect.

Kuzu Flour, the dehydrated and pulverized root of the eponymous plant is another excellent thickener, considered to be even better than Tapioca. In fact, it has extraordinary thickening properties, with half a spoonful of this powder being sufficient to turn 250 ml of liquid into a jelly.

BACK TO TOP           GUMBO FILE:

File powder, also called Gumbo File, is a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree, native to eastern North America. Choctaw Indians of the American South (Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana) were the first to use dried, ground sassafras leaves as a seasoning, what is now called File, or Gumbo File, used in Creole cooking. It is used in the making of some types of Gumbo, a Creole and Cajun soup/stew often served over rice; other versions of Gumbo use Okra or a Roux as a thickener instead. Sprinkled sparingly over Gumbo as a seasoning and a thickening agent, it ADDS a distinctive, earthy flavor and texture. File can provide thickening when Okra is not in season. Filé translates to "string", suggestive of the powder's thickening ability.

USAGE: Mix into your hot liquid near the end of cooking.

BACK TO TOP           PECTIN:

Pectin is naturally derived from plant cells and is used mainly for making Jams, Jellies and Gelatins. Most grocery stores carry Fruit Pectin Powder, but you can also make your own pectin extract. Boil 2 pounds of tart apples, such as Granny Smith, in 4 cups of water until tender. Pour the juice and pulp into a cheesecloth and suspend overnight with a shallow dish underneath to catch the drippings. Boil the filtered drippings in a small saucepan, reducing the liquid by half. You now have a homemade fruit-based pectin thickening agent that is great for Jams, Jellies and even Fruit Pies.

BACK TO TOP           POTATO STARCH:

Potato Starch is one of the most expensive among traditional thickening agents. Taking care to dissolve it beforehand in a small amount of water to form a “paste”. If added directly to the dish without mixing first with water, would form lumps that are practically impossible to get rid of. Potato Starch performs better at low temperatures. You are advised to add the diluted Potato Starch when you have already removed the dish from the heat, without ever actually boiling the Starch.

USAGE: Mix into cold water and then add to your hot liquid.

1) Great strength and holding power – Use only a little bit to yield a thick sauce.

2) Stability: Quite weak. When you’re heating up a sauce that requires thickening, consider bringing it to a close boil, add the Starch and turn off the fire as soon as possible. Overheating will cause the molecules in Potato Starch to break their bond and will end up resulting in a thin liquid. Be cautious when re-heating dishes that you used Potato Starch to thicken.

3) Semi-light flavor – Not very powering to the tongue when you thicken your liquid. Since its strength is good, you do not need to add too much, this will leave the liquid clear of its flour-like flavor.

4) Potato Starch has no color influence when it’s added to your liquid. But, don’t ask for trouble by cross-contaminating it.

5) Consistency – Silky and stringy. When you scoop some up in a spoon and pour it back down, it should be in a very steady stream, with little silky strings dropping off like a calm waterfall, then when it goes back up, the stream will slightly bounce back up to the spoon.

Potato Starches are great for quick, thin, transparent sauces that require only a small amount of cooking time or reheating of it. Keep in mind that in order to get a consistent thickening agent, ensure that your ratio of flour to water is at least 1:5. Mix them well – Because after leaving it set for long, the starch will fall off and you’ll see water puddled on top of the flour.

BACK TO TOP           ROUX (CAJUN / CREOLE):

A Roux is the one best and most commonly used agents added to thicken up any Sauce or Soup. A Roux is simply equal volumes of all purpose flour and some kind of liquid fat (oil, bacon fat, butter, etc., etc.). Cooked over medium high heat while constantly stirring, scraping and with CAREFUL observation. A burnt (even SLIGHTLY so) Roux is absolutely useless as either a flavoring or a thickening agent - TRASH IT IMMEDIATELY and start all over.

The longer a Roux is cooked, the darker in color and more flavorful it becomes. Conversely, the longer a Roux is cooked, it's ability to thicken those liquids you will be adding it to decreases greatly. There are 4 "normal" named types of Roux: In reality, the possible combinations in between those 4 are limitless. I sincerely believe it takes a Cajun Mother to consistently and properly make a Dark Roux on the stovetop WITHOUT burning it. In defense of that belief, I have enclosed a foolproof method of making a Brick Red Roux in the oven:

BACK TO TOP           100% FOOL-PROOF ROUX:

Unless you count yourself among experienced Cajun or Creole Grandmothers, creating any of the darker Roux can be considered an art form. The stovetop method of creating a dark Roux is extremely quick and extremeleir more difficult… Dark Roux provide extremely rich flavors but are extremely EASY to burn (Especially those Butter versions). ANY burning at all (small BLACK flecks begin to appear) and the Roux is COMPLETELY RUINED, there is NO WAY to repair a burned Roux. The only fix for a burned roux is to wash the pan and begin over. The below link takes you to a Recipe for an oven baked Roux. Slow and time consuming, but you can make a Brick Red Roux that isn’t burnt on your FIRST TRY.

(FOOLPROOF Roux Method Recipe - No-Burn)

CAUTION: The darker Roux mixtures are known in Louisiana as "Cajun Napalm". DO NOT splash any on bare skin. NEVER make a Roux in an aluminum pan - Use ONLY stainless steel or cast iron due to all of the constant scraping required during cooking.

USAGE: Make by sprinkling All Purpose Flour into fat over medium high heat while constantly stirring until the desired color is achieved. Liquids are then added into the hot roux while stirring to release any fond stuck on the bottom of the pan.

WHITE: Colorless, very little flavor and by far the best thickening agent.

BLOND: Ivory colored, a mild flavor and has moderate thickening powers.

MEDIUM: Peanut butter colored, a rich, nutty flavor and even less thickening powers.

DARK: Brick red colored, a strong, earthy caramel flavor and minimal thickening powers.

Naturally, the volume of the Roux you use vs the volume of liquid in the dish will determine the eventual balance between flavor and thickening.

1) Medium-weak holding power. Cooking the Roux too long will further weaken its holding power.

2) Stability – The good part about a Roux is that it holds (after being incorporated well) the sauce at its thickening point even after the liquid has cooled off. Certain starches like Tapioca and Corn do not hold very well when they are cooled down.

3) Robust flavor – a Roux imparts a very complex flavor of its own, especially when it comes to the kind of fats you want to add in. Choose fats that have higher heating points. E.g. sunflower seed oil or peanut oil. Butter is commonly used, but animal fats are desirable, if you want a more robust flavor.

4) Color – Varies. If you’re looking for the traditional Dark Roux, cook the flour a little longer before incorporating your fats. If you’re looking for a White Roux which needs little color influence, don’t burn your flour.

5) Consistency – Like the Potato Starch, it should be running from a spoon in a very streamlined position and springing back up a little.

BACK TO TOP           WITHOUT USING STARCH:

If you prefer not to use starch thickeners, there are plenty of alternatives. Of these, the most widely known is agar-agar. This is a jelly-like substance obtained from an algae which is widely used in pastry-making, since it is composed of sugar galactose molecules. It has good thickening properties and may also be used at high temperatures.

If, on the other hand, you need to jellify a liquid at low temperatures, it is preferable to use xantham gum, a linear polysaccharide structure made up of molecules of mannose, glucose and glucuronic acid. It can also be used for stabilizing emulsions, sauces in particular, together with pectin, another well known gelling agent based on the formation of an interlaced structure.

Finally, it is also worth remembering some protein-based thickeners which are cheap and effective. Collagen for example, obtained from Meat Broth, and Egg Yolk, on the condition that it is used at a temperature of approximately 60°C, to prevent it from solidifying.

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