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Food Allergy Resources

Basic Recipe Substitutions for Thickeners

May 2013

Overview: Basic Ingredient Substitutions for Food Allergies
Many common allergens are also common ingredients in your favorite recipes. There are some ingredients for which you can easily and successfully use non-allergenic substitutes, and there are others for which satisfactory substitutes do not exist.

Whether or not a "safe" version of a recipe can be successfully made often depends on two important factors. First: what is the role of the allergen in the recipe? Second: how many of the recipe’s ingredients require substitutions? If the recipe only has 5 ingredients and you need to swap out four of them, the end result might bear little resemblance to the original dish. The bottom line: sometimes you can create a "safe" version of a recipe, and sometimes you are better off finding a different recipe altogether.

The following is a general guide to using ingredient substitutions for thickeners. Please verify the ingredients and safety of any products named to ensure that it is safe for your child’s unique allergy issues.

If you need additional assistance in finding product suggestions or where to find ingredients for substituting, post a message in the KFA Food and Cooking forums to obtain suggestions from other parents of food allergic children who are also managing the same food allergies.

Substitutes for Thickeners

To replace 1 Tbsp wheat flour that is used as a thickener for sauces, gravies, and puddings, try one of the following:
  • 1-1/2 tsp arrowroot starch
  • 1 Tbsp cornstarch
  • 1-1/2 tsp tapioca starch
  • 1-1/2 tsp potato starch
  • 2 tsp quick-cooking tapioca
  • 1 tsp xanthan gum

Advantages and disadvantages of some of these thickeners are...

  1. Works well with cold acid fruits.
  2. Does not need to boil to thicken.
  3. Does not need to be cooked to remove the "raw" taste.
  1. When used in a sauce that is served hot, it does not keep long and does not reheat well.

  1. Used for translucency.
  2. Recommended in high-acid fruit environments
  1. Once they have gelatinized, over-beating or overcooking cornstarch-based sauces will cause them to thin.
  2. If the sugar level is too high, cornstarch will not thicken the mixture.
  3. Can have a raw taste if insufficiently cooked.
  4. Lumps can form if the cornstarch is not properly dissolved in cold liquid before it is mixed with the hot liquid.

Potato Starch
  1. Requires less simmering than flour-based sauces.
  2. Has some translucency.
  3. Makes a more delicate sauce than flour.
  1. Starts to lose thickening power at high temperatures
  2. Hot sauces will not stand long, as it does not have much holding power.

Tapioca Starch
  1. Works well in fillings that are to be frozen, as it does not break down like flour-based sauces do.
  1. Will get "stringy" if boiled.

Approved January 2008. Updated May 2013.

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Page last updated 7/29/2012

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