Thicken Your Sauce With Cornstarch (2024)


Danilo Alfaro

Thicken Your Sauce With Cornstarch (1)

Danilo Alfaro has published more than 800 recipes and tutorials focused on making complicated culinary techniques approachable to home cooks.

Updated on 03/18/24

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Thicken Your Sauce With Cornstarch (2)

Cornstarch is a common thickening agent in the culinary arts, but if you add it directly to the liquid you want to thicken, it will clump up. To thicken a sauce or soup with cornstarch, you first need to make a slurry, which is a mixture of equal parts cornstarch and liquid (usually water, stock or wine). It's important to make the slurry with cold liquid, and then add the slurry to the simmering sauce.

How Cornstarch Works

The cornstarch molecules are like little sponges. They soak up water and expand as they do so. The same thing happens with any starch. It's the same way rice or oatmeal or polenta thicken and expand in volume when simmered.

Watch Now: How to Thicken a Sauce With Cornstarch

How to Use Cornstarch as a Thickener

Cornstarch imparts a glossy sheen to the liquids it thickens, so it tends to be used more in sweet sauces and pie fillings than in savory sauces and gravies. Still, it works really well, and it's easy to use:

  1. For each cup of liquid, you want to thicken, start with 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in a small bowl. Add an equal amount of cold liquid and stir until smooth paste forms. This is your slurry.
  2. Whisk the slurry into the hot, simmering liquid that you want to thicken. Bring to a boil and simmer until any starchy taste has been cooked away. Don't cook longer, though, as the starch may break down and the liquid will thin out again.

Thicken Your Sauce With Cornstarch (4)

Cornstarch Alternatives

Something to remember when you're using cornstarch: If your sauce is quite acidic (like maybe it's tomato-based), the acid will cause cornstarch to lose some of its effectiveness as a thickener. In that case, you can substitute arrowroot or tapioca starch. These two alternatives are also better options if what you're making is something you're planning to freeze because cornstarch can take on a spongy texture when frozen. Conversely, don't use arrowroot to thicken a cream or milk-based sauce as arrowroot combined with milk can be a bit slimy.

Additional Uses

Cornstarch's thickening properties can help you out in other ways, too. Suppose you're making a stir-fry, and it's become watery. That often happens when your wok or pan isn't hot enough. All the liquid from the veggies and meat leaks out, causing the food to steam rather than fry. You could let it reduce, but you'll just overcook your veggies. Instead, add some cornstarch (again, make sure to make a slurry) and in a moment or two, all that extra liquid will thicken into a flavorful sauce.

Cornstarch can also be used to make a quick gravy sauce if your meat dish needs a little sauce. In that case, use chicken stock for your slurry instead of water. Once the slurry is made, add in any meat drippings or small bits from the pan (anything is better than nothing) and you'll have a tasty, hot sauce for your roast.

Thicken Your Sauce With Cornstarch (2024)


Thicken Your Sauce With Cornstarch? ›

Still, it works really well, and it's easy to use. A general rule of thumb, is 1 tablespoon of cornstarch whisked with 1 tablespoon of cold liquid for every cup of liquid you are trying to thicken. Whisk the slurry into the hot, simmering liquid that you want to thicken.

When using cornstarch to thicken a sauce How can you avoid it becoming lumpy? ›

Instead of making a slurry, you can also use a sifter or a fine-mesh sieve to sift flour or cornstarch.
  1. Add the flour or cornstarch directly, a little bit at a time, to the hot drippings and liquid.
  2. Thoroughly whisk until the thickener is fully incorporated.
Dec 18, 2023

What is the action of starch thickening a sauce? ›

As a white sauce is heated, the starch grains soften, they absorb liquid & swell. The starch grains break open & thicken the liquid by releasing amylose. The process of gelatinisation starts at 60◦, the sauce begins to thicken at about 85◦ but it's not fully completed until it reaches 100◦.

What can you use to thicken sauce? ›

Ways To Thicken Sauce
  • Tomato Paste. If your soup or stew is watery, adding tomato paste may help! ...
  • Arrowroot. You might prefer to avoid gluten in your recipes. ...
  • Flour. ...
  • Reduce Your Liquid. ...
  • Puréed Vegetables. ...
  • Egg Yolk. ...
  • Yogurt. ...
  • Rice.
Jul 15, 2022

How much cornstarch do I use to thicken liquid? ›

If you're cooking hot liquids like sauces, stock or broth, 1 tablespoon of corn starch per cup of liquid will give you a thin to medium consistency that's appropriate for soups or very thin sauces. 2 tablespoons per cup will give you a thicker, more gravy-like consistency.

Does cornstarch have to boil to thicken? ›

Cornstarch needs heat (in the ballpark of 203°F) in order for “starch gelatinization”—that is, the scientific process in which starch granules swell and absorb water—to occur. In other words, if you don't heat your cornstarch to a high enough temperature, your mixture will never thicken.

What do you do when cornstarch doesn't thicken? ›

Let it cook for longer if it doesn't appear to have thickened. Stir the cornstarch and liquid mixture for two more minutes. Use a stirring utensil, like a wooden spoon, once the cornstarch and liquid mixture begins to bubble. Stir the cornstarch and liquid for about two more minutes.

What happens if you add too much cornstarch? ›

One warning when cooking with a cornstarch slurry is to avoid adding too much, particularly when using it with baked goods. Chattman says that overuse of cornstarch can lend a starchy flavor to a dish. It's also important to note that there are some dishes that may not thicken when mixed with cornstarch.

How much starch does it take to thicken sauce? ›

Using cornstarch to thicken sauce is very similar to using flour, but you need different quantities: Use one tablespoon cornstarch mixed with one tablespoon cold water (aka a cornstarch slurry) for each cup of medium-thick sauce. Thoroughly mix the cornstarch and water together, then pour into your sauce.

Why is cornstarch the best thickening agent? ›

Cornstarch in cold water is insoluble, granular, and will settle out if left standing. However, when cornstarch is cooked in water, the starch granules absorb water, swell, and rupture, forming a translucent thickened mixture. This phenomenon is called gelatinization.

Does starch thicken as it cools? ›

You may also have noticed that dishes thickened with starch will thicken even more once they're off the heat and have cooled down. This happens because without the constant disruption from the all moving molecules, the starch will set into a stable structure with water trapped in between.

Does cornstarch go bad? ›

Good news: Cornstarch is one of those baking staples that can last for years and doesn't really expire. If cornstarch does go bad, it's usually because moisture or pests have been able to get to it—and you'll notice it immediately. It may have an off taste or flavor (think sour or "funky"), or an off color.

What do chefs use to thicken sauce? ›

Three Ways to Thicken Sauce (Cornstarch, Roux, Beurre Manie) | Cook's Illustrated.

Why isn't my sauce thickening with cornstarch? ›

Something to remember when you're using cornstarch: If your sauce is quite acidic (like maybe it's tomato-based), the acid will cause cornstarch to lose some of its effectiveness as a thickener. In that case, you can substitute arrowroot or tapioca starch.

Will cornstarch thicken without boiling? ›

Cornstarch is one of the most commonly used thickeners, but it has some unique traits. So thanks for the good question! Cornstarch must be cooked to 95°C (203°F) before thickening begins. At that point, it usually thickens fairly quickly and the sauce turns from opaque to transparent.

How to thicken uncooked sauce? ›

Cornstarch (and other starches, such as arrowroot or tapioca) are powerful thickeners. Adding just a small amount into a sauce can quickly and easily change the consistency of the dish.


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