Common Food Thickeners-How to Use them in Everyday Cooking?

July 31, 2010- As the name goes, food thickeners are used to have more thickness or consistency in liquid food items. Many types of thickeners and vegetable gums are used in prepared food or the processed food we buy but did you know that we use so many food thickeners in cooking everyday right at our homes too! Yes, there are many natural food thickeners as well as synthetic ones that we use in our everyday cooking without realizing that we, actually, are using food thickeners ourselves! Here are some common thickeners that are used for preparing foods like soup, stew, pudding and many other homemade food

Cornstarch- cornstarch is one of the most common soup thickeners that is used for cooking not only soups but lot others like stew, sauces and gravies. Sometimes cornstarch is used with flour including rice flour- a natural food thickener- where both of these ingredients are blended with cool water and then added to a hot liquid while stirring constantly like for making sauces and gravies.

Arrowroot- Yet another healthy natural food thickener, arrowroot is added to hot soups and sauces for a smooth silky texture. However, a sauce thickened with arrowroot, when cooled may show signs of gelling but gentle reheating returns the sauce to a liquid form.

Cassava (Tapioca)- This natural food thickener is generally used in cooking desserts. Cassava doesn't let the sweet dish to gel upon sitting. It even prevents the food from becoming stale.

Agar-agar- The strong thickening agent, agar-agar is used for making jellies and vegetarian deserts. This thickener in cooking is used generally when the food needs to withstand warm temperatures without melting.

Gelatin- Gelatin is also a natural food thickener as it comes from cows and pigs but for the same reason many people do not prefer it in cooking vegetarian dishes. However, gelatin is an inexpensive thickener used for fruit-flavored deserts including ice creams.

Eggs- Yes, the natural thickener- the very delicious eggs are used as thickening agents in foods like custards. They are also use widely in ice creams and cooked fillings.

How to Use Food Thickeners in Cooking?

Food thickeners used in cooking have to be in right quantity and right manner to get the required consistency in food. The type of thickener as well as the amount of stirring or other manipulation determine the properties of cooked food. For instance, if a custard is cooked over direct heat and stirred constantly, you'll get a sauce that pours easily. However, if the same custard is cooked in a bain-marie with no stirring at all, it will set into a firm custard that can't be sliced.

Use arrowroot and cornstarch for thickening sauces, puddings, and fillings where you want a translucent effect in them. When you want these thickeners to be diluted before adding them to other ingredients, mix them with a small amount of cool liquid, preferably water.

When using flour as thickener in cooking, you must take care to prevent lumping. Stir the flour and sugar together before adding them to liquid. Flour-thickened sauces are also sometimes additionally thickened and enriched with eggs. Temper the eggs to prevent the sauce from curdling. Whole eggs or yolks may be used either alone or in addition to other thickeners.

Gelatin powder or sheets are frequently used for a variety of baked products. Gelatin used in desired amount can result into delicate foams that are firmly set. Such foams retain a mold's shape and can be sliced easily. Before using gelatin, soften it in a cool liquid. Once the gelatin has absorbed the liquid, gently heat to melt the crystals. You can do this by adding the softened gelatin to a hot mixture like hot custard sauce, or by gently heating the gelatin over simmering water.

For soup thickeners, instead of using any common thickener, you may remove some of the cooked vegetables, puree in a blender, and then return the pureed mixture to the pot. This will naturally thicken any soup or stew. You can also use a roux of butter and flour as a thickener. The longer the roux is cooked, the darker and more flavorful it becomes. Alternatively, cream can also be used to thicken soup. In fact, it also adds a luxurious richness to your soup.

Guar gum is a popular food thickener used in food and even in cosmetics as well as medicines. Read Guar Gum Benefits And Uses

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