One of the trickiest things about low carb and keto cooking is finding a good replacement for cornstarch to thicken dishes with. Since you found yourself here at this little blog, you’re in luck, because I have trialed all the things up the yin yang to figure out which alternatives work best, and for what. A lot of folks are under the impression that all thickeners work the same and can be swapped out willy-nilly for one another. But, if you really want the best results, that’s not a great idea. Instead, use the right thickener for the job and get great results every single time! Who doesn’t want that?
But first, here’s the things that will add carbs to your dishes if you use them as thickeners: cornstarch, arrowroot, tapioca flour or starch, potato starch. Just because you’ve seen these used in recipes that call themselves low carb or keto, doesn’t mean they are.
Now, if you’re reading ahead and thinking, “Seriously? I need to get 3 different new ingredients??” Yes. If you want amazing results. Yes. If you want delicious keto or low carb food. Yes. If you want to be a rockstar in the kitchen. Yes. If you want to convince your friends and family that keto or low carb food is The Bomb. I even made it super easy for you to get them into your pantry: they are all linked below. So just get them. And have them on hand. And become a better cook instantly.
Here is your handy-dandy little cheat sheet for what to use when:
Konjac Flour (aka Glucomannan powder) : This is ideal for thickening gravies, sauces, soups, and other hot dishes. It results in a beautiful texture. When reheated after being refrigerated, the dishes don’t separate and are still just as beautiful as when they were first prepared.
When using konjac flour (if the amount is not stated in the recipe, or you are creating your own recipe), start with 1/2 teaspoon per cup of liquid. The most successful method is to wait until your dish is ready and then, stirring with one hand, gently sprinkle the konjac flour evenly over the surface of the dish with the other hand. Then stir fast and well until it is completely incorporated. Continue heating for a few minutes while stirring for it to thicken. If you then want your dish to be thicker, repeat with another 1/2 teaspoon konjac flour. Repeat this process until you reach the desired thickness.
NOTE: Konjac flour does not thicken instantly, and a little goes a long way. By adding konjac flour 1/2 teaspoon at a time, you can get your dish to your desired thickness. If you inadvertently add too much konjac flour and it becomes too thick, just add a little more liquid – stock, water – and stir well.
Xanthan Gum : This is best used to provide structure to keto baked goods. While it doesn’t perform exactly like gluten, it gives you a baked good that does not crumble and fall apart as much as one that doesn’t include it. This is not good to use to thicken sauces, soups, gravies, or other hot dishes. It will result in a slimy texture and it does not reheat well. Slimy is not a good taste. Your dish will separate after reheating.
Guar Gum : The best use for guar gum is in cold applications such as ice cream or smoothies. Guar gum is an emulsifier and keeps smoothies from separating into layers. This is also not good to use to thicken sauces. The texture is off and this also does not reheat well. Guar gum is also apt to become slimy, especially when used with dairy products such as cream and cheese.
Gelatin : This is best used when called for as part of a recipe that has already been formulated. Gelatin does thicken, kind of, but it actually gels, which is different. It also does not gel until it is cold, not not useful for hot things.
These are often suggested as thickeners but are not actually thickeners:
Cream Cheese and Heavy Whipping Cream : These are excellent to add flavor and creaminess to sauces, but they do not thicken it. With cream, if you then simmer it for a period of time and drive off some of the water your dish will become thicker. With cream cheese, because it’s super thick in will make a lot of dishes seem thicker, but it doesn’t actually thicken. Cream cheese may be enough to make your dish thicker, but you need to use quite a lot and it might throw the balance of other ingredients and the flavor off.
Coconut Flour : Using this to thicken a sauce will result in a gritty and grainy sauce, and it also affects the flavor. I highly recommend NOT using coconut flour to try and thicken.
Almond Flour : This is also not a thickener and also results in a gritty and grainy sauce. I highly recommend NOT using almond flour to try and thicken.
Need fabulous soup and dinner recipes to make use of your new thickener skills? Just click on one or both of these!