Tapioca flour also known as tapioca starch is a popular ingredient to use in gluten-free cooking and baking. But what if you don’t have it at hand? We show you the best 9 tapioca flour substitutes. And we also explain when, why, and how to use each substitute.
What is tapioca flour?
To understand better what you can use as an alternative, I think it is important to know what is actually tapioca flour. Have you heard of cassava or manioca or yuca? It is a plant native to South America but it is now also cultivated in West Africa and Asia.
Tapioca flour is made from the root of this plant by extracting its starch content. I found an article that explains very clearly how tapioca flour is manufactured. In short, this is how it goes:
- The root of the cassava plant is washed and peeled.
- The peeled root is then ground into a fine pulp.
- This pulp will be mixed with water.
- Then they separate the starch and the fiber via some filtering equipment.
- Next is to dry the starch part.
- Finally, when it is completely dry, they grind it into a fine powder.
3 important features
Tapioca flour has 3 very distinct characteristics that you need to know about before deciding what to substitute it with
- It needs to be heated to activate its thickening power. Nothing will happen if you add it to your dish without heating it up next.
- Never add it to a hot liquid directly. If you add it to a boiling or hot sauce, the tapioca starch will be activated before you even have a chance to grab your whisk. Your sauce will be lumpy, which you may not be able to fix. The right way is to mix it with a little cold liquid to get them dissolved (create a slurry) and then add it to the hot liquid.
- It can lose its thickening power if it is re-heated again. If you have a soup thickened with tapioca starch that you want to re-heat the next day, it will turn runny again.
4 ways you would use it
Using tapioca flour in an everyday kitchen is not only popular in South American or African cuisine. As it is also available to buy worldwide, its popularity increased significantly. I use tapioca flour in my kitchen in the following 4 ways depending on what I have in mind.
- Thickener – The number 1 reason to have it in a kitchen is to thicken soups, sauces, or stews.
- Pudding base– People also rely on its thickening power to make pudding or custard-like recipes.
- Egg substitute – Tapioca flour is a popular egg substitute in vegan recipes, especially for pancakes, crepes, waffles, and such. Or as a binder to veggie patties, burgers, or vegetable balls.
- Gluten-free baking – It is quite popular in gluten-free baking as it helps to raise the starch content of the gluten-free flour mix to be closer to all-purpose flour.
The best tapioca flour substitutes
We go through each and every alternative explaining why or why not they are similar to tapioca flour, and when and how can they be used instead. Here is our list of the 9 best substitutions for tapioca flour:
- Arrowroot starch
- Potato starch
- All-purpose wheat flour
- Gluten-free flours
- Gelatin, Agar agar, Pectin
- Xanthan gum, Guar gum,
- Collagen (like eggs)
- High-starch vegetables
Cornstarch (The Best of All!)
Cornstarch* is the best substitute as it works in all 4 cases I explained above. It is perfect as #1 thickener (like in our vegan onion gravy recipe), as #2 pudding base (vegan custard tart, or vegan panna cotta), as #3 egg substitute (beet burger, or mushroom meatballs), or as #4 gluten-free flour (gluten-free pizza crust)
- Cornstarch is available in almost all stores. It is a widely distributed starch product and cheaper than the others.
- It is a stronger thickener than tapioca starch. The thickening power of starches depends on their amylose-content. Tapioca starch has 15-18%, while corn starch has a relatively high one, 25-30%. If you want to substitute corn starch for tapioca, you need less to reach the same result.
- It needs higher heat to be activated, usually at the boiling point. As soon as it thickens, you need to take it off the heat, as over-mixing and over-heating will deflate it and the sauce becomes runny again.
- Cornstarch does not do well with high acidic liquids like tomato, citrus fruit, wine, or vinegar. It can lose its thickening power. So watch out if you want to use them to thicken pie filling since not all fruit responds the way you expect them to.
- Tapioca starch turns opaque when heated, while corn starch remains somewhat cloudy.
Arrowroot starch* can also be a good substitution for tapioca flour. It ticks 3 of the 4 boxes: #1 as a thickener, #2 as a pudding base, and #4 as part of a gluten-free flour mix. However, I have never ever seen a vegan recipe where it was used as an egg substitute for pancakes, crepes, and similar dishes.
- Its thickening power is quite close to tapioca flour having 20% amylose-content, while tapioca has 15-18%. It means you can substitute arrowroot for tapioca starch 1:1 ratio.
- It also needs lower heat same as tapioca flour.
- It is also opaque just like tapioca flour when it is heated.
- This starch is even less common to find in supermarkets than tapioca flour.
Potato starch* can be another substitute for tapioca flour, as they are quite similar to one another. It ticks 3 of the 4 boxes: #1 as a thickener, #2 as a pudding base, and #4 as part of a gluten-free flour mix (gluten-free sweet potato gnocchi). However, I have never ever seen a vegan recipe where it was used as an egg substitute for pancakes, crepes, and similar dishes.
- Its thickening power is quite close to tapioca flour having 20% amylose-content, while tapioca has 15-18%. It means you can substitute potato for tapioca starch 1:1 ratio.
- It also needs lower heat same as tapioca flour.
- It is also opaque just like tapioca flour when it is heated.
I have to eat gluten-free, but wheat flour aka all-purpose flour has been a good substitute to thicken soups, sauces, or stews before, as well as the go-to flour to make baked goods. Sadly, wheat is not gluten-free, so it is not an alternative for someone who has coeliac. It ticks only 2 of the 4 boxes: #1 as a thickener and #3 as an egg substitute.
- All-purpose flours are a go-to thickening agent for those who don’t have to eat gluten-free. It is cheap, available in all stores, and easy to work with.
- It has a high 25% amylose-content, so its thickening power is closer to cornstarch than to tapioca flour. If a recipe calls for tapioca flour as a thickener, you need half of the amount of all-purpose flour.
- It is not really a suitable substitute for tapioca flour when it comes to making puddings, custards, or fruit sauces. If you were to use it to make puddings, you will end up with a very floury taste.
- Wheat flour can be used to bind veggies patties, burgers, and balls together instead of tapioca flour and eggs.
- It is also not acceptable in a gluten-free diet.
If you need to eat gluten-free, you have an option to thicken sauces with gluten-free flours instead of tapioca flour. We listed more than 90 gluten-free flours, which means there are plenty to choose from. The most common ones are oat flour, rice flour, buckwheat flour, millet flour, and almond flour. It only ticks 3 of the 4 boxes: #1 as a thickener (vegan mushroom pasta), #3 as an egg substitute (vegan frittata, vegan breakfast casserole), and #4 in gluten-free baking
- If you have a branded GF flour mix, you can use them as a thickener. These flour mixes do have some type of starch in them which helps the substitution easier.
- Out of all stand-alone flours, rice flour would be the easiest, cheapest, and closest thickener of soups.
- Chickpea flour is beloved to make an eggy batter for omelets, frittata, and similar recipes.
- None of the gluten-free flours are suitable substitutes for tapioca flour when it comes to making puddings, custards, or fruit sauces.
Agar agar / Gelatin / Pectin
They are all very powerful gelling agents so they are not an ideal substitute for tapioca flour in many cases. Gelatin is an animal-based option, while agar agar* is made of red algae and is widely used in vegan recipes. Pectin* comes from fruits typically apples. If you want to use them as an alternative to tapioca flour here are the pros and cons you need to consider. It ticks only 1 of the 4 boxes: #2 – a pudding base.
- They are a suitable alternative for tapioca flour to make puddings or custards or similar dishes. However, they are powerful thickeners, so you need only a very small amount.
- They are perfect to make jams or jellies like this dried cranberry jelly.
- What was a pro is also a con. They are too powerful, so they are not really suitable to thicken soups, stews, or sauces.
- While making vegan cheese can be challenging, tapioca flour is used to make stretchy gooey consistency like vegan mozzarella, while agar agar is perfect for sliceable ones like this pistachio nut cheese.
Xanthan gum / Guar gum
They are quite powerful thickening agents so they are usually not an ideal tapioca flour substitute. They have gained popularity with gluten-free baking in place of or in the combination with other gluten-free flours. Both xanthan gum* and guar gum* tick 2 of the 4 boxes: #1 as a thickener and #4 as part of a gluten-free flour mix.
- The best way to use them as a tapioca flour alternative is in gluten-free baking. Since you can’t use all-purpose wheat flour, gluten-free flour mixes often use tapioca or corn starch in combination with xanthan gum or guar gum. It makes for a gooey, chewy texture for gluten-free pizza.
- They are too powerful, so they are not really suitable to thicken soups, stews, or sauces.
- They are not commonly available in stores. So you might need to search a bit longer. They can definitely buy them online (xanthan gum here* and guar gum here*).
- Even though you need small amounts they are sold in larger quantities, so they can be a pricey investment for some.
Collagen (like eggs)
Eggs are quite a common ingredient to use as a thickening agent. To avoid them I make crepes, pancakes, gluten-free pie crust, and gluten-free pop tarts with tapioca flour. So it is a bit of the other way around. If you don’t need to avoid eggs, they are great alternatives to thicken certain dishes.
- Eggs are commonly used to make pudding and custard-like dishes. They are also used to make veggie patties, burgers, meatballs stick together.
- Eggs are widely available in stores.
- Not allergy-friendly. It is not suitable for people following a vegan or plant-based diet as well as for those who have an egg allergy of any type.
- Eggs are not really suitable to thicken soups, sauces, or stews as it is hard to navigate at what heat you make scrambled eggs instead of thickening your sauce.
There are some vegetables with a high natural starch content that can help you replace tapioca flour in some cases. They usually tick only 2 of the 4 boxes: #1 as a thickener and #3 as egg substitutes.
- Potatoes – It is one of the best tapioca flour substitutes when it comes to veggie alternatives. We use them all the time to thicken soups like this cream of spinach soup.
- Sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or pumpkin – I use them to make vegan chocolate pudding or sweet potato brownies
- Chickpeas, lentils, and beans – You can also thicken soups, stews, and sauces with pureed cooked legumes. I use chickpeas to make a thick hidden vegetable sauce. Have you heard of black bean brownies or chickpea blondies? You can skip starches or flours altogether to make them.
- Tomato paste – It is perfect to thicken tomato-based sauces, stews, and soups without any starch. Not to mention it will enhance the tomato flavor.
Yes, it is the same. Tapioca is a very fine powder-like flour that is actually pure starch, hence the two different names and the misunderstanding. Whichever is on the packaging, you can be sure you are using the correct ingredient. Due to this confusion brands like Bob Red Mill’s have started labeling their products to contain both names.
No, it is not the same. Both flours are made of cassava root so that much is true. However, the major difference is that tapioca flour is pure 100% starch, while cassava flour has actually some fiber. Here is a newspaper article on how cassava flour is manufactured. It starts the same with washing, peeling, and finely chopping the cassava root. But then to make tapioca flour the starch and the fiber are separated, while to make cassava flour, the finely chopped root is dried and then milled into flour.