By Dr. Mercola
For more than 7,000 years, people have been using arrowroot for many different applications. In more recent years, it’s commonly used as an alternative to cornstarch. Arrowroot powder is great as a thickener for everything from gravy to puddings to soups.
Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea), which comes from the Marantaceae family of plants, isn’t a plant per se; it’s a nutritionally dense starch that can be extracted from the tubers of a number of perennial rhizomes. It’s not technically a root but rather an underground mass of roots or root system.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica,1 the name arrowroot is “sometimes applied to starches obtained from other plants and used as substitutes for true arrowroot.” The following list specifies some of the plant species that arrowroot is extracted from, depending on the source location:
- The West Indies’ tulema arrowroot (Canna coccinea)
- East India arrowroot (Curcuma angustifolia)
- Brazilian arrowroot (Manihot esculenta)
- Otaheite or South Pacific arrowroot (Tacca pinnatifida)
- Portland or Dorset, England arrowroot (Arum maculatum)
Up until the mid-1980s, around 98 percent of arrowroot starch production originated in tropical regions such as the West Indies, but also in South America and Australia, for use in food for Britain, Canada, Europe and the U.S. It also has non-food uses, such as in paper manufacturing, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.2
In 1984, maranta rhizomes were collected in the West Indies and transported to a growing operation in Tifton, Georgia where, after harvesting, the starch content was found to be comparable in scientists’ assessments.
Manufacturers use extreme measures to produce the fine, silky powder known as arrowroot flour from the plants:
“Arrowroot powder is extracted from plants by a process of soaking the plants in hot water, peeling the tubers to remove their fibrous covers, mashing the tubers into a pulp and then washing the pulp to separate the starch.
The starch is then filtered and ground to powder. Cornstarch is usually made from genetically modified corn and is extracted by a harsh chemical process.”3
Arrowroot Is a Healthier Alternative to Cornstarch
Sometimes called a starch and other times a powder, arrowroot is more desirable as a thickener than often-genetically engineered (GE) flour, cornstarch or rice. Completely safe and with no side effects, it’s known to be safe even for baby formula (although there are far superior foods to feed an infant).4
“Cornstarch is a powdery substance made from (surprise!) corn and is used to thicken gravies and sauces. However, since the advent of genetically modified organisms (GMOs), almost all cornstarch is made from corn that has been genetically engineered …
You can buy non-GMO cornstarch but it is usually more expensive. The process of extracting cornstarch can be quite harsh as well, utilizing chemicals and high heat to transform the corn into the powder in the can.”5
Currently, many bakers use flour and cornstarch for cakes, bread and pasta. Anyone looking for an alternative recipe for any of these is likely to find arrowroot powder to be a superior ingredient. Additionally, arrowroot has no odor or flavor to speak of.
“Its powder is one of nature's finest carbohydrates. Its qualities such as easily digestible and ability to mix well with a wide range of food ingredients makes it … one of the most sought-after starch substance[s] in infant formulas and confectionaries.”6
Arrowroot Flour a Great Alternative for People With Digestive Disorders
Arrowroot contains several B vitamins, including thiamin, niacin and pyridoxine, and minerals such as copper and iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc, all providing necessary nutrients for your body.
Although it is a starch, it contains no gluten, and studies show it to be highest in protein compared to other native starches and flours.7
As gluten intolerance becomes more and more common, naturally gluten-free arrowroot is a welcome option for preventing the bloating and stomach pain prevalent in this condition.
Individuals with celiac disease must eliminate gluten to improve their condition, so arrowroot offers possibilities for eating similar foods without the discomfort. Arrowroot was also found to be effective for treating diarrhea in people with irritable bowel syndrome.8 Some people wonder about the nutritional aspects of arrowroot.
“Fresh tender arrowroot can be eaten raw, and in cooking as you may use it in a way like any other tubers. However, mature roots are exceedingly fibrous and thus, less appetizing.
If you intend to buy the arrowroot flour, look for branded product displaying authenticity, quality, and pureness. Adulteration with cheap substances such as cornstarch, potato powder, tapioca, etc., is a common practice.”9
Arrowroot in the Kitchen Has Multiple Purposes
You may find a few surprising food uses for arrowroot from this list:
- Prepare deliciously crunchy, homemade sweet potato fries by tossing them into a mixture of salt, pepper and arrowroot powder before placing them in the oven.
- In desserts, arrowroot is a great substitute for packaged puddings, custards and chocolate sauces. It blends equally well with coconut milk to produce the perfect consistency.
- Arrowroot powder is an ingredient in a plethora of delicious, gluten-free bread recipes, often along with coconut flour, almond flour, flaxseed meal or all of the above.
- For black bean, quinoa burgers or meatloaf that may have a tendency to fall apart, arrowroot powder helps hold them together, sometimes better than eggs, but you can use both.
- To put a little body into stir-fries or vegetable stew, arrowroot powder fills the bill beautifully. Create a “slurry” by whisking a few tablespoons of arrowroot powder into one-half cup of cold liquid (or shaking them together in a sealed jar), and watch it thicken as you stir it into your hot broth.
When cooking with arrowroot powder, it’s best to add it toward the end of cooking so the nutrients aren’t diminished and the mixture isn’t broken down by the heat.
Arrowroot Can Improve Many Functions Throughout Your Body
Due to these and other valuable compounds in arrowroot, your body obtains multiple health benefits.
✓ Balanced pH — Calcium ash, the sole starch in arrowroot, comes in the form of calcium chloride, a compound that’s central to maintaining the proper balance between your acid and alkali.10
✓ Digestion — Fiber helps push foods through your system efficiently while simultaneously allowing nutrients to be absorbed.
This process can prevent constipation, and also helps control blood sugar and subsequent diabetes.
✓ Circulation — Copper and iron in arrowroot are vital red blood cell components, preventing fatigue, weakness and decreased cognitive function, all symptoms of anemia.
Also, increased circulation conveys higher levels of oxygenation to your organs and other areas, which provides energy.
✓ Lowers cholesterol —Arrowroot promotes bile production, which increases cholesterol uptake by your gallbladder for necessary bile synthesis.
In this way, arrowroot can help optimize cholesterol levels.
✓ Healthy weight — Compared to potatoes and other starches, arrowroot provides fiber and other nutrients, and there’s less chance of between-meal hunger.
✓ Metabolism — Vitamin B in arrowroot optimizes your enzyme function and regulates your metabolic processes, such as your circadian rhythm and glucose oxidation.
✓ Growth, development — Arrowroot contains more protein than other root vegetables and starches.
Plant protein, arguably one of the most essential nutrients, optimizes healthy growth and development, and it’s easier to digest.
✓ Birth defect prevention — Folate (vitamin B9) is a B vitamin amply provided in arrowroot, providing 84 percent of the folate needed in one day in 100 grams (128 grams equals 1 cup).
Woman who ingest vitamin B9 during pregnancy help prevent neural tube defects in their unborn children.
✓ Heart health — High amounts of potassium in arrowroot help soften your blood vessels and arteries, benefiting several areas of your body, including helping to prevent heart attacks, high blood pressure and strokes, and promoting oxygen flow to your brain to stimulate brain health.
Arrowroot for Topical Healing, Absorbency and Improved Skin
Multiple accounts associate arrowroot with its effectiveness as a poultice packed on poison-dart wounds, septic sores, scorpion bites, gangrene and even smallpox.11
The same healing principles may be in play for your hair and skin. Applied in place of talcum powders or chemically laced moisturizing creams, arrowroot is recognized as an herbal treatment to make your skin softer and smoother, and oil absorbent, as in this review:
“Arrowroot is the perfect alternative for baby powder. Mix one-half cup arrowroot with 1 tsp. chamomile. The chamomile will soothe the skin, and the arrowroot will keep it dry. This mixture is also safe and effective for adult use.”12
Arrowroot may be used in cosmetics, such as face powder and foundation, for drying out blemishes and keeping skin clear. Not only does it have superior properties to talcum powder, but talcum powder-based makeup and skin care products often contain carcinogens.
“Arrowroot flour has been known to contribute to many medicines and health-related substances because of its moisture-absorbing properties. Arrowroot is anti-inflammatory and also can work as an antiseptic, making it perfect for irritated areas such as burns, rashes and sores. In some countries, it is even used with water as a paste to apply to open wounds.
Arrowroot is predominantly known for its soothing properties. A natural healer for small irritations, it assists with the drying out of wounds, rashes or blemishes. Because of its natural origin, arrowroot flour will not hurt the skin further, allowing it to rest without additional irritation.”13
Arrowroot powder is also useful as a deodorant ingredient. Simply blend 3 tablespoons each of arrowroot powder, baking soda and coconut oil and add a few drops of your favorite essential oil or a pinch of clove powder. You may never touch potentially toxic antiperspirant again!