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What is Arrowroot?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Arrowroot is an easily digested starch extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant, Maranta arundinacea. The starch is used as a thickener in many foods such as puddings and sauces, and is also used in cookies and other baked goods. It is extremely bland, making it suitable for neutral diets, especially for people who are feeling nauseous. The starch is not terribly nutritious, but some people believe that it helps to soothe upset stomachs, which is why many health food stores carry arrowroot cookies.

The arrowroot plant is native to the tropics of South America. It has a long history of cultivation by native peoples, who developed an extensive treatment process for extracting the usable powder from the roots. The roots are washed, scraped, beaten, soaked, pulped, and finally forced through a sieve. The liquid and fine powder which make it through the sieve are dried, leaving the useful arrowroot powder behind.

When Europeans first encountered arrowroot, the Arawak Indians informed them that it was called aru-aru, “meal of meals.” The Indians placed a high value on the root as a food, and the Europeans duly brought it back with them along with numerous other unusual plants and animals. Arrowroot was also used medicinally, with some Indians believing that it should be placed on wounds made with poisoned arrows to draw out the toxins. The Europeans may have begun calling it arrowroot because of the perceived medicinal properties, or they may have simply corrupted aru-aru.

In some stores, this starch is sold as arrowroot flour. The powder should be fine and white, similar to cornstarch. Some manufacturers adulterate it with other starches, so consumers should make sure that they are purchasing pure arrowroot, since these other starches may behave differently in the kitchen. The powder should be mixed with a cool liquid before being introduced to a recipe, and it should be added towards the end, since overcooking can destroy its gelling properties. Unlike many starches, arrowroot turns clear as it sets, and will not interrupt the color of dishes it is included in.

In some stores, arrowroot can be found in the form of a fresh whole root, labeled as Chinese potato or tse goo. The whole root can be processed to extract the powder, but it can also be used in recipes. The papery layer should be peeled off before the root is boiled or fried, and cooks should remember that it is relatively bland.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon344290 — On Aug 07, 2013

What is the composition of arrow root starch? Amylose and amylopectin?

By anon265988 — On May 03, 2012

Anon 14- maybe try it without the milk? You say you have IBS so you have probably had some tests/tried different diets, but just in case, I thought I'd share that my son is lactose intolerant and he has terrible diarrhea. I am looking at arrowroot to thicken his/my milk (he is a baby). Maybe try and eliminate dairy?

By anon265194 — On May 01, 2012

I have suffered from IBS for almost three years every day and have to rush to the bathroom every morning. I have had uncomfortable feelings in my stomach which last for most of the morning and sometime all day every day.

I have just started to eat a few arrowroot biscuits during the day and last thing at night with a mug of warm milk. So far, I have had a few days that I have been able to have a lie in and not rush to the bathroom and my stomach feels almost normal, although it is early days I am going to include arrowroot biscuits in my diet every day.

By anon200845 — On Jul 28, 2011

My son has a persistent cough which he has had for four years. We have seen numerous doctors and also paid for private care, all to no avail.

I was watching a program on television and heard arrowroot is good for coughs but it did not say any more. Has anyone heard of this and if so, in what form would I buy it and in what form should I give it to my son? He is 10 years old.

By anon147537 — On Jan 29, 2011

would arrowroot cause some constipation when used in a diet to thicken liquids due to dysphasia and also in a chronic diarrhea health problem?

By anon129697 — On Nov 24, 2010

Is it okay to add a little in the mix I make of fruit and cream for frozen popsicles?

By anon96958 — On Jul 17, 2010

I am from Jamaica and the arrowroot was use as porridge (cereal) for babies was washed, scraped of its skin placed on zinc to dry, then beat in a mortar and sieved.

By anon65002 — On Feb 10, 2010

We have lots of arrowroot plants in our area. The "natives" of Palawan, Philippines are using it as part of their daily cooking and their staple food.

By twillett — On Sep 22, 2009

Can Arrow Root be used as a substitute for corn starch when baking?

By anon44609 — On Sep 09, 2009

Is arrowroot safe for someone that is extremely hypoglycemic? I would use it as a thickener.

By anon42607 — On Aug 22, 2009

is arrowroot considered a high glycemic food?

By anon39246 — On Jul 31, 2009


Would the Arrow Root cookies help with elderly person's loose bowels or should the powder be added to a food, such as sprinkled on cereal?

Senior Helper

By anon23039 — On Dec 15, 2008

It looks pretty useful in curries as well. Will try it.

By minombre — On Apr 26, 2008

Because of it easy digestibility, arrowroot is used in baby food products, food for elderly patients, and for people with bowel complaints.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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