A thickener can be any ingredient or agent that is added to other food ingredients in order to create a stiffer or a more dense food mixture.
Some of the common food thickeners include:
A form of dried seaweed. Traditionally used in Asia, it can be substituted for gelatin. It actually is stronger than gelatin and does not require refrigeration to set , so not much of it is needed to achieve the required effect. It is often used in commercially produced ice cream as a thickener. It is also known as agar-agar, kanten and Japanese gelatin.
A starch thickener, very similar to cornflour, which is most often used for sauces and gravies. One of the key attributes of this thickener is its ability to withstand extended periods of heating without breaking down.
Similar to a Roux, this paste is made with equal quantities of flour and butter kneaded together to be used as a thickener that is whisked into sauces, soups, and stews. Unlike Roux, it is not cooked until it is added to the sauce.
A common thickener for a variety of sauces, often being added as a finishing agent for the sauce. It may be added to sauces as an emulsion, becoming a flavor enhancer and thickening agent for hot liquids, or it can be simply added to smoothen and soften the texture and flavour of a sauce.
A group of related carbohydrates produced naturally by boiling red seaweed, carrageenan is used as a thickening agent for a variety of commercially produced food items such as milk, ice cream, puddings, syrups, marshmallow fluff and other food items.
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A type of thickener that is not often used due to inconsistent results. Fresh cheese is required to make the best sauces and as the cheese ages from fresh to several days old, it becomes rougher in texture and possibly more acidic in flavour.
A common thickener for pan sauces, wine sauces and other white sauces. It provides a rich flavour and smooth texture to reduced-cream and double-cream sauces.
Beaten egg whites are often added into many baked items and desserts, providing volume, thickening the ingredients and acting as a leavening agent.
The yolks of eggs work well as a thickener when making different types of sauces, adding both a rich flavour and a smooth consistency. Typically, a warmed sauce that is to be thickened is used to temper the eggs, whisking a small amount of the sauce into the egg and cream mixture before adding the entire yolk/cream mixture to the sauce as it is being heated.
All-purpose flour is a common thickener mixed into liquids. Potato flour (potato starch), which is gluten free, is fine textured flour made from cooked, dried and ground potatoes. When mixed with other flours in bread making, it produces a moist crumbed bread. Flour is also mixed with butter to make another type of thickener referred to as a Roux.
The gelatinous juices released from meats or fish during the cooking process. As a natural gelatin, this highly flavoured juice is added when the sauce is finishing its cooking phase in order to provide a glace. The gelatin creates a syrupy-textured sauce that is often enhanced and thickened further with the use of a fat, such as butter.
The whole kernels of grain, such as barley, buckwheat or oats that have been hulled, cleaned and sometimes roasted, but not cut or flattened. They are similar to barley and can be used in soups as a thickener to stiffen the texture of the soup broth.
A dressing made with egg yolks, olive or vegetable oil, mustard and lemon juice or vinegar. A rich, creamy dressing used as a dressing for salads, a condiment and as a thickener for other dressings.
A gelling substance found naturally in vegetables and fruit. Pectin is needed as an ingredient when making jams and jellies to thicken the mixture in order to make it gel. Available as a liquid or a powdered form in food stores, different brands of pectin contain different ingredients so it is wise to check recipes for instructions on the specific brand suggested so the ingredients required are used to achieve the desired results. The difference typically involves the amount of acid and sugar required to stiffen the food being prepared.
A thickening agent made from cooked flour and fat (generally butter). It is often used as a thickener for sauces, gravies, or soups and is cooked to varying degrees to create a white, blond, or brown roux, depending on how it will be used.
A starch that is extracted from the sago palm, used in baking and as a thickener for soups and puddings.
Often used as a thickener in soups, stews and vegetable dishes.
selected types of vegetables that can be pureed into a thick mixture for use as either a thickener or emulsifier. The puree can also add flavour to the food being prepared.
Used for thickening sauces, gravies, and puddings. It is best to stir it into water first before it is added to other foods, so that it can be more easily incorporated without creating lumps.