When I began cooking and baking low carb, I knew that I didn’t want to add 50 carbs to a gravy or soup by using 1/2 cup of white flour to make a roux and thicken soups, stews, and gravies. So I began experimenting with various thickening agents. Since I have some upcoming gravy and cream soup recipes, I thought this would be a good time to share some of my findings with readers. You don’t have to eat specifically low carb to benefit from these tips. They are good ones for any health-conscious cook. So….if you would like to get some new tricks for thickening in less starchy/less carby ways, read on!

 

Below are links to the ingredients I use and love. I am an affiliate for Amazon.com. If you click on the links below I will earn a small commission. Thank you for your support of this blog!

 

(1) Arrowroot

(Arrowroot Powder)

  • This is the most potent starchy thickener: 1 tsp equals 1.5 tsp of cornstarch and 1 TBSP of flour for thickening purposes
  • Though it is starchy, it takes very little, so across several servings would be very little added carbs and/or calories (compared to, say, white flour)
  • Doesn’t need a butter roux cooked mixture, so super convenient
  • Just whisk small amount into a cold liquid until smooth then add this “slurry” into the hot mixture to thicken; bring back to a boil and allow to simmer until it reaches desired consistency
  • Not as readily available as cornstarch

 

(2) Cornstarch

(Cornstarch link)

  • One of the most potent starchy thickeners: 1 tsp equals 1 TBSP of flour for thickening purposes
  • Just like arrowroot, it takes very little, so across several servings would be little added carbs or calories
  • Like arrowroot, doesn’t need to be made into a heated roux in a pan on the stove top, so super convenient
  • Just whisk small amount into a cold liquid until smooth then add this “slurry” into the hot mixture to thicken; bring back to a boil and allow to simmer until it reaches desired consistency
  • Has double the thickening potency as white flour
  • Readily available
  • Gluten-free
  • 7 grams of carbs per TBSP, so very little per serving when used as thickener

 

3. Sprouted White Flour

(Get your sprouted white flour here!)

  • Requires 2 to 3 times the amount of this compared to cornstarch
  • 6 net carbs per TBSP, so very little per serving when used as thickener–though it takes twice as much of this as cornstarch
  • Can be mixed with cold liquid but much more effective when made into a roux with butter in a saucepan
  • Half the carbs of most white flours

 

4. Xantham gum

(Order xantham gum)

  • Mix with a little warm liquid (some of the soup or gravy scooped out) until well-blended then add back into the soup or gravy
  • Can usually thicken with 1 tsp in place of 1 TBSP of cornstarch and 2 TBSP of flour
  • Start out with 1/8 tsp for a cup of liquid
  • Thickens anything regardless of the temperature
  • Does not change the flavor of whatever it is added to
  • Readily available in commercial products like canned soups and gravies
  • Gluten-free
  • Zero carbs/zero calories

 

5. Cream cheese

  • May loosen in the microwave then drip into hot liquid/soup, whisking as you add it
  • Already contains gums so no other thickener will likely be needed
  • Low carb but super calorie dense; only use if you are truly keto (low carb/high fat) or you do not concern yourself with calories
  • 50 calories per TBSP
  • Takes quite a bit, combined with reducing/evaporating, to thicken
  • Doesn’t give a strong flavor like adding in some vegetables, sour cream, or yogurt might

 

 

 

6. Sour cream or yogurt

  • Just whisk into hot soup or gravy
  • Not as strong for thickening as cream cheese
  • 10 to 25 calories per TBSP–but a lot is needed for thickening
  • Imparts a strong flavor when a lot is used
  • Great for stroganoff

 

7. Potato Flakes

(Potato flakes link)

  • 30 calories and 3 net carbs per TBSP
  • Start with 1 TBSP per cup of liquid; wait a bit for it to thicken; add more as needed
  • No roux is needed; just sprinkle over the soup or gravy and whisk!
  • If perfectly smooth texture is needed, may desire to grind in coffee grinder or processor first
  • Will take a lot more than 1 TBSP for pot of soup, so it might impart some potato flavor (not desired for sweet dishes)

 

8. Cooking Down

  • Thickens through evaporation/reduction
  • Takes patience and time
  • Decreases total volume, so not good for times you need to serve many people!
  • Must watch closely and stir often
  • Not good for true thickening, like a nice, thick gravy
  • Works best for products that have starchy vegetables in them as they release starches during the cooking down

 

9. Setting Up

  • Much like cooking down except you refrigerate or just leave on stove with fire off and wait for cooling to help thicken
  • Much like cooking down, this works best with products that have starchy vegetables in them as they release starches during the cooling
  • Takes patience, reheating, etc., and not fool-proof as you still might need to use a method above afterwards

 


 

10. Puree’d Vegetables

  • Pureed root vegetables work best as they contain more starch
  • Might be calorie dense if using white or sweet potatoes, but not if using carrots or turnips
  • Time consuming as you need to cook veggies separately, process them in a processor or with an immersion blender, then whisk them into the soup or stew
  • Would potentially alter the flavor of something delicate like a gravy or sauce, but could work well in a soup or stew

 

11. Puréed soup

  • Especially good in bean and lentil soups but also used in potato, cauliflower, and squash/pumpkin types of soups
  • To use: ladle out a cup or two of the cooked soup, puree’ it, then whisk back into the soup
  • Thickens well without changing the flavor of the soup

 

12. Baby food

  • You can skip the steps of cooking and pureeing vegetables if you use baby food instead
  • Some baby foods are extremely thin, which would require more of them, which could greatly change the taste of the dish
  • Again, best if used in soups with many flavors already, like soups or stews
  • Use starchier veggies, such as carrots, potatoes, etc.
  • Can be very calorie dense if it takes too much baby food to do the job

 

 

 

 

13. Grated Potato

  • Thinly-grated potato may not require cooking first, which will help because it will thicken as the vegetable breaks down and releases starch
  • 1 TBSP has 9 calories and 2 net carbs; you will use a few TBSP for most thickening, so will likely add up to 100 calories and 20 to 30 net carbs per pot of soup or stew–not that bad when spread across 12 or more servings
  • Start with 3 to 5 TBSP during the last 15 minutes of cooking time; this should be long enough to cook the grated potato and release its thickening properties
  • I have successfully used frozen hash browns that I precooked in the microwave for a few minutes

 

14. Egg Yolk

  • Method One: For each cup of stew or soup, beat one egg yolk with 1 TBSP cream. Beat in a small amount of the hot liquid quickly. Incorporate this back into the soup or stew
  • Method Two: Add two boiled eggs that you “rice” at the end of your cooking time. Do not bring mixture back to a boil. (This is best for small amounts of soup or stew.)
  • Each large egg yolk contains approximately 55 calories and no carbs, so this could go either way in terms of calorie denseness depending on how many egg yolks you use; you can also alter the taste if you use too many; for someone desiring to add more fat and protein to a dish (without being concerned with smoothness of texture), this is a possible option.

 

15. Tapioca Pearls

  • Can be pulverized and used like arrowroot or corn starch
  • Small, dissolvable ones can be used whole in puddings and desserts if you are okay with some small bubbles of tapioca here and there
  • Especially good for sweet products
  • Can also use tapioca starch (already ground tapioca)

 

16. Chia Seeds and Flax Seeds

  • Both of these absorb and expand, so these are best used in recipes that are specifically calling for them

 

17. Cream Soups

  • If you have a healthy cream soup option, this might work
  • These are very condensed, so they will thicken with a smaller amount than, say, sour cream or pureed vegetables
  • Easily add flavors that coincide with your soup’s flavor–cream of chicken, cream of celery, etc.
  • Average can contains approximately 200 calories and 10 net carbs, so easily low carb across many servings

 

So you have options! What you use will be based on whether you want a smooth, perfect texture (like in a gravy) or not; whether you have lots of flavors that will not be disturbed by more intense flavors like vegetables; whether you want a quick thickener or time doesn’t matter; and much more. Happy thickening!

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