Arrowroot vs Tapioca: What’s the Difference?

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Are arrowroot and tapioca the same? We’ll dive into how they are different and when you should use one versus the other.

Arrowroot vs taopica

Arrowroot vs Tapioca. I know when I first came to the Paleo Diet, I had no idea what the difference was between Arrowroot and Tapioca.

I thought they were the same and I soon learned they were not the same animal at all.

Although many people use the name arrowroot interchangeably with tapioca flour, they are not the same at all.

They are both procured from tropical root vegetables, but entirely different plants.

Arrowroot starch comes from the Maranta arundinacea plant, which is considered an herb, while tapioca is obtained from the cassava root.

They are both gluten-free, so they are popular thickeners for those with gluten sensitivities.

While both arrowroot and tapioca are used to thicken sauces, soups and such, they are just different enough to make it important for you to know the differences so that you can use them for top results. This is something that you will also hear in the best culinary schools

What is Arrowroot flour?

My Favorite Arrowroot brand

Arrowroot is great for thickening such foods as sauces, fruit desserts, glazes and baked goods. It produces a glossy shine to foods as it thickens, which can be beneficial with certain types of foods, such as glazes.

However, in some combinations, like in meat sauces, arrowroot’s glossy finish can produce an odd effect.

Arrowroot powder has two specific perks over other thickeners: first, it can be used with acidic liquids.

Many other thickeners are not reliable to use with acidic foods because they break down and lose their thickening properties.

Second, arrowroot is recommended for thickening foods that you plan to freeze later because it stays stable at low temperatures.

If you need to use a thickener for a milk-based food, arrowroot is not what you want to use since it turns slimy when added to dairy.

It has very little taste of its own, and therefore will not interrupt with the flavor of the prepared mixture.

Arrowroot should be added at the end of cooking because it thickens quickly and can start to break back down and become watery if left over heat for an extended period of time

Arrowroot Flour Recipes

Recipes that use arrowroot

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What is Tapioca starch flour?

(My favorite Tapioca Flour Brand)

You know this is one of my favorite flours to work with and I’ve got a lot of detail on how to work with it in my cookbook Paleo Eats and some helpful tips in my Guide to Paleo Flours.

Sometimes called tapioca flour, tapioca starch, like arrowroot, is most often used to thicken glazes, sauces, gravies and baked goods.

It stays stable in cold temperatures, so it too is good to use for foods you will freeze.

It also works well in milk-based recipes, so it should be used instead of arrowroot for gravies or other dairy-based recipes.

Tapioca is not recommended for use with high acid foods because it loses its ability to thicken when mixed with acidity.

Liquids thickened with tapioca will have a transparent sheen which adds to the presentation of many foods.

Like arrowroot, tapioca has very little taste of its own, so it will not interfere with the taste of a recipe.

Tapioca thickens quickly, so is a good staple to keep on hand for last-minute thickening before serving a dish.

Tapioca can withstand being heated for a long period of time, which is an important difference from arrowroot.

Some cooks like to use pearl tapioca in pies and puddings, but take note that these pearls often do not fully dissolve, so it is recommended to use the starch to ensure the tapioca completely dissolves, unless you want the added texture.

To avoid clumping, both arrowroot and tapioca starch should be mixed with cold water before adding them to your hot mixture to thicken.

Neither requires high heat to dissolve, so they can be added towards the end of cooking without concern for taste.

Tapioca Flour Recipes

Recipes that use Tapioca Flour

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Paleo Pop parts that are vegan to boot!

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Crispy just like you remember pizza crust should be!

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38 Comments

  1. Debbie February 7, 2015 at 3:02 pm

    Just made your pretzels. They are so delicious warm with mustard! The only issue I had was that some of the pretzels did not retain their shape while baking. But, they still tasted amazing.
    Thank you for yet another wonderful recipe!

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly February 24, 2015 at 9:23 am

      I’m glad you enjoyed them Debbie. I’ll have to ponder on what was the cause.

      Reply
  2. Michele Spring February 9, 2015 at 9:18 am

    Great article Kelly! Think this is definitely one of those areas that confuse people (me included!)

    Reply
  3. Jennifer February 10, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    What substitute options are available for those allergic to tapioca?

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly February 12, 2015 at 8:19 am

      You can try Arrowroot since it’s similar but obviously not from the same plant hun.

      Reply
  4. Anna @Green Talk February 11, 2015 at 3:21 pm

    When do you use one over the other when you bake. I generally see tapioca uses in GF products.

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly February 12, 2015 at 8:18 am

      I know a lot of people substitute them without any issues. I just prefer Tapioca flour.

      Reply
  5. Nathalie February 15, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    As a diabetic, I have a harder time with my blood sugars after eating tapioca than with arrowroot.

    Diabetic Paleo

    Reply
  6. Victoria February 16, 2015 at 7:34 am

    This is excellent! Thank you!

    Reply
  7. Mking February 18, 2015 at 2:54 pm

    What a timely article. I brought home a bulk bag of tapioca starch and a bulk bag of arrowroot starch last night, and I can’t tell them apart! Do you have any way to distinguish between the two without a label? Any experiments I can do to figure out which is tapioca or arrowroot?

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly February 22, 2015 at 12:11 am

      I would try dissolving some in milk to see which one was slimy (arrowroot).

      Reply
  8. Judy March 8, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Hi Kelly! I just wanted to say thank you for your articles and recipes. They are always very helpful and ENJOYABLE! <3 Judy

    Reply
  9. Ann Bartholomew March 8, 2015 at 11:23 am

    And then there’s cassava root flour…

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly March 27, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      yeah, Cassava flour is totally different though. It doesn’t behave like either of these flours.

      Reply
  10. Wendy Hay March 10, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Great article Kelly, it’s to have an explanation of both handy.

    Reply
  11. HEIDI October 6, 2015 at 3:12 am

    AWWWW….I WAS HOPING FOR A LITTLE BIT OF PROFESSIONAL ADVICE ON HOW TO AVOID THE FLOUR BOMB WHEN MEASURING (EITHER OF) THESE FLOURS OUT. THEY ARE HORRIBLE IN THAT WAY. KA-POOF!!!!

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly October 15, 2015 at 7:41 am

      Yes, they do kinda explode. I just scoop slow and move like molasses lol.

      Reply
  12. kathy hath November 5, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    But…but…what about which is healthier for you? Which is better at not raising blood sugar? Which has a lower glycemic load?

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly November 20, 2015 at 10:55 am

      Both are starches so they are going to raise your blood sugar hun. If you are worried about this hun you should use almond flour and coconut flour.

      Reply
  13. Patti January 18, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Thank you for a great article! I am new to this so your article helped me 🙂

    Which one would be best for making Vegan (lactose-free) Ice Cream? I have been given an ice cream machine and no idea what to do with it.

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly June 19, 2016 at 3:10 pm

      I’ve made a truck load of ice cream recipes for the blog and never used either flour to be honest. Just make sure to use full fat coconut milk and it will work hun

      Reply
  14. Michelle January 31, 2016 at 7:46 am

    I got a recipe from another site on how to make corn free baking powder and it calls for arrowroot. I was wondering if tapioca was okay to substitute for this recipe as it is what I have on hand. After reading your post, I wonder if tapioca starch would be the best one to use anyway>

    Reply
  15. Frances July 27, 2016 at 1:52 am

    I’ve recently read on the Iodine Workshop that tapioca is a goitergen; I can’t find out if arrowroot is too.

    Reply
  16. Maureen September 16, 2016 at 9:03 am

    Very helpful article. I have an icing recipe and it require arrowroot but I picked up tapioca instead. I was wondering if I could substitute for equal amounts. Thanks.

    Reply
  17. Dr Doug Terry /Terry Chiropractic January 29, 2017 at 1:56 pm

    Hey Kelly,
    Thanks for all your awesome info and recipes!!! FYI on tapioca….it can act as a “cross-reactant” to gluten(causes a similar reaction to gluten in CERTAIN peoples bodies) even though it is chemical different. CYREX Lab which does alot of immunology testing has a list of a number of foods that can act like gluten in certain(not all) people

    Doug

    Reply
  18. John May 14, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Hi Kelly, my name is John and can I ask you a question about replacing arrowroot flour or starch ( is it the same ) . I found this gluten free flour mix that has the following: 2 1/2 cups brown flour; 1 cup tapioca flour; 1 cup potato starch,and 1/4 cup arrowroot flour. How can I replace or substitute the arrowroot flour with or can I omit it and if I do will it jeopardize the entire mix? Thank you very much John.

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly August 27, 2017 at 4:58 pm

      Hun, you are using a mix so this is not a 1 to 1 replacement. Unfortunately, you would be doing recipe development if you made the switch and I can’t help.

      Reply
  19. Stephanie July 7, 2017 at 7:16 am

    I am trying to bake my first paleo bread. The recipe calls for cassava flour and arrowroot flour. Can I substitute tapioca flour in place of arrowroot flour?

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly July 11, 2017 at 6:29 pm

      Yes, you should have no issues doing this Stephanie.

      Reply
  20. Azeem August 27, 2017 at 3:57 am

    Can we use taro root flour instead of arrowroot flour in recipes? The question is, both are same or not? Please reply

    Reply
    1. Kelly Bejelly August 27, 2017 at 4:31 pm

      I’m not sure hun. I would think if it’s not as processed as arrowroot and tapioca flour and would be more similar to Cassava flour.

      Reply
  21. Dianne Banner February 9, 2018 at 10:16 pm

    Thank you so much for clarifying the difference between Arrowroot and tapioca. I am just starting the AIP diet and so it is essential not to use tapioca. I am glad I read labels!

    Reply
  22. Isabelle May 22, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    Hi, any input on using tapioca or arrowroot starch for coating meat? I usually use cornstarch, but decided to use tapioca. OMG, what a disaster! When it was time to cook the meat (and I was expecting to get that crispy coating), it all stuck together no matter how often I would seperate the pieces or leave them apart from each other, as soon they touched an other piece they would stick like crazy. So I don’t think these 2 starches are good for coating anything you want to cook.

    Reply

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