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What is Arrowroot? Facts, Health Benefits & Recipes

Updated on April 24, 2013

What is arrowroot, and what is it used for?

You may have eaten arrowroot biscuits or used the powder to thicken a sauce, but do you know what arrowroot is?

This tropical root has been used for centuries for culinary and medicinal recipes, and is a popular ingredient in gluten-free as well as vegan baking.

It's a staple in my kitchen and I'd like to show you why.

Arrowroot is one of my favourite things to have around. I use it in cooking and baking, to make natural cosmetics and cure all sorts of common ailments. If you haven't discovered arrowroot yet, you're in for a treat.

photo credit: graibeard via photo pin cc

Arrowroot is Maranta Arundinacea

So, what exactly is arrowroot? Well, it's the name of a tropical perennial plant found throughout the West Indies, Southeast Asia and Africa.

It has been cultivated for around 7,000 years and has been introduced to Florida, Australia and many other warm climates successfully. The root is dried and powdered to produce a white starch which shares the name of the whole plant - arrowroot.

There are two popular theories for the plant's name. Researchers believe that the Arawak expression aru-aru (meal for meals) may have become 'arrowroot' over time. Others say it got its name for its role in treating poison arrow wounds, as the root helps draw the poison out.

In any case, this root has an important historical and cultural place in many traditional groups around the world, as well as in modern times.

photo credit: ArunaR via photo pin cc

Arrowroot biscuits

Being so easy to digest, arrowroot is a popular ingredient in cookies for young children.

Arrowroot uses

You've probably used or eaten a product containing arrowroot at some point without even realising it. Here are seven traditional as well as modern uses for the powder. Of course, arrowroot is used in many other ways, too.

  1. Carbonless copy papers used arrowroot before technology found ways to separate wheat flour into particles small enough
  2. It is used as an odour-less ingredient in baby powder
  3. Arrowroot is a popular and effective thickener of sauces
  4. Home-made natural deodorant can be made using arrowroot to absorb sweat
  5. It is used in animal feed
  6. Arrowroot biscuits of course use this as a main ingredient
  7. Used medicinally, especially for digestive problems

DIY Arrowroot deoderant

You can make an all-natural deoderant with arrowroot powder. For a recipe, click here. I use it, and it really works!

Arrowroot deoderant

Arrowroot deoderant
Arrowroot deoderant

Photo credit

Arrowroot and cornstarch are interchangeable, but arrowroot has several advantages...

Arrowroot vs cornstarch

Why arrowroot is better in the kitchen

Picture by Onlymyself65536 [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Arrowroot and cornstarch are interchangeable, but arrowroot has several advantages that make it better.

Arrowroot positives:

Unlike the cloudy colour that cornstarch can give to sauces, arrowroot-thickened dishes come out glossy and clear.

There's also no raw cornstarch taste, and it is far easier to digest. It works at a lower temperature, and is more effective at thickening. Finally, arrowroot is gluten-free and perfectly safe for those with corn sensitivities.

Arrowroot negatives:

Arrowroot can't be used in dairy-based sauces as it makes them slimy, and it can be more expensive than cornstarch. However, since you need less of it it doesn't break the bank (especially if you buy in bulk for a good price).

Traditional Reunionese arrowroot biscuits

Picture by B.navez [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Bonbons La Rouroute are a much-loved traditional biscuit here in Reunion Island.

Every grandmother has her own secret recipe for these biscuits, which are great for stomach-aches or just to dip into tea.

These biscuits should be very crumbly, and melt in your mouth easily due to the arrowroot's powdery texture. They're a wonderful snack with a cup of herbal tea, especially for someone with a stomach-ache.

While lard is traditional and gives the best texture, you can substitute butter or coconut oil in its place.

To convert this recipe to imperial measurements, I recommend this easy to use conversion website.

  • Prep time: 1 hour
  • Cook time: 15 min
  • Ready in: 1 hour 15 min

Ingredients

  • 200 grams arrowroot powder
  • 100 grams raw cane sugar
  • 100 grams lard
  • 1 whole egg plus one yolk
  • 11 grams baking powder
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions

  1. - Mix together all ingredients except for the extra egg yolk.
  2. - Shape the dough into a ball and stretch once between your hands, then leave to rest for an hour.
  3. - Preheat the oven to 180 Celsius.
  4. - Roll out the dough to about 2cms thick, onto a floured surface.
  5. - Using a glass or cup, cut circles out of the dough that are 4-5cms in diameter.
  6. - Use a pastry brush to brush the egg yolk onto the biscuits.
  7. - Bake for 15 minutes, then cool completely before eating. These biscuits can be stored for several weeks in an airtight container.
Cast your vote for Arrowroot biscuits

...completely safe for pregnant and nursing women as well as babies.

Arrowroot medicinal uses

Arrowroot works really well for any digestive issues such as cramps, diarrhoea, bloating or stomach-ache. A teaspoon of powder in a glass of water is easy and quick to prepare. It is also completely safe for pregnant and nursing women as well as babies.

This arrowroot water mix was the only thing that stopped my heartburn and reflux when I was pregnant. The medicines I tried gave mixed results but the arrowroot always worked quickly.

When my son was a newborn, we put half a teaspoon of arrowroot in a bottle of boiled and cooled water for him. We gave him a couple of teaspoons worth of this drink in the evenings when he was fussy (not too much, as we didn't want him to reduce his intake of breast milk). It helped a lot to calm down his colic.

Picture by Miansari66 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Preparing fresh arrowroot

Picture by Noblevmy [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Although commercial arrowroot powder is made in factories using modern machines, arrowroot is still traditionally made around the world using a mortar and pestle.

Making arrowroot powder

Turning fresh arrowroot into powder is a lot of work. Watch this video to see how it's done.

Cooking with arrowroot

photo credit: 3liz4 via photopin cc

Arrowroot starch, powder and flour are all the same thing and therefore interchangeable. It can be used to thicken sauces and gravies, make biscuits and cakes and delicious vegan ice-cream.

To use, put some arrowroot powder in a small bowl and add just enough water to make a paste. Stir all the lumps out, and add water to make it pourable. You're now ready to add it to sauces, pour over food ready to bake or drink it.

Substituting arrowroot for cornstarch in recipes

2 teaspoons arrowroot = 1 Tablespoon cornstarch

Arrowroot on Ebay

Grab a bargain!

Vegan baking with arrowroot

Arrowroot biscuits - an Australian icon

photo credit: melanie_hughes via photo pin cc

Growing up, we would always be offered arrowroot 'biccies' with a cup of tea when visiting friends or relatives. It's also the most comforting thing to eat when you're sick in bed with a stomach bug. Now that I don't live in Australia anymore, the smell of arrowroot biscuits reminds me of home.

Every Australian has grown up knowing the taste of arrowroot biscuits. This iconic product has been sold since 1888 and was a popular first food for babies and young children due to its digestibility. In the U.S, you can buy Arnott's arrowroot biscuits and many more Aussie products here.

Scroll down for some great vintage images showing arrowroot Australian biscuit advertising through time. Which one do you like best?

Arnott's arrowroot biscuits - Now available on Amazon

Ah, the taste of my childhood!

Arnott's Milk Arrowroot Biscuit 250g
Arnott's Milk Arrowroot Biscuit 250g

- The original and classic Australian arrowroot biscuit - Perfect with a hot cup of tea- Very digestible and good for children- Soothing for sore bellies

 

1914 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1914 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad
1914 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1923 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1923 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad
1923 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1945 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1945 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad
1945 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1955 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1955 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad
1955 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1967 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

1967 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad
1967 vintage arrowroot biscuit ad

Favourite vintage ad

Which of these ads do you like best?

See results

1960s ad for arrowroot biscuits

These classic biscuits were a popular ingredient in 1960s cakes, slices and pies.

Fresh arrowroot

Picture by Noblevmy [CC-BY-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

Do you use arrowroot?

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    • Sara2901 profile image

      Sara2901 4 years ago

      Wow. Its good to know. I have seen this in some stores but never knew how to use it. Thanks.

    • lesliesinclair profile image

      lesliesinclair 4 years ago

      I've never used it myself, but now that I've learned all about it I think I will buy some.

    • alenmic profile image

      alenmic 4 years ago

      I eat arrowroot many times. Thanks for sharing great information.

    • MelanieKaren profile image

      Melanie Wilcox 4 years ago from Pennsylvania, USA

      I haven't as yet, but I think I just may now :) (I really love all of your lenses. They are so top notch. You're awesome! -eheh)

    • PNWtravels profile image

      Vicki Green 4 years ago from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA

      I wondered where arrowroot came from and now after reading your lens, I know. Most interesting.

    • profile image

      JoshK47 5 years ago

      I've always been interested in learning more about arrowroot - thanks very much for sharing!

    • sockii profile image

      Nicole Pellegrini 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Thanks for the introduction to arrowroot. I've heard of it before but have not used it myself.

    • MJsConsignments profile image

      Michelle 5 years ago from Central Ohio, USA

      Nicely done! I've heard of arrowroot but I've never used it and I don't think I've ever eaten it. I certainly be willing to try it.

    • Elsie Hagley profile image

      Elsie Hagley 5 years ago from New Zealand

      Arrowroot biscuits, yes griffins make a very tasty one in New Zealand.

    • artbyrodriguez profile image

      Beverly Rodriguez 5 years ago from Albany New York

      Thanks for explaining arrowroot. Your lens is very informative and you made the subject quite interesting.

    • designsbyharriet profile image

      Harriet 5 years ago from Indiana

      Not in cooking but I know I have seen it as an ingredient in food.

    • profile image

      sherioz 5 years ago

      Just a second. You made me hungry - going off to see if I have some arrowroot cookies hanging around here somewhere. . . darn! forgot they don't have any in this country. Miss them.