What Are Thickeners?

What Are Thickeners?

Written by: Dennis Reinhardt


Time to read 2 min

Thickeners, also known as thickening agents, are substances that increase the viscosity of liquids without altering their other properties. They are essential in the kitchen because they provide the proper smoothness and consistency to dressings, sauces, soups, and desserts.

Types of Thickeners

There are various types of thickeners, each having unique properties and applications. Typical food thickeners include the following:


The naturally occurring source of the tasteless polymer agar is seaweed. It functions as a thickener, stabilizer, and emulsifier. In recipes for jams, jellies, and desserts that are vegan or vegetarian, agar is frequently used in place of gelatin. In the food industry, it is widely utilized.

Xanthan Gum

Fermentation of simple carbs produces xanthan gum, a natural thickening and stabilizing agent. Its versatility in working well in a range of temperatures and pH levels makes it a useful ingredient for sauces, dressings, and gluten-free baking.


Because cornstarch is composed of long starch molecules that expand and unravel when heated in the presence of moisture, cornstarch thickens. It's commonly used to increase the thickness of sauces, soups, and puddings.

Guar Gum

Guar gum is derived from guar beans and, when added, forms a gel that helps liquids stay together. Owing to its low calorie count and high soluble fiber content, it is a useful thickening agent in many culinary applications.

Arrowroot Starch

Arrowroot starch is easily absorbed, gluten-free, and flavorless. Extra virgin olive oil, extracted from the root of a West Indian shrub, adds a glossy, velvety texture to recipes that work well in gravies and sauces.


Gelatin is a flavorless, colorless thickening and gelling agent that is derived from animal collagen. Desserts such as marshmallows, gummy candies, and jellies often include it.

Potato Starch

Potato starch is a starchy flour that absorbs and holds liquid, making it an excellent thickening and binder for soups and sauces.

How Food Thickeners Are Used

Thickeners are a need in the culinary arts. They are required in many recipes, including the following, to get the perfect consistency and texture:

Sauces and Gravies

Thickeners contribute to the smooth, rich texture of sauces and gravies, ensuring that food is coated evenly and enhancing flavor.

Soups and Stews

Thickeners give soups and stews a heartier, more satisfying texture.

Dressings and Marinades

To improve their ability to stick to meats and salads, thickeners give marinades and sauces a higher viscosity.

Baked Goods

When baking without gluten, thickeners like guar gum and xanthan gum help give doughs and mixes the structure and flexibility they need.

Choosing the Right Thickener

Selecting the appropriate thickener requires taking into account the specific application and necessary features. The following are some points to consider:

Temperature Stability: Certain thickeners, like agar and gelatin, work well in cold applications, but cornstarch and potato starch work better in hot applications.

Tolerance for pH: Both acidic and alkaline foods can be utilized with thickeners like xanthan gum because they are stable across a wide pH range.

Flavor and Color : Neutral-flavored thickeners, such as arrowroot and gelatin, work well in recipes where the thickener shouldn't alter the flavor or appearance.

Dietary restrictions: For those with dietary restrictions, arrowroot (gluten-free) and agar (vegan) thickeners are suitable alternatives.

Tips for Using Thickeners

Dissolve Thoroughly : To prevent clumping, dissolve thickeners in a small amount of cold water or another liquid before adding them to the main mixture.

Use the Right Amount : Starting with a little dose, it should be gradually raised as necessary. Overuse of thickener may result in an undesirable texture.

Cooking Properly: Xanthan gum thickens without the need for heat, unlike some thickeners that, like cornstarch, need heat to begin thickening.


Understanding the many types of thickeners and their applications will greatly enhance your food preparation skills. Choosing the right thickener is crucial if you want the perfect consistency and quality in your meals, whether you're making a rich stew, a silky sauce, or a gorgeously textured dessert.