Mama taught me that when I want to thicken gravy I should reach for the cornstarch. So I was thinking. What did people use to thicken gravy, pudding, stir fry, or sauces before we had cornstarch factories? Is there a way to use whole foods and get the thickening I want? 

I looked up traditional Chinese recipes, claiming to be hundreds of years old. They called for cornstarch. Hmmm. From all that corn that grows in China. Right.

But then one day I was looking up how to make Chicken Makhani, a wonderful indian curry-type dish, and it called for ground cashews! Eureka! Finding that got my brain unstuck. Here are lots more options for whole food that help with thickening.


An awesome trick for thickening a stew or soup is to take a scoop of the stuff and blend it in your food processor or mini-chopper, then put it back in the pot.


Grated or shredded potatoes will work best. This is another good option for soups or stews.


Grind up some wheat, rice, oats, or whatever grain you like, and use the flour to make a paste, then add to the pot.


Yummy custards have been made with eggs forever, and you can make a decent pudding that way too. But eggs will thicken soups too. Beat the egg, and stir in some of the hot liquid, then stir it into your soup. (Experiment!)


Cashews and peanuts, ground into cashew butter or peanut butter can thicken a curry or other dish. The peanuts do add flavor, so make sure it fits with what you’re making. On the other hand, you’d be amazed what a little peanut butter can do for the flavor or many things, including chili!

One Comment on “Thickening sauce without cornstarch”

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  1. Karen Stingle says:

    Tahini is a good thickener too. I have used it for years as a milk substitute, as I rarely drink actual milk.

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