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Also known as
Araru, Araruta, Indian arrowroot.
Arrowroot, which hailed from the South American tropics more than 7000 years ago, is derived as the edible starch from a rhizome of Maranta species. It is believed that the Arawak Indians called it ‘arrow-root’ because they used it to draw out toxins from people wounded by poisoned arrows.
The tribes called it the Aru-aru (meal of meals), and followed a laborious treatment process to extract the usable arrowroot powder from the roots. The roots are washed, scraped, beaten, soaked, pulped, and finally forced through a sieve. The liquid and fine powders, which make it through the sieve, are dried, leaving the useful arrowroot powder behind.
In India, arrowroot is commonly called kooya. It has a white to purplish color, and grows in sizes ranging from 2 feet to 5 feet. The underground stem of the plant is the edible portion, which yields flour. As such arrowroot has no flavour. It is a fine white powder, with a feel very similar to that of cornstarch.
How to select
• Arrowroot flour is available in more supermarkets these days.
• Select flour that is fine and white, similar to cornstarch.
• One way to test for arrowroot is that it gives off a faint smell when mixed with water, although it is odorless when dry.
• Some manufacturers adulterate arrowroot with other starches (like potato starch), so ensure that you purchase from a reliable merchant – if mixed with other starches, your arrowroot recipes may go wrong!
• In some stores, arrowroot can be found in the form of fresh whole root, labeled as Tse Goo or the Chinese potato.
• The starch is primarily used as a thickener in many foods such as puddings and sauces.
• It can be used in place of flour or cornstarch in various recipes. 1 tsp of arrowroot can be substituted for 1 tbsp of flour, and 2 tsp of arrowroot can be substituted for 1 tbsp of cornstarch.
• The powder should be mixed with a cool liquid before being introduced to a recipe, and it should be added towards the end, since overcooking can destroy the gelling properties of arrowroot. Once the mixture thickens, remove immediately to prevent thinning.
• Arrowroot thickens at lower temperatures unlike thickeners made with flour or cornstarch.
• Unlike many starches, arrowroot turns clear as it sets, and will not interrupt the color of dishes it is included in.
• Since arrowroot flour is very bland, it is used in neutral recipes.
• The whole root can be used in recipes too. The papery layer should be peeled off before the root is boiled or fried. It can be prepared into chips, flavoured with salt and/or spices.
• In baking, it is used as a thickening agent for fruit pie fillings and glazes. It is also used in the preparation of arrowroot cookies. It makes shimmering fruit gels.
• Lack of gluten in arrowroot flour makes it useful as a replacement for wheat flour in baking.
• It is also used in the preparation of homemade ice cream since it prevents the formation of ice crystals.
• Korean cuisine uses arrowroot in the form of noodles. Other oriental cuisines also use it for thickening acidic foods such as sweet and sour sauce etc.
How to store
• Store the rhizomes in the refrigerator.
• In the case of flour, it can be stored in an airtight container in a cool and dry place away from humidity and direct sunlight.
• Historically, there are references to the mashed rhizome being used to cure wounds from poisoned arrows, spider bites and gangrene.
• Fresh juice of the rhizome, mixed with water is used as an antidote to problems arising due to vegetable poisoning.
• It is said to relieve stomach disorders, especially bowel complaints in convalescents.
• Like other pure starches, however, arrowroot is almost pure carbohydrate and devoid of protein, thus it does not equal wheat flour nutritionally.