Saturday, May 02, 2009

Spotlight on Spices (and other things...)

The other day I was browsing through recipes when I had to look up an ingredient. I'd heard of it before and studied it in school but haven't had the opportunity to cook with it yet. While scanning the ingredient index, I thought about you, my dear readers, and the way you seem to really enjoy learning about cooking or how you like reading about my culinary adventures. Enter "Spotlight on Spices (and other things...) The ABC's of Cooking with Ms. Maggie Moo."

Each week (probably Saturday's) I will post a new ingredient-in alphabetical order. I'll include some background info, history and flavor profiles if I know them. If I can find the ingredient (some of them might be harder to find), I might even use it in a recipe and post that as well.

Without further is the first installment of "Spotlight on Spices (and other things...)". I hope you enjoy it!


Main Entry:
1 a: any of a genus (Maranta of the family Marantaceae, the arrowroot family) of tropical American plants with tuberous roots ; especially : one (M. arundinacea) whose roots yield an easily digested edible starch b: any of several plants (as coontie) that yield starch
2: starch yielded by an arrowroot

Don't you just love definitions that use the word you're looking up as its answer?

Arrowroot as we know it in the United States is a powder made from the ground plant Maranta arundinacea which is from the West Indies. Here in the United States it has been grown in Florida, but we still typically import it from places like Jamaica. It is said that arrowroot gets its English name from the Arawak people who called it “Aru Aru” or “meal of meals”. I believe though, the other explanation that the Arawaks used arrowroot to draw out poison from those struck with poisonous arrows.

Arrowroot is most commonly used as a thickening agent as an alternative to cornstarch. Typically you can substitute these two ingredients for each other 1 for 1 but "technically" they tell you to use 2 t. of arrowroot to 1 T. of cornstarch. (1 t. less of arrowroot) To cook with it, I suggest making a slurry first with a cold liquid and then adding it to your hot dish. This will avoid lumps.

The advantages that arrowroot has over cornstarch are many, the best in my opinion, is that it cooks out clear. If you've ever seen a cherry pie whose filling was a bright clear red (and did not have a milky film-like sheen) it was most likely made with arrowroot as its thickener. Other advantages are that it thickens at a lower temperature than cornstarch and that it is, for the most part, tasteless. It also freezes well, prevents ice crystals in homemade ice cream and has a very low gluten content, making it easier to digest than cornstarch.

While I've typically seen this used in pies as I mentioned above, you can also use arrowroot in stir fries, sauces, ice creams, and gravies. The list goes on, really. The downfall to arrowroot is that it is harder to find than cornstarch, though I've started seeing in more grocery stores in the past year. You can, however, order it online from Penzys Spices and I'm sure other online stores.

Merriam Webster
Penzeys Spices

On Food & Cooking
Chef Fitz


Travis said...

This is a fantastic idea for a weekly feature! I'm not much of a foodie, but I'm still fascinated by people who can cook.

And of course I love to eat!

Thomas said...

I know how to cook, just not in the kitchen.

Marilyn said...

I'll keep an eye out for it now that I know what its good for. I would probably try it first for a sauce for stir fried meat and veggies. I used to make that kind of thing a lot.

mauniejames3 said...

Great idea Mags. I will look for it too and try and use it as a thickening agent.


Lois Grebowski said...

I use arrowroot and Penzey's vegetable soup base to make fat free "Oil" for salad dressings.

LOVE this feature, but then you know how much I ADORE Penzey's products!

Carole said...

Wow, fun feature! I'll admit I previously knew nothing about Arrowroot before except don't they make "Arrowroot Biscuits" or something like that for babies?? Anyway, I can now check off, "Learn something new today" off my list, thanks! :-D

Bond said...

Cool feature Mags... I did a recipe this weekend and a side dish was HARICOT VERTS...I said WTF are those?

OH...French Beans... sheesh!

The meal was a total success! MANGIA Y'ALL