Whether it is a special sauce, a milkshake, or a delicious soup, thickening is sometimes an issue for home cooks. While there are many ways to thicken foods, some methods fall short of the desired result. If you have ever tried to thicken your food, only to have it turn into a mushy mess, this information is for you.
While many cooks thicken foods to simply make them more appealing to the palate, some individuals suffer from swallowing disorders that can be brought on by age, certain cancers, and Parkinson’s Disease.
Research by the National Center for Health Research has found thickening foods can lead to better swallowing ability in these individuals.
Benefits of Thickening Foods
There are many benefits to thickening foods whether for health reasons or for the taste and appearance of a dish. The following are some of the benefits that can be achieved.
- Thickened foods are easier to swallow.
- A thickened soup or sauce looks more appealing.
- Thickeners do not change the flavor of the food.
- A thickener can add beneficial calories for those suffering from weight loss due to illness.
Traditional Approaches to Thickening
If you have ever watched your mom or grandmother in the kitchen, you have likely seen them use flour to thicken soups, stews, and other delicious dishes. Unfortunately, flour can lead to lumps that make a dish look uninviting. Flour should always be mixed with a liquid and formed into a paste before stirring into a sauce.
There are also other traditional thickeners that can be used, such as corn starch. Any starch-based thickening agent must be mixed with a cool liquid before being added to the soup, stew or dish. It must be briskly whisked in and allowed to come to a boil. Once the boiling action takes place, the liquid will begin to thicken quickly.
Cooks also use tapioca, arrowroot, and potato starch. All of these can offer the desired level of thickening, but they are not appropriate for every dish. Some thickeners cause a cloudy appearance and would not work well with foods that are supposed to be clear in appearance.
Three Innovative Ways to Thicken Foods
When foods need to be thickened because of health issues, it can be trickier to come up with an approach. Older individuals may find it difficult to swallow liquids because of aspiration. Being able to thicken drinks and all types of foods without stress is vital.
Individuals such as John Holahan have come up with innovative ways to thicken foods without changing their taste. These thickeners instantly add volume and can be consumed right away. The following are some innovative ways to thicken your foods.
- Add cooked cereals such as Cream of Wheat and rice cereal. These instantly add volume and increase the nutrition of drinks and soups. Because these are so smooth and finely blended, they do not present any issues with consumption.
- Some people add instant potato flakes to their soups and foods to add volume. These work best in hot liquids because the potato starch needs to be reconstituted before it will be able to thicken. Allowing the potato flakes to sit in the hot liquid will prepare them for mixing.
- Thickening cold liquids is fairly easy with unflavored gelatin powder. This should be vigorously whisked in and allowed to sit for a couple of minutes to reach the right consistency before consuming.
Whether you are a home cook who wants to thicken foods for a better mouth feel or you are taking care of an elderly family member, being able to thicken foods correctly is a must. These ideas should help you find new and innovative ways to thicken the foods and beverages you love.