Rice flour is a versatile ingredient made out of ground raw rice. Rice flour is common throughout Asia, where it comes in many varieties, including sweet, glutinous rice, brown, and black rice flour.
It has many uses across the continent. In Japan, rice flour is used to make mochi, in Korea, people use rice flour to make gochujang chili paste, and in India, people use rice flour to make roti and dosas. More recently, rice flour has crossed over into the Western world where it is a common substitute in gluten-free baking or as a thickener in soups and stews.
However, rice flour is still not a very common ingredient and you may not have success finding it in the grocery store. You can still make gluten-free goods and traditional recipes with these substitutes.
Cornstarch is a starch that is milled from corn kernels, just like rice flour is milled from rice. Although it is used in industry, its most common usage is as a thickener in food.
If you don’t have rice flour on hand, you can use cornstarch to thicken sauces and soups. It can also replace rice flour in some baking recipes because it has a similar light, airy texture. Baking with cornstarch will yield the same crispy results as with rice flour. However, cornstarch is not sticky enough to replace glutinous rice flour, so don’t try using it as a replacement for making mochi. When substituting cornstarch for rice flour, use about half of the recipe’s quantity.
Tapioca flour is a starch, unlike rice flour. It is made from cassava root pulp, a plant common in South America and the Caribbean. Tapioca flour is native to Brazil, from where it spread to the rest of the continent, and is used in traditional dishes such as pão de queijo.
Like cornstarch, tapioca flour is an excellent thickener and is a great rice flour substitute in sauces and stews for people that can’t eat gluten or corn. Tapioca flour is also an excellent substitute for gluten-free baking, for example in pancakes, pastries, and pies. However, it has a slightly sweet taste that does not make it a good choice for savory dishes. When substituting tapioca flour for rice flour, use twice the amount that the recipe calls for, and be sure not to confuse tapioca flour with plain tapioca.
Sorghum flour is a gluten-free flour just like rice flour. It is made by grinding up sorghum, which is an ancient grain still cultivated in Africa and Asia, particularly India. Sorghum flour is distinct from other gluten-free flours due to its sweet flavor and softness.
Sorghum flour is a good substitute for any flour when it comes to gluten-free baking. It has plenty of nutrients and enough structure to create baked goods with stability, since one of the common problems with gluten-free baking is that those goods tend to be very crumbly. However, it does not work as a substitute for thickening recipes or frying.
Potato starch is an effective thickener, just like rice flour. It is made by crushing potatoes, washing out starch grains, and drying the starch into a powder.
Potato starch works best as a substitute for rice flour when thickening recipes. Many cooks consider it a better thickener than rice flour. While potato starch is often used as a binding agent in baked goods, it can’t replace rice flour as the base.
Arrowroot powder is another excellent thickener, just like rice flour. Also known as arrowroot flour or starch, it is extracted from several tropical plants including cassava and Florida arrowroot.
Arrowroot powder is an excellent gluten-free thickener for soups and stews instead of rice flour. However, it is not sticky enough to replace glutinous rice flour and is not a great binding agent for gluten-free baking.