All about arrowroot

Arrowroot got its name because Arawak Indians would use the rhizomes to draw the poison out of wounds caused by poisoned arrows. Europeans settling in the New World continued this practice and carried the tradition back to their countries of origin. 

Family: Marantaceae

Origin: humid tropical forests of Central and South America

Less authentic kinds of arrowroot…
• Indian arrowroot (India) – or Aircuma arrowroot, made from the Aircuma rhizome which belongs to the Zingiberaceae family (like ginger)
• Queensland arrowroot, which comes from sugar cane
• Brazilian arrowroot or tapioca, which comes from cassava
• Florida arrowroot, which comes from sago
• Hawaiian arrowroot, which comes from pia

In the Caribbean, the Arawaks considered arrowroot an essential element of the daily diet. Evidence of it has been found dating back as far as 1600. They nicknamed it “aruaru,” meaning a food among foods. It was also grown for its curative properties.

Arrowroot is a raw, easily digestible starch, extracted from the rhizomes or tubers of certain tropical plants. Arrowroot and tapioca are often confused, and some manufacturers even sell powdered tapioca under the name of arrowroot since the former is more easily processed, and thus less expensive.

Authentic arrowroot comes from Maranta arundinacea, while tapioca is extracted from the rhizome of cassava or manioc (Manihot utilissima or Manihot esculenta). Only the starch of the Maranta is properly called arrowroot; products made from other plants should be called starch (cornstarch, tapioca starch, etc.)

Arrowroot seeds are slightly larger than those of tapioca.

Growing and processing
Maranta arundinacea is a perennial plant. After 6 to 12 months the rhizomes can be collected by hand. They need to be processed within 48 hours, otherwise they start to rot. Every rhizome contains about 20% starch of which 17 to 18% can be extracted, depending on the quality of the extraction.

The rhizomes are first soaked in hot water, then peeled to remove their bitterness and their fibrous skin. Then they are cut up and mashed to a pulp. This step allows the starch to be separated from the fibrous components.

The pulp is washed and strained. To obtain a purer form, the resulting starch is put into a centrifuge or through a finer strainer. It is then dried and ground to a powder.

Used to thicken liquids such as soups, sauces, etc.

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