Tapioca Powder vs. Cornstarch

Tapioca powder, also known as tapioca starch or tapioca flour, and cornstarch are two common thickeners used in cooking and baking. Both ingredients are white powders that can add structure and improve texture in recipes.

Tapioca Powder vs. Cornstarch

However, there are some key differences between tapioca powder and cornstarch that impact their flavor, nutrition, baking properties, and best uses.

How Tapioca Powder and Cornstarch Are Made

The first major difference between tapioca powder and cornstarch lies in where these ingredients originate.

Tapioca powder comes from the starchy roots of the cassava plant, a tuberous, tropical plant. To make tapioca powder, producers extract starch from the cassava root then dry and grind it into a fine flour.

Meanwhile, cornstarch derives from corn kernels. Specifically, cornstarch contains starch extracted from the endosperm portion of corn kernels after soaking and separating it from protein and fiber.

So while both contain starch, tapioca starch hails from a root vegetable and cornstarch from a grain.

Key Takeaway: Tapioca powder comes from the roots of the cassava plant while cornstarch originates from corn kernels.

Nutrition Profile Comparison

Since tapioca powder and cornstarch come from different botanical sources, their nutritional profiles differ slightly.

However, since both mostly comprise starch, their nutrition is comparably minimal. The main nutritional difference is that tapioca powder contains some iron while cornstarch does not.

Here is a nutritional comparison of tapioca powder and cornstarch per 3.5 oz serving:

NutrientTapioca PowderCornstarch
Fat0 g0 g
Carbs83 g97 g
Fiber0 g0 g
Sugar0 g0 g
Iron11% DV0% DV

As shown, on a per-weight basis cornstarch contains more calories and carbohydrates than tapioca powder. But besides a minimal amount of iron in tapioca powder, their nutrition is negligible.

Given the small serving sizes used in recipes, their nutritional value is generally insignificant.

Key Takeaway: Both starches have minimal nutritional value, though tapioca powder contains a small amount of iron that cornstarch lacks.

Thickening Power

One of the biggest practical differences between tapioca powder and cornstarch lies in their thickening power.

Cornstarch has about twice the thickening capacity per unit volume compared to tapioca powder. So you typically need less of it to reach the desired consistency.

Therefore, if substituted 1:1, cornstarch makes recipes thicker than if using the same amount of tapioca powder.

Tapioca powder also develops thickness more gradually. So it continues thickening dishes off heat, whereas cornstarch thickens fastest while simmering then stops.

So if a recipe calls for tapioca powder, you'll get closest results using about twice the amount of cornstarch or less tapioca starch than directed.

Understanding their different thickening speeds helps determine adaptations in order to prevent over-thickening with cornstarch or under-thickening with insufficient tapioca powder.

Key Takeaway: Cornstarch has twice the thickening power of tapioca powder, so less is needed to achieve the same results.

Heat Tolerance

A notable difference between cornstarch and tapioca powder is their heat tolerance which impacts how they can be used.

Cornstarch withstands high temperatures well without losing potency. Therefore, you can stir it into recipes at the start of cooking so it thickens smoothly as foods heat up.

However, tapioca powder doesn’t tolerate heat as well. It starts thinning out again when dishes approach boiling.

Therefore, when using tapioca powder it's best to stir it in at the end of cooking off heat. Bring foods to a simmer first so tapioca powder thickens immediately without risking breakdown from extended cooking.

So cornstarch has an advantage for recipes with prolonged cooking times. Meanwhile, tapioca powder works for gently cooked or lightly heated foods.

Key Takeaway: Cornstarch holds up better to prolonged cooking unlike tapioca powder which should be stirred in at the end of recipes.

Appearance in Foods

An additional difference between tapioca powder and cornstarch is the appearance they create in finished dishes.

When used as thickeners, tapioca powder produces a glossy, translucent sheen in recipes. The consistency is often described as smooth.

Comparatively, cornstarch creates a more matte, opaque appearance when used to thicken. The mouthfeel tends to be lighter than tapioca powder depending on factors like quantity used.

So if aiming for a richer, shinier finish, tapioca powder may enhance presentation better. But cornstarch suits recipes desiring a fluffier, cloud-like texture.

Consider the visual results you want when deciding which starch to use. Their subtly different effects on food appearance might make one choice preferable for specific recipes.

Key Takeaway: Tapioca powder lends a glossier look while cornstarch creates a duller, fluffier appearance when used to thicken dishes.

Taste Differences

When it comes to taste, both tapioca powder and cornstarch tend to be relatively flavorless. However, they are not exactly the same in this regard.

Tapioca powder contains small sugar molecules lending a subtle sweetness and hint of vanilla flavor. Cornstarch has an earthier, more neutral flavor.

In most applications like thickening sauces, their tasting differences get overpowered by other ingredients. But for delicate desserts like puddings, tapioca powder’s faint sweetness can enhance overall flavor better.

So consider final use when deciding for taste reasons. Otherwise, both dissolve seamlessly into mixtures without altering flavors much either way.

Key Takeaway: Tapioca powder has a subtle sweetness while cornstarch is more neutral-tasting, but generally both incorporate without affecting flavor.

Best Uses for Each Starch

Due to their different properties, tapioca powder and cornstarch each have preferences for certain culinary uses.

Tapioca powder works especially well for:

  • Gluten-free baked goods to improve texture
  • Thickening delicate desserts like custards or puddings
  • Adding glossy sheen to fruit fillings or glazes
  • Binding ingredients in veggie or meat patties

Cornstarch performs best for uses like:

  • Gravies, sauces, soups, stews and curries
  • Stir fry dishes
  • Crispy coatings for frying
  • Pie fillings, curd fillings, cream pies
  • Fruit crisp toppings

Their various strengths suit them for different recipes. Both create luscious desserts, but cornstarch makes excellent gravy and tapioca powder the better pudding. Considering recipe outcomes helps decide which starch fits best.

Key Takeaway: Tapioca powder excels in baked goods and desserts while cornstarch suits savory dishes like gravies that require sustained heat-tolerance.

Can Tapioca Powder and Cornstarch Be Substituted?

Tapioca powder and cornstarch can substitute for one another in recipes in a pinch, with a couple adjustments.

Since cornstarch thickens more potently, use about half as much if swapping it in for tapioca powder.

Meanwhile, replace cornstarch with twice the amount of tapioca powder to achieve a similar thickening effect.

Also consider their different heat stability and visual results. Tapioca powder won’t hold up to prolonged cooking times like cornstarch. And it creates a glossier finish than cornstarch’s duller effect.

With proper adaptations to quantity used and cooking technique, home cooks can successfully interchange tapioca powder and cornstarch depending on what’s available.

Key Takeaway: You can safely substitute cornstarch and tapioca powder by adjusting the amounts to account for potency differences.


What sets tapioca powder and cornstarch apart?

The main differences between tapioca powder and cornstarch include their plant sources, nutritional values, thickening capacities, heat-tolerance, appearances in finished dishes and subtle taste variances.

Is tapioca powder or cornstarch better?

It depends on the recipe and results you want. Tapioca powder works well in gluten-free baking or sweet delicate desserts needing structure. Cornstarch suits prolonged cooking methods better like gravies, stir fries and curries.

Can they be substituted equally?

Not quite - you'll need to adjust ratios to account for cornstarch thickening more potently. Use about half as much cornstarch or twice the tapioca powder when interchanged.

Do tapioca powder and cornstarch taste the same?

Mostly yes, though tapioca powder has a subtle sweetness and cornstarch is more neutral. Generally their flavors aren't noticeable amongst other ingredients.


While tapioca powder and cornstarch share similarities, their differences including plant sources, nutritional profiles, and functionality make each better suited for certain recipes and outcomes.

Consider factors like required thickening power, cooking methods involved, appearance wanted, and intended use when deciding which starch to utilize. With practice swapping them interchangeably, home cooks can deploy tapioca powder and cornstarch confidently even when lacking one over the other.

Sarah Cortez
Sarah Cortez

My name is Sarah and I'm a baker who loves trying out new recipes and flavor combinations. I decided to challenge myself to use a new spice or ingredient powder in my baking each week for a year. Some successes were the cardamom sugar cookies, vivid turmeric cake, and beetroot chocolate cupcakes. Failures included the bitter neem brownies and overwhelmingly hot ghost pepper snickerdoodles. Through this experience I've discovered amazing additions to spice up desserts while learning how to balance strong flavors. Follow my journey as I push the boundaries of baking with unique powders!

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