Tempura is a popular Japanese dish consisting of seafood or vegetables coated in a light, crispy batter and then deep fried. The key to getting that distinctive light and crispy coating is using a special tempura batter mix or tempura flour.
However, tempura flour can be difficult to find in regular grocery stores. Luckily, there are several readily available ingredients that make excellent substitutes for tempura flour when making tempura at home.
What is Tempura Flour?
Tempura flour is a pre-mixed product designed specifically for making Japanese tempura batter. It typically contains:
- Wheat flour - forms the base of the batter
- Starch - helps make the coating crispy
- Powdered egg - adds color and flavor
- Baking powder - lightens the batter
Using tempura flour makes preparing tempura batter fast and easy - you just add water and mix. The ingredients are already combined in the right proportions.
Many tempura flours are gluten-free. Removing the gluten helps the batter stay light and crispy rather than becoming heavy and chewy.
Key Takeaway: Tempura flour contains wheat flour, starch, egg, and baking powder pre-mixed in the ideal ratios for creating light and crispy tempura batter.
Why Use Tempura Flour?
There are a few advantages to using pre-made tempura flour rather than mixing up all the ingredients separately:
- Convenience - No measuring multiple ingredients. Just add water and mix.
- Ideal ratios - The ingredients are pre-combined in the perfect proportions.
- Guaranteed results - Takes the guesswork out of making great tempura batter.
- Gluten-free options - Many brands offer gluten-free tempura flour.
So while it's possible to make tempura batter from scratch, tempura flour makes the process much easier and more foolproof.
Best Tempura Flour Substitutes
If you don't have tempura flour on hand, don't worry - you can mimic it with a variety of common ingredients. Here are the best alternatives:
Regular all-purpose flour makes a decent tempura flour substitute.
- Use ice-cold water when mixing to inhibit gluten formation.
- Avoid over-mixing to prevent a chewy texture.
- Adding an egg produces a rich golden color.
All-purpose flour contains more gluten than tempura flour, so the coating may not be quite as light and crisp. But it still works well in a pinch!
Rice flour is naturally gluten-free.
- Makes extremely light and crispy tempura batter.
- Absorbs less oil than wheat flour for a less greasy coating.
- Rice flour gives the healthiest and lowest calorie results.
For best texture, use superfine white rice flour. Brown rice flour contains more fiber so the coating may be grittier.
Adding potato starch to regular flour gives a crisper coating.
- Potato starch helps keep the batter light and crunchy like tempura flour.
- Mix at a 2:1 ratio of flour to potato starch.
- More potato starch = crisper results.
Potato starch contains no gluten, so combines well with wheat flour to mimic tempura flour.
Cornstarch is an easy substitution for potato starch.
- Produces an extremely crispy and delicate coating.
- Works well on its own in place of tempura flour.
- Mix with cold water until a batter forms.
As a pure starch, cornstarch makes tempura very crunchy. It lacks the other ingredients found in tempura flour.
Okonomiyaki flour contains baking powder so it puffs up just like tempura flour.
- May add seafood flavor from bonito flakes.
- Check the ingredients - some add yam powder for a chewier texture.
Okonomiyaki and tempura flours are very similar except for the additional seasonings sometimes found in okonomiyaki flour blends.
Adding a small amount of baking soda to all-purpose flour gives a crispier coating.
- Baking soda encourages browning and creates air bubbles.
- Start with 1/2 tsp baking soda per cup of flour.
- Too much baking soda can make the coating bitter.
Use baking soda sparingly - it's much more powerful at lightening batter than baking powder.
How to Make Tempura Batter
Making tempura batter is quick and easy:
- Combine dry ingredients - All-purpose flour, rice flour, potato starch etc. Sift to remove any lumps.
- Mix wet ingredients - Ice-cold water, egg yolks, club soda etc.
- Stir wet into dry just until combined into a lumpy batter. Avoid over-mixing.
- Rest batter 5-10 minutes to allow ingredients to hydrate.
- Dip ingredients into batter and fry in 340-360°F oil until golden brown.
- Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt if desired.
- Serve immediately with dipping sauce for maximum crunch!
Key Takeaway: Making tempura batter takes just a few minutes - combine dry ingredients, mix in cold liquids, then coat and fry foods for a light crispy coating.
Frying Tips for Crispy Tempura
Follow these tips to get the crispiest, lightest tempura possible:
- Use very cold water - This prevents gluten development. Chilled club soda also works.
- Don't overmix the batter - Just mix until combined to keep the batter light.
- Rest the batter 5-10 minutes - Allows ingredients to fully hydrate.
- Fry in small batches - Overcrowding drops the oil temperature and makes tempura soggy.
- Use the right oil temp - 340-360°F makes tempura perfectly crispy without burning.
- Blot on paper towels - Removes excess surface oil to maintain crispiness.
- Eat immediately - The irresistible crunch lasts only minutes out of the fryer!
Key Takeaway: Crisp tempura comes down to using very cold liquids, avoiding over-mixing, frying at the ideal temperature, and eating straight away.
Can I use cornstarch instead of tempura flour?
Yes, absolutely! Cornstarch makes an excellent replacement for tempura flour all on its own. It will produce an extremely crispy and delicate coating. Mix cornstarch with very cold water until a thick, drippy batter forms just before frying.
Is cake flour good for tempura?
Cake flour naturally has a lower gluten content than all-purpose flour, which makes it an ideal choice for getting a light, tender tempura coating. Sift the cake flour well before using to remove any lumps.
Can I use all-purpose flour for tempura?
You can use all-purpose flour, however the higher gluten content may result in a slightly thicker, chewier texture compared to tempura flour. Make sure to use ice-cold water and avoid over-mixing. Adding a small amount of cornstarch will also help improve the crispness.
What oil is best for frying tempura?
Good oils for frying tempura include canola, vegetable, peanut, safflower, or soybean oil. Avoid olive oil as it has a low smoke point. Some chefs recommend using a blend of canola oil and sesame oil, as the sesame oil adds a wonderful flavor.
Should tempura batter be thick or thin?
Tempura batter should be thicker than pancake batter but thinner than cookie dough - about the consistency of heavy cream. It will readily drip off ingredients dunked into it but still coat them evenly. Avoid mixing the batter so much it becomes thick and pasty.
While tempura flour makes preparing classic Japanese tempura simple, a variety of everyday ingredients can be used instead. Rice flour, potato or corn starch, and all-purpose flour all create a crisp coating when combined with ice-cold liquid and used properly.
Frying at the right temperature and avoiding over-mixing ensures tender, delicate tempura. With the right technique, these easy tempura powder substitutes can match the results of tempura flour.