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I know of a few ways to thicken sauces and the like:

  • Egg (protein)
  • Flour (protein / starch)
  • Starch (cornstarch etc)
  • Reduction (reducing watery component)

Are these the only common ones, or what else should a cook keep in his repetoire?

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Polysaccharides such as xanthan gum –  derobert Jan 10 '12 at 20:38

2 Answers 2

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Major ways of thickening a sauce -- or, for that matter, some other liquid:

  • Starch (e.g., flour, cornstarch, tapioca, arrowroot)
  • Emulsion (e.g., butter, cream, yolk, mustard, blending in lecithin-and-fat)
  • Coagulated protein (e.g., blood, egg, pureed seafood)
  • Gels/polysaccharides (gelatin, alginate, xanthan, pectin, agar agar, guar gum)
  • Suspension (general puree of solids)

Note that some of the examples of one category can also fit into another.

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What you listed are definitely the most common ways to thicken a sauce and most chefs stick to these basics.

However there ways I can think of to thicken sauce that you haven't mentioned.

  • Some chef use blended cooked vegetables as bases for sauces(carrot, cauliflower, etc). I don't see why it can't work the other way if it is a flavour that works well with your current sauce then the blended vegetables can be added in to thicken that sauce.
  • Gelatin found in roast liquids used to make gravies also participate in making the gravy thicker. I wouldn't recommend using powered gelatin though. You'll most likely end up putting too much and turn your sauce into savory jello. (Hmmmm lol)
  • Xanthan gum as derobert mention in his comment can also be used to thicken sauces. It is a type of natural corn sugar polysaccharide. However note that it is safe to ingest up to 15 grams per day. Eating too much of it will cause bloating and gas.
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