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I need a vegan thickener that dissolves well and doesn't have any flavor. I tried tapioca flour the other day and it didn't dissolve very well and left a powdery mouthfeel. Cornstach is not bad. Arrowroot seems to work like cornstarch but it seems like you need more arrowroot to do the same job as cornstarch.

I'm specifically looking for answers involving personal experience with hot and cold beverages - not a list of thickeners I can find online. Hot chocolate and chai are two drinks that I've been doing with non-dairy milk but I would like a creamier, thicker mouthfeel like you'd get from whole milk or cream.

I'm aware of xanthan gum, agar agar and carrageenan, but they're all relatively expensive so I have not personally tried any of them. Personal experience with those would be cool. I really like this Bolthouse Farms cold chai protein drink, which is vegan and lists carrageenan as an ingredient, so I was thinking about trying to get some of that. Also guar gum? Cellulose gum?

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Are you sure that you want a thickener? Yes, the texture is thicker, but what makes dairy cream taste so creamy is the fat, the viscosity has much less influence. –  rumtscho Apr 27 '12 at 9:22
    
Yes, the effect I'm looking for can be achieved without much fat, as in the Bolthouse Farms product which is quite low in fat (3.5g per 8oz, much lower that dairy cream). Also I looked at McDonald's shakes ingredients and they have a lot of guar gum as well as carrageenan of cellulose gum. In smoothies, bananas can give the effect, but they wouldn't work for this application because they have flavor. On the other hand peanut butter, which is fatty, contributes more oiliness than smooth thickness like a shake. However emulsifier and stabilizers may be used instead or in additon to thickeners. –  paul Apr 27 '12 at 15:26
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5 Answers 5

Xanthan gum may be more expensive than you like, but consider that you so VERY LITTLE of it that it will last a long, long time. There's a reason why it's used in industrial production so much, I think -- it's very cost effective.

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Yes, you will use only a little of it - but it won't give you a creamy mouthfeel. Xanthan gum produces a cohesive, gooey texture, similar to gluten. –  rumtscho Apr 27 '12 at 9:19
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If you are talking about the Bolthouse Farms Vanilla Chai Tea, the problem you are running into is that its actually a blend of a plain chai tea and a lightly vanilla flavored soy protein blend. I have tried a few times myself to duplicate it and i came up with this...

  • I would make a good hot chai and mix it with vanilla soy protein powder and whisk it smooth. It was cheapest, tasted closest and i could adjust protein levels upwards without making it chalky. (also gave the desired mouthfeel you were describing)

Other than that:

Testing Vegan Thickeners(Pumpkin pie)

Arrowroot

This was my choice in the end. Arrowroot created the texture closest to a traditional pumpkin pie and had no discernible aftertaste or other negative effects. It's more expensive than egg replacer if you buy it with the other prepackaged bottles of spices, but go somewhere that has a bulk spice area, and it is totally cheap. If you like having the specially labeled 'Arrowroot' bottle (which I do) you can also buy the pricey bottle the first time and then just refill it from the bulk section in the future.

'Natural Desserts' Unflavored Jel

Wins 'Most custardy', with a crust around the edges, but not firm enough to remain intact when served. Still yummy and the smoothest choice. It would be better for a pumpkin pudding than pie. This is also the least common, and most expensive option. So it is not recommended, but I thought I'd still mention it as it was part of the process.

Egg Replacer

I've had some bad egg replacer baking experiences but this was not one of them! The texture was somewhere in between the arrowroot and Jel, so it could hold it's shape when served, but just barely. I think using any more than 2 eggs worth would leave an egg-replacey taste. Not sure how else to describe it, but if you've baked with it, you may know what I mean.

Best Binders and thickeners in a raw diet

Agar Agar

A gelatinous substance derived from red algae and is used in desserts throughout Asia.It can be used as a thickener in soups jellies and ice cream.

Coconut Oil

Made from cold pressed coconut meat.It is a raw naturally saturated fat containing medium chain fatty acids which the body can easily metabolize. It is used often in desserts but also as a skin moisturizer.

Cacao butter

Replaces butter in sweets and is also used in white chocolate desserts.

Dates

Great for use as a binding agent such as Christmas pudding in place of eggs.Blended with water they will both bind and sweeten.

Soy lecithin

Will act as a binder in sweets and cakes.

Flax seeds

Are rich in Omega 3 so are a good alternative to fish and can be used in soups and dressings as a thickener, or as a binder in cakes and burgers.

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edited to include vegan binding agents –  JesseW Jan 6 '13 at 21:22
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This will need to be tested, but what about ground chia seeds? If you put whole chia in water (or juice/smoothie) the seed coats plump up and are a tad gelatinous. They do not alter the flavor of drinks in my opinion.

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Thanks for the advice. I eat chia often mixed into drinks, but they don't completely dissolve into a smooth consistency. I'm looking for something smoother. I'm experimenting with guar gum now. –  paul May 2 '12 at 18:33
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Hot Chocolate is lovely Mexican style: thickened with fine corn meal -masa harina. Velvety texture without the fat

Masa is also easy to stir in as it doesn't clump as badly as flour. Thickens below the boiling point.

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I like using Irish moss (the plant that carrageenan is made from) to thicken cold beverages. It is a bit expensive to buy, but you need very little, so the cost per use is quite low. To use it, you soak a piece of the plant in water overnight, then puree it in a blender until it's as smooth as you can get it. Strain out any bits that are left, and the liquid (which will become a gel as it sits) is your thickener. The liquid/gel is used as is. Just blend it into a liquid to thicken it, no heating required.

I like using this as a thickener for beverages because the mouthfeel is "creamy", so when used in homemade nut/rice/soy milks, it just makes them feel richer without adding any off flavors or odd textures.

Further information can be found here.

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This is actually a very common ingredient in homebrewing beer, used as a clarifying agent. –  paul Aug 2 '13 at 19:31
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