White sauce is dairy based, but what is it exactly? What are the main ingredients? Is it thickened somehow or not? How thick should it be? Should it contain herbs or oil?


A white sauce, also known as Béchamel sauce, is butter, flour, and milk. The flour and butter are cooked together to make a roux, and that thickened base is thinned out with liquid (in this case, dairy) to make a sauce.

It can have different thicknesses depending on what you want to use it for — varying the ratio of roux to milk results in a thin, medium, or thick white sauce.

Béchamel is a "mother sauce," meaning it is the basis for many other recipes: you can add cheese, herbs, seasonings, etc., to create a variety of sauces. However, a basic white sauce just has salt and pepper (white pepper if you want to avoid dark flecks in the sauce).

Suggestions for the best way to make the sauce can be found in this related Q&A: What's the best way to make Béchamel sauce?

  • I would add- in the case of cajun cuisine especially- the darkness of the roux also plays a role in thickness. A darker roux has more flavor but less thickening power. – Sobachatina Oct 22 '18 at 17:02
  • Also- I don't trust people (or cookbook authors) who are so concerned about the appearance of black pepper flecks that they are willing to tolerate the nasty, barnyard, disaster that is white pepper. – Sobachatina Oct 22 '18 at 17:03
  • 1
    I agree -- if I'm really feeling fussy about the whiteness of my white sauce, I'd just leave out the pepper entirely. – Erica Oct 22 '18 at 17:11

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