How did Arrowroot Get Its Name?

Posted on 12 Apr 2016 19:07

Arrowroot, usually available in powder form, is a root starch used for thickening in similar ways to corn starch or flour, although both the latter come from grains. Arrowroot is also used in the food industry to create very clear gels. This same clearness is an advantage when using arrowroot to thicken at home. Unlike corn starch, arrowroot does not make sauces, stocks, or gravies cloudy or opaque.

Arrowroot has many clear advantages over other starches. Despite these advantages, do not think that arrowroot is always the better choice. One disadvantage, for example, which is true of root starches in general, is that it loses its thickening power with prolonged heating or too high a temperature. It sets much more quickly than cornstarch, but is also less forgiving if left on the heat too long. You can get more info on using arrowroot starch in your cooking at

Now, let's move on to the origin of the name of this root. Arrowroot, first recorded in English in 1696, was derived from the Arawak word aru-aru meaning "meal of meals."

Aru-aru was used by the Aruac Indians as a very starchy meal made from the root. They valued it's nutrition and energy value. It is also said that the root was used to draw poison from wounds made by poision arrows. The English word arrowroot was based on this association with poison arrow wounds and the similarity between the word arrow and the Arawak word aru-aru.

Mock Turtle illustration from Alice in Wonderland

Fresh arrowroot tubers from Maranta arundinacea
Image by Noblevmy via ml.widipediaImage Credit

There is another theory of the word's origin, less common, that it was derived from an South American Indian word araruta, meaning "root flour."

The species Maranta arundinacea L. is the main plant used for arrowroot starch, but other plants also have arrowroot in their names and can be used to derive similar starches.

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