Thickening soups, stews, chili and sauces can seem tricky, but it does not have to be. Here are several proven methods that work for a variety of diet plans and flavor preferences. This comprehensive list will give you many ideas for future meals that need to be thicker (especially when you have the ingredients already in your pantry). Choose a favorite below and share it with a friend.
Cauliflower cream soup recipe (above), thickened with sour cream.
When I was younger and learning how to cook, my main method of thickening soup was the one I learned from my grandma. Mix flour with water and add a bit of tomato sauce. Voila! Now, with time I’ve learned that whatever you add to the soup may change it’s flavor. Therefore, I’ve been experimenting with different methods over the years.
Then I’ve made a comprehensive list of all the methods I use in hopes it gives you some ideas too. These soup thickening methods work for stews (like beef stew), chili and all sorts of sauces (like tomato sauce, alfredo sauce, gravy, etc.).
Depending on the cooking method and ingredients used, you can add thickeners in the beginning, throughout or towards the end of cooking process. Personally I like to add mine in the beginning.
How to thicken all sorts of soups (stews, chili and sauces) – by Ingredient:
How to thicken soups, stews, chili and sauces with cornstarch (vegan):
- Mix equal parts cold water and cornstarch. Mix until fully blended. Stir in some more liquid (from soup or water) to make it more watery and easy to blend with the rest of the liquids. Then add to soup and continue cooking.
How to thicken soups, stews, chili and sauces with all-purpose-flour (vegan):
- Place a tbsp of olive oil (or any vegetable oil) in a sauce/soup pan, then add 1-2 tbsp of all-purpose-flour. Stir for a minute. Then add 1/2 cup of broth/water and mix. Then transfer to the meal and cook accordingly.
- Mix 1-3 tbsp all purpose flour with 1 cup hot meal liquid. Mix well to get rid of lumps ( I use a fork). Then add to remaining meal and stir well to combine.
TIP: Sometimes when (hot) liquid is mixed with flour it gets lumpy. You can avoid that by adding liquid slowly and stirring constantly. Or, by blending some of the meals liquid and flour with a hand mixer to get rid of the lumps.
The above methods work with oat flour too (or gluten free flour options).
How to thicken soups, stews, chili and sauces with POTATOES (vegan):
- Thicken with (leftover) mashed potatoes – puree mashed potatoes to be fully creamy. Then add some soup broth (water) to them and mix. Then gently add to remaining soup and stir well until combined.
- Instant potato flakes – add instant potato flakes tbsp. by tbsp. until you reach the desired consistency. Stir frequently and allow meal to thicken.
- Grated raw potato – in the beginning of cooking, grate some potato into the soup and let simmer with the rest of the ingredients. It will create thicker and creamier look without having to blend it.
- Cook potatoes within the meal – place one or two potatoes (peeled and cut into large chunks) to cook with remaining ingredients. Once fully cooked separate potatoes in another bowl. Add 1-2 cups of meal’s liquid and puree (blend). Then return to soup and stir in well.
The above method works also with sweet potato or pumpkin.
How to thicken soups and stews with PASTA (vegan):
One way to thicken your soup with pasta is to add small-sized pasta (like orzo) to the soup/stew and let cook with other ingredients. At the end you get a thicker soup like Minestrone soup per se. Alternatively, cook pasta (or use leftover pasta) in a separate pan – bring water to a boil, add pasta and let cook completely. Then, drain pasta and in a tall mixing bowl add 2-3 ladles of the main meal’s broth. Puree pasta with the broth and add to the soup/stew.
White beans stew recipe (above).
How to thicken soups, stews and sauces with CREME FRAICHE (milk based product):
At the end of cooking process add 2-3 ladles of meal’s liquid to another pan. Let cool (it should not be boiling or super hot otherwise it may curdle), then add crème fraiche to the mix. Stir to combine well. When the main meal is still warm, but not boiling add the crème fraiche mix to it and combine. Then serve the meal.
How to thicken soups, sauces, stews and chili with sour SOUR CREAM (milk based product):
There are a few ways to use sour cream as thickener depending on what you are cooking.
For sauces, add some white wine/water (e.g. 2-4 tbsp. per 1/2 cup of sour cream) to the sour cream. Then mix with the sauce or meat juice. The liquid should not be boiling, or too hot.
For soups, chili and stews, mix sour cream with some all purpose flour or cornstarch (1/2 cup sour cream to 2 tbsp. flour/cornstarch), then slowly add some of meal’s liquid to the sour cream (should not be boiling hot or you may get it curdled). Then mix well to combine and add to warm meal (not hot, again).
Homemade roasted tomato soup recipe (above).
How to thicken soup with Greek Yogurt ((milk based product):
Add 2 tbsp. of plain Greek Yogurt and 1 tbsp. all purpose flour to a small bowl. Then mix well until no lumps are visible. Add a few tbsp. of warm (not hot or boiling) liquid from the meal. Mix, then transfer to the main meal. The main meal should not be boiling, to avoid curdling).
How to thicken soup with coconut milk (vegan, GF):
In a small pan add coconut milk (1/2 cup per se), then add 2-4 tbsp. coconut flour, cornstarch or all purpose flour. Mix well, then bring to boil. Stir frequently to prevent from curdling. Then add to curry, chili, soup, etc. towards the end of cooking process. The meal should not be boiling.
How to thicken soup with rice (vegan, GF):
There are a few ways to thicken meals with rice. The simplest one is to add the rice during cooking (make sure to watch cooking time for the specific brand/type of rice used). that way the soup would naturally become thicker.
The other method is to boil rice separately (or use leftover rice), then mix with some liquid from the meal with the rice, puree with hand blender and add to the soup. Proportions could be 1/3 cup rice to 1 cup liquid. It all depends on the quantity of the meal itself.
How to thicken soups, sauces, stews and chili with beans (red, white beans – lima, cannellini, butter, etc.):
Many Italian recipes use beans as soup thickener. There are a few ways to do it. Read on to learn some Italian cooking methods that have been around for years.
Method one: In a saucepan add 1-2 tbsp. olive oil (& seasoning of choice) and 1/2 can white beans. Simmer for a few minutes and then puree with hand blender. Add 1 cup of meal’s liquid to thin it out. Then add to the main meal.
Method two: Add 1/2 can of white beans to the soup, stew or chili towards the end of cooking (10 minutes before removing from stove). It does indirectly make the meal thicker and a lot more tastier.
The above method works great with lentils ( like French brown or green lentils, red lentils) or chickpeas.
Green Lamb Chops soup recipe (above)
How to thicken soups, stews, chilis with (leftover) bread or croutons:
Although adding croutons or chunks of bread does not thicken meals directly, it creates a feeling of fullness by absorbing some of the liquid. It’s common for Mediterranean meals to be accompanied by a slice of homemade bread or repurposed croutons.
How to thicken soups, stews, chili and sauces with butter (roux):
In a saucepan melt butter, then add equal parts all purpose flour and cook for a minute on low heat while stirring. The mix will become thick. Mix it with meal’s broth and gently transfer to cooking pan. Mix well to combine on low heat or after you removed the meal from the stove.
How to thicken soups, stews, chili and sauces with tapioca (vegan, GF):
Tapioca flour is excellent alternative to gluten-rich thickeners for soups, stews and sauces. Add 1 tbsp. of tapioca flour to warm or cold liquid (or water). Stir until paste-like consistency. Then add to the main meal towards the end of cooking and stir frequently.
How to thicken soups, stews, chili and sauces without adding new ingredients:
Take a 1/6 of the soup and place it in a blender. Pulse until fully thick and creamy. Then add to remaining soup.
Here you have it, multiple ways to thicken your soups, sauces, chili and stews. If you know another method, please do share in comments below.
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