(Maranta arundinacea – Family Marantaceae)
Commonly, starch or flour is made from the underground stems or rhizomes of several tropical plants, but mainly from M. arundinacea.
The plant, originally native to the West Indies and South America, is now widely grown in Asia, Africa, and the Pacific islands.
There are two varieties, red and white; but the red is considered to be superior.
The name is also applied to other starchy roots grown in many other parts of the world, but was originally given as a result of its former use by natives to treat wounds inflicted by poisoned arrows.
True West Indian arrowroot can be eaten whole, boiled, or roasted; but it is fibrous and better served when reduced to a starch. As a food, the pulpy tubers produce a white fluid that is dried, powdered, and milled. The translucent paste is devoid of flavour and will set to an almost clear gel.
Arrowroot can then be used in wheat-free cooking or as a thickening agent to replace cornstarch, although it thickens at a lower temperature than either cornstarch or wheat, and its consistency does not hold as long after cooking.
The remarkably fine grains are very easy to digest making it a perfect “invalid” food. In fact, arrowroot biscuits are one of the first foods given to babies.
Other types of arrowroot include the following:
Queensland/African/Sierra Leone or purple arrowroot
comes from a root native to tropical America, Canna edulis – Family Cannaceae (Canna Family). It is now grown in Africa, Australia, Hawaii, and the West Indies. It and its close relations are known as “tous les mois” in French, meaning ‘every month’ and referring to when they are available. This name has been corrupted into ‘toleman’ or ‘tulema’.
East Indian arrowroot
is widely used in Southeast Asia, especially Burma, Malaysia, and Indonesia. It comes from plants of the genus Curcuma (of the Ginger family – Zingiberaceae), and also produces the spice turmeric. The principal species used for the starch is C. angustifolia.
Indian/South Sea/Polynesian/Tahiti/Hawaii arrowroots
are from Tacca leontopetaloides (or close relatives) and known in Hawaii as “pi”, which is not the same as “poi”, a starch made from taro root.
is extracted from the Cassava in the form of a coarse flour.
Wild or Florida arrowroot/ wild sago/coontie
is extracted mainly from Zamia floridana, which grows in the southern US. Like all others, the tubers yield an edible starch, but must be carefully extracted and processed in order for it to be safely edible.
Oswega arrowroot is the old name for cornflour.