West Indian Arrowroot (Marantaarundinacea L.) plant is a tall herb with short-leafy branched stem from Marantaceae family which yields thick, fleshy, creeping, spindle-shaped, long (15 to 20 cm) and dull white to creamy coloured rootstock rhizomes which contain fine easily digestible starch. It is indigenous to tropical America. It is an under-exploited tuber crop and the rhizomes are valued as foodstuff and as a source of starch. The crop comes up well under shaded conditions and no serious pests and diseases are noted in the crop. It is tolerant to shade conditions and can be cultivated under coconut and areca nut plantations and can yield 20-30 tonnes fresh rhizomes per hectare.
Extraction of starch from arrowroot rhizomes can be done even in households by adopting a simple procedure. It can be economically important crop as it serves as a raw material for cottage industry by unemployed women and rural youth. The starch possesses demulcent and anti-diarrhoeal properties and is used in the treatment of intestinal disorders which add medicinal value to the crop. It is widely distributed throughout the tropical countries like West Indies particularly St. Vincent, which produces about 95% of the world’s commercial supply; India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Philippines and Australia. In India, arrowroot is mainly cultivated in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Orissa, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala. Its powder is one of the nature's finest carbohydrates.
STARCH EXTRACTION PROCESS
Fresh arrowroot rhizomes contain about 25-30% starch on fresh weight basis. The rhizomes are washed thoroughly and then cleaned off the paper-like scale. The scales must be carefully removed before extracting the starch because they impart a disagreeable flavour. After removing the scale, the roots are washed again, drained and finally reduced to a pulp by beating them in mortars or subjecting them to the action of a wheel rasp. The milky liquid thus obtained is passed through a coarse cloth or hair sieve and the pure starch, which is insoluble, is allowed to settle at the bottom.
The wet starch is dried in the sun or in a drying house. The result is a powder, the "arrowroot" of commerce, which is quickly packed for market in air-tight cans, packages or cases. It is the best source of easily absorbable starch. It is a nourishing food for children, chronically ill and convalescents. Arrowroot starch has many medicinal uses as well. As it is nutritive starch that can be easily digested, it is given to baby and people recovering from an illness or medical treatment. Due to urinary antiseptic properties, arrowroot helps in urinary problems. When taken daily it helps to lower cholesterol. It works due to the presence of bioactive compounds such as alkaloids, carbohydrate, cardiac glycosides, amino acids, phenolic compounds, terpenoids, saponins, flavones and gum. Arrowroot starch has extensive application in medicinal, nutraceutical, industrial and bakery products.
USES OF ARROWROOT STARCH
BAKERY AND CONFECTIONARY PRODUCTS
Arrowroot can be consumed in the form of biscuits, pasta, bread, cakes, puddings, jellies and hot sauces. Arrowroot makes clear, shimmering fruit gels and prevents ice crystals formation in homemade ice cream. It can also be used as a thickener in acidic foods such as Asian sweet and sour sauce. It will not make the sauce go cloudy, such as cornstarch, flour, or other starchy thickening agents would. In more recent years, it’s commonly used as an alternative to corn starch which is usually more expensive. Arrowroot powder is twice the thickening power of wheat flour and is gluten free. Unlike cornstarch, arrowroot powder creates a perfectly clear gel and does not break down when combined with acidic ingredients like fruit juices. Arrowroot also stands up to freezing, whereas mixtures thickened with corn starch tend to break down after freezing and thawing. Arrowroot powder is great as a thickener for everything from gravy to puddings and soups. Naturally gluten-free, arrowroot starch is an excellent thickening agent in puddings, sauces and stews, and makes a great binder in meat loaf and veggie burger mixtures.
INDUSTRIAL AND COSMETIC PRODUCTS
Arrowroot is extensively used in many cosmetic products. Applied in place of talcum powder or chemically laced moisturizing creams, arrowroot is recognized as a herbal treatment to make skin softer and smoother and also as an oil absorbent. Arrowroot is the perfect alternative for baby powder. Not only does it have superior properties to talcum powder, but talcum powder-based makeup and skin care products often contain carcinogens. Due to its excellent thickening property, it is also used in hair dye. In Britain, Canada, Europe and the U.S.A, it also has non-food uses such as in carbonless paper manufacturing for computers.
MEDICINAL AND PHARMACEUTICAL USES
Arrowroot flour has been known to be used in many medicines and health-related products. Arrowroot contains several B vitamins, including thiamin, niacin and pyridoxine, and minerals such as copper and iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus and zinc, all providing necessary nutrients for the human body. In the Victorian Era, it was used, boiled with a little flavouring added, as an easily digestible food for children and people with dietary restrictions. The lack of gluten in arrowroot flour makes it useful as a replacement for wheat flour for those people with gluten intolerance. Widely used in primitive cultures, arrowroot has had such traditional uses as healing wounds from poison arrows, scorpion bites and gangrene.
Arrowroot starch may help prevent birth defects, support proper growth and development, and improve your circulation, blood pressure, weight and digestion and studies show it to be highest in protein compared to other native starches and flours. As gluten intolerance becomes more and more common, naturally gluten-free arrowroot is a welcome option for preventing the bloating and stomach pain prevalent in this condition. Arrowroot has also been found to be effective for treating diarrhoea in people with irritable bowel syndrome. Copper and iron in arrowroot are vital red blood cell components, preventing fatigue, weakness and decreased cognitive function, all symptoms of anaemia. Fibre helps push foods through your system efficiently while simultaneously allowing nutrients to be absorbed. This process can prevent constipation, and also helps control blood sugar and subsequent diabetes.
Arrowroot promotes bile production, which increases cholesterol uptake by gallbladder for necessary bile synthesis and helps to optimize cholesterol levels. Folate (vitamin B9) is a B vitamin amply present in arrowroot providing 84 percent of the folate needed in one day in 100 grams (128 grams equals 1 cup). Woman who ingest vitamin B9 during pregnancy help prevent neural tube defects in their unborn children. High amounts of potassium in arrowroot help soften your blood vessels and arteries, benefiting several areas of your body, including helping to prevent heart attacks, high blood pressure and strokes, and promoting oxygen flow to your brain to stimulate brain health. Arrowroot is anti-inflammatory and also can work as an antiseptic, making it perfect for irritated areas such as burns, rashes and sores. In some countries, it is even used with water as a paste to apply to open wounds. Arrowroot is predominantly known for its soothing properties. A natural healer for small irritations, it assists with the drying out of wounds, rashes or blemishes. Because of its natural origin, arrowroot flour will not hurt the skin further, allowing it to rest without additional irritation.
Sanket J. More, V. Ravi, NamrataGiri, Suresh Kumar J. & Arutselvan R.
ICAR – Central Tuber Crops Research Institute,
Sreekariyam, Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala