Instant Food Thickener Review: the Good, the Bad and the Gloppy

For people living with swallowing disorders, it is unsafe to drink “regular” liquids. Mixing an instant food thickener into beverages is the most common, but unsatisfying, way to make liquids safe for swallowing.

Getting proper hydration is critically important to health, recovery and living. Implementing a care plan for thickened liquids is challenging but possible, even at home.

Starch-based instant food thickeners like ThickIt®, Thick & Easy® and ThickenUp® tend to be the most affordable options but they add a noticeable “starchy” taste to liquids. Starch-based thickeners react differently to different liquids. Liquids high in acid, like juice and coffee, thicken quickly and may continue to thicken as they sit. Starch thickeners also make milk look unappealing because they thicken the water component, separating the milk fat, protein and minerals making the milk look almost curdled. They work great for making a slurry but you can’t thicken carbonated beverages (or wine) with them.

Liquid xanthan gum-based gel thickeners, like SimplyThick®, are a better tasting option for thickening liquids but these gel thickeners don’t mix easily into liquids with a spoon. You need to either shake or whisk it into a liquid or it will not be completely smooth. Xanthan gum-based gel thickeners are about three times more expensive per serving than both starch-based and xanthan gum-based powdered thickeners.

Fortunately, powdered xanthan gum thickeners are becoming more widely available. The first xanthan gum powdered thickener on the market is ThickenUp® Clear. I am so excited about this product! It is a convenient powder and it mixes easily into liquids with just a spoon. Best of all, it has no flavor. When I it mixed into water, I could taste nothing but water. I mixed it into orange juice and milk and the results were smooth and tasted just like orange juice and milk. When I mixed it into hot tea, it thickened more than expected but it was easily remedied by add a little more water or milk. I didn’t try it in a carbonated beverage but I did try it in wine and it was the perfect consistency and added no flavor.

The only downside I see to powdered xanthan gum-based thickeners is that they are slightly more expensive than starch-based thickeners but think they are worth the slightly additional cost.

Like all thickeners, you must allow the both the gel and powdered thickeners to completely disperse and thicken into the liquid before you drink it. Those five minutes can seem like a very long time when you are thirsty so I recommend mixing liquids in bulk and keeping them in the refrigerator. Make sure to mark the container and drink the beverages within 24 hours. Shake or stir the thickened liquid before serving. If, the liquid had become is thicker than you need after it has been refrigerated, add more liquid to make it the proper consistency.

In the meantime, if you are living with a swallowing disorder, you now have better options. If you want to thicken your own beverages you have a choice of thickeners.

The texture of thickened liquids is tough to get over, though you do get used to it. Drinking thickened liquids that have a starchy taste is really tough. Pre-thickened beverages taste better and are convenient.  Drinking a beverage thickened with a “Clear” thickener is a revelation!


Happy older man with glass of juice


4 Comments on “Instant Food Thickener Review: the Good, the Bad and the Gloppy”

  1. amaxwell888 says:

    I appreciate how you said that an instant food thickener helps those who struggle with swallowing. I didn’t know that this was applied to liquids. My father has dysphagia, and he is looking into instant food thickeners.

    • Hello. Has your father had a modified barium swallowing study or FEES assessment done by a speech therapist? A speech therapist will determine whether he needs to thicken liquids for his safety. The speech therapist will also determine the correct texture of foods for easy swallowing and safety. Instant food thickeners are essential for making purees the correct, safe, texture and making beverages the correct thickness. I recommend (and my clients overwhelmingly prefer) gum-based thickeners, also know as “clear” thickeners. Clear thickeners make beverages that look and taste just like what they are supposed to be, just thickened to the correct consistency. Choose a thickener that has “clear” on the label. Simply Thick also makes a liquid gum-based thickener that is easy to mix and makes clear beverages. I will be producing a new video soon because there are several new brands of clear thickeners that I’d like to compare. Thanks!

  2. William says:

    I tried the resource thicken up CLEAR with black coffee It’s still Gels up on the bottom even after stirring over a minute if you don’t drink it right away it’s nasty loking when you pour it in the sink

    • Hi William. Have you tried the Easy Mix from Simply Thick? It starts out as a gel and mixes more easily (hence the name) than powdered instant food thickeners. ALL powdered thickeners (starch or gum) need to be mixed for at least 60 seconds and up to 90 seconds. You may find it easier to mix powders with a fork, to ensure complete mixing. Powdered thickeners each need at least 3 minutes to complete thickening, starch needs even more time. Starch thickeners continue to thicken for up to 30 minutes, are affected by pH, temperature and time. Hot temperatures = faster thickening. Cold temperatures = slower thickening. Gum thickeners are less affected by pH and temperature.

      I am about to do a “Thickener Update” so stay tuned for more!

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