Arrowroot is an easily digested starch extracted from the roots of the arrowroot plant, Maranta arundinacea. The starch is used as a thickener in many foods such as puddings and sauces, and is also used in cookies and other baked goods. The arrowroot plant is native to the tropics of South America. It has a long history of cultivation by native peoples, who developed an extensive treatment process for extracting the usable powder from the roots. The roots are washed, scraped, beaten, soaked, pulped, and finally forced through a sieve. The liquid and fine powders that make it through the sieve are dried, leaving the useful arrowroot powder behind.
When Europeans first encountered arrowroot, the Arawak Indians informed them that it was called aru-aru, “meal of meals.” The Indians placed a high value on the root as a food, and the Europeans duly brought it back with them along with numerous other unusual plants and animals. Arrowroot was also used medicinally, with some Indians believing that it should be placed on wounds made with poisoned arrows to draw out the toxins. Also, because of its digestibility, the starch was used medicinally in Victorian times to wean infants from mother’s milk and nourish those with dietary restrictions.