It is used in sauces and toppings. All chefs and pastry chefs can’t imagine life without it. A lot of products from grocery stores have this ingredient.
People eat cornstarch constantly without even knowing. It seems like it is everywhere, but what is more exactly this cornstarch? What is its taste and why does it seem used everywhere?
Stick with me with this article and find out everything you have to know about starch. I assure you will look at it with fresh eyes!
What does cornstarch taste like?
Well, find out that cornstarch has no taste at all! Even more, cornstarch flavor is non-existent! Interesting, huh?
Cornstarch (or maize starch) is a white, dry, and very fine powder. It is made from the endosperm of corn kernels. Because of this reason, you would expect it to have a corn taste and flavor, right?
It can have a slightly flour-ish taste and flavor, but this is if it is eaten raw or in large quantities. Also, some would say that too much cornstarch would negatively impact the cream or sauce, making it greasy.
But it is a neutral element and it does not impact the final taste and flavor of food.
In this case, why do we use it so much?
Find out that cornstarch thickens liquids. In sauces and liquids or even kimchi, cornstarch thickens without changing the taste and flavor.
You can make a cheese dip without worrying about losing the cheesy smell. And we all know how important it is to keep the taste and smell the same, especially when it comes to brie cheese!
In sauces, this type of starch brings a glossy appearance. When it comes to frying, it is used for the beautiful crust that is made on the surface.
You can make your tofu crispier by first coating it in cornstarch and then frying it. It soaks in the oil and gets an irresistible golden-looking crust, also contributing to the whole experience of eating.
Crunchy always means pleasure for one’s mouth!
What is cornstarch?
As I already stated, it is made from the endosperm of corn kernels (That little yellow-ish thing). The whole grain is soaked in water for almost 2 days and then it gets separated. The endosperm is ground (while still being soaked) and then it is left to dry out.
The final product is a white and fine powder.
Cornstarch, corn flour, and cornmeal
Unlike the first, corn flour and cornmeal are made from dried corn kernels. The corn kernel is first dried and then milled.
While cornflour is fine like cornstarch, cornmeal feels gritty and grainy. They both have the yellow color of corn and bring an earthy and sweet taste if used in any dish.
Cornflour is a great substitute for regular flour in case of gluten allergy and cornmeal is used in certain dishes like Polenta.
Replacing cornstarch is such a simple job! It is not the only one that you can find on the market or in grocery stores. More products thicken sauces like chamoy while cooking. In stores, the most common types of starch are:
- Potato starch
- Tapioca (Starch extracted from Yuca or Cassava plant)
- Flour starch
- Arrowroot flour or arrowroot powder (Starch extracted from different plants. Often it is an Arrowroot plant. Sometimes Tapioca is considered to be in this category)
- Sorghum starch (A gluten free flour, perfect as a substitute for the regular flour in case of gluten allergy)
If that store simply lacks any kind, or you just don’t want to use one, find out that you can get different types of flour, like:
- Wheat flour
- Potato flour
- Rice flour
- Corn flour
They all have starch among proteins, lipids, and other nutrients, and help in thickening. Just be careful because 10 tablespoons of potato starch will act differently compared with the same quantity of flour.
Do you feel there are too many of them? Well, find out that we can also manufacture some. Fermentation, for example, is used to create Xanthan gum from corn sugar by using a bacteria called Xanthomonas Campestris.
But now let’s talk a minute about chemistry!
Starch is, basically, a chain of glucose molecules linked by glycosidic bonds. So, simply said, it is a carbohydrate.
With the help of water, light, and CO2, any green plant worldwide creates glucose and stores it in the form of starch.
Some plants have it in the grains (cereals for example) and others have it in roots and bulbs (potatoes, cane, etc).
As you can find in stores, starch is not soluble in water in processed form. But by heating, the molecule structure gets weaker and starts spreading in the liquid.
Cornstarch dissolves. It forms a structure like a network that keeps water molecules inside and raises the density.
This process is called ‘Starch gelatinization‘ and it is responsible for thickening any sauce or liquid.
Depending on the plant that is made from, they react differently to certain temps. For example, corn starch starts cooking at 70 C (158 F). That means you can’t use cornstarch and potato starch interchangeable.
When it comes to frying, the cooked cornstarch that covers the product gets crispy with gold color. Responsible for that is the process of Caramelization and Maillard reaction, both implying chemical changes in molecules under the presence of a heat source.
In some products, the role starch plays is to not let that product spoil. A good example of this is baking powder.
To not spoil, this mix has starch that takes the humidity away and does not let anything react with water molecules. This keeps it good and ready to use for several months.
Cornstarch vs. others
All of them are in one way or another the same: a chain of sugars, bound or crystallized, found normally in roots, seeds, or bulbs of certain plants that stock their resources.
But they behave differently while cooking.
Cornstarch and Arrowroot have a higher temperature at which they gelatinize compared to one derived from potato.
In this case, it means that when you want to thicken a sauce, you add the potato one right at the last moment of cooking.
Also, by continuously cooking it you can change its behavior and by the end, you can get different results than you expect.
Rice starch is another type sometimes used in the kitchen. While using it you will find that the final product will have a smooth and silky texture. This is due to its grain size which is the smallest among all (several times smaller than corn and potato starch grains).
You can also find it in domestic products, cosmetics, or alcohol (by fermenting sugars) because… You guessed it: Its size!
I did talk early about some types manufactured by different technological processes. One example is fermentation, in the form of Xanthan gum.
By chemical modifications, the behavior in culinary uses is also changed (gelatinization temp and power are changed). This leads to changes in the texture and final look of any product.
We can find uses also in the goods manufacturing industry, like textiles, with the role of making the final product more durable.
Its history goes far in the past. There is evidence from the Egyptian ages of papyruses tied with a gluey mix of starch. Also, other historic sources tell us about Romans using it in different ways.
But using it was not on a large scale until the 19th century when Thomas Kingsford discovered a way to isolate endosperm from corn kernels.
Even with this, it took a while to find another large-scale usage except for starch laundry.
But today you can find cornstarch in:
- As a healthy alternative to thickens liquid based foods
- Mixed with different flours (usually with whole wheat flour), especially in pastry, for a fine and fluffy texture. It is perfect for fine sponge cakes;
- As a sugar base in fermentation (for Xanthan gum for example);
- In making corn syrup, called glucose syrup;
- In pie fillings (like apple pie, peach pie, acai, and many more);
- In thickening fruit sauces;
- In vegan cream sauces;
- in different cremes;
- dry mixes;
- dry shampoo;
Cornstarch alternative kitchen uses
Did you know that every sachet of baking powder has in its composition starch? But what is baking powder more exactly?
Well, it is first of all an elevator agent. It is used when you are making that glamorous Marmelade cake that all your friends love.
When you put your batter in the oven, under the heat, the acid (sodium acid pyrophosphate or sodium aluminum sulfate) and base (baking soda) start reacting, making CO2 bubbles that are trapped inside the batter.
This makes your cake fluffy and aerates, perfect for a drizzle of maple syrup.
In this case, starch traps water molecules and keeps them away from the elevator mix. In this way, your baking powder stays good for a longer period.
With the same goal is used in powdered sugar. Because sucrose has a huge affinity for water, this finely milled sugar can form hard like stones clumps in contact with water molecules from the air.
Starch acts as a shield, absorbing water and preventing clumps from forming. In this way, you can drive everyone crazy with your too-good buttercream!
How can you store cornstarch
You can store it in dry and dark places. Also, the temperature has to be constant and within normal limits. Big changes in temperature, too much light, or contact with humidity can change its quality and behavior. An opaque airtight container is a perfect option.
Store cornstarch well and you can use it for several months like it’s new!
Apart from its role in kitchen and manufacturing, it is a good nutritional element for those who suffer from glycogen storage disease.
Sugars from starch act like a glucose reserve for the body, keeping the sugar levels within normal parameters.
However, too much of it can lead to nutritional imbalance. Raised sugar levels are a consequence of it.
Did you know
- Cornstarch is just a mass of sugar molecules? After processing and extracting it, there are only insignificant amounts of proteins and lipids in the final product;
- A certain ratio of water-starch can make something called Oobleck? This is a non-Newtonian liquid and acts as a liquid and solid at the same time;
- Before thickening a sauce, you have to first dissolve the starch in a small quantity of cold liquid (usually cold water)? This prevents clumps from forming and distributes starch equally in the sauce;
Hard to believe, but look how we can read articles and books just about a bag of simple white dust. It is simple, fascinating, and it shows us we don’t need taste and flavor to use an ingredient.
From a culinary perspective, this shows us that texture and consistency of a dish are equally important as its flavor and taste.
Imagine a curry sauce that is just simple water, boiled with some spices. It is like a tasteless soup good only to hydrate yourself.
Now that you know how to use starch, put on your chef hat. Start filling the kitchen with wonderful smells and Instagram with delicious food pictures!