What can be used instead of cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a staple ingredient in the kitchen and has a variety of uses. However, if you ever run out of it or cannot access it for any reason, the following guide outlines what can be used instead

What can be used instead of cornstarch?

China is one of them with a golden corn belt. China Produces more than 20% of the global corn production in the normal years. The Chinese government pays a lot more attention to food safety because of the large population for many years. By the end of 2016, the corn stock amounted to 230 million metric tons (1).

Listed below are the most commonly used substitutes:

  • Wheat flour
  • Rice flour
  • Arrowroot flour
  • Potato starch
  • Xanthan gum
  • Tapioca flour
  • Ground flaxseeds

What is cornstarch and its uses?

Starch contributes significantly to the texture and sensory properties of processed foods. It exhibits a wide range of functional properties, and it is probably the most commonly used hydrocolloid. It is a macromolecular complex of at least two polymeric components, namely amylose and amylopectin. To meet the demanding technological needs of today, the properties of starch are modified by a variety of modification methods. Hydrothermal treatments, such as extrusion cooking (processing and drying), radiation, sonication, and pressure treatments,are the physical modification methods used; starch is (partially) gelatinized, resulting in decreased hydrogen bonding. Such starches are cold water dispersible and are generally used in cold water dispersible foods, such as ice creams, infant foods, dry baking premixes, etc (2).

Cornstarch is formed by removing the protein and fibre parts of the corn kernels, leaving behind the starchy inner part called the endosperm. This is ground into a white powder. It is not rich in nutrients as it is stripped of most of its protein, fibre and vitamins and minerals, but is gluten-free, so works for those who prefer non-gluten ingredients.

In short, cornstarch is a thickening agent that is flavourless and so is used in recipes to alter its texture rather than its taste or for nutritional value. It is most often used in marinades, soups, glazes, pies, etc.

Cornstarch is used in batters to fry meat and other items for a crispy and light texture. A small amount of the flour in cakes can also be substituted with cornstarch for an enhanced texture. It is used to coat the fruit in pies and other desserts so that the juices in the fruit don’t run while cooking.

What are the substitutes for cornstarch?

1. Wheat flour

Starches of many sources can substitute wheat flour in many applications and vice versa. As tubers and corn, wheat is a source of starch. For some food product applications, the protein content of wheat flour is too high and can be diluted with other starches of lower protein content. This is the case with biscuit making. The Protein content of the mixture Required is around 7.0 – 8.5% for sweet biscuits or 8.4 – 10% for biscuit sponge (3).

A much more nutritional substitute, wheat flour is packed with the nutrients that cornstarch lacks as it contains a good amount of dietary fibre and vitamins and minerals. However, it is less starchy so should be used in larger amounts to thicken to the same degree. 

Do note that wheat flour contains gluten so is not a gluten-free substitute and should be avoided by those with gluten allergies.

2. Rice flour

Made from ground rice, usually obtained from the broken milled rice. The chemical composition is the same as that of the whole rice (4). This substitute is nutritional and is used widely in Asian cuisine. It is higher in protein content and contains less carbohydrate. Similar to cornstarch, it is also gluten-free and doughs made from it do not retain the gases generated during baking. However, it is not as starchy so this too must be used in double the quantity to get the same thickening effect.

In general, rice with starch of an amylose content greater than 22% has a relatively low peak viscosity and forms a rigid gel on cooling (high set-back viscosity). Rice with a starch low in amylose has a high peak and low set-back viscosity. Rice flour is used in formulated baby foods, breakfast foods, meat products, and breading (4).

Rice flour forms a clear paste so can be used to make clear liquids more viscous.

3. Arrowroot flour

This flour is made from the roots of many plants from the arrowroot variety, Mananta arundinacea, a perennial plant that produces starchy rhizomes. It is yet another nutritional substitute as it contains more dietary protein. In addition, it also contains calcium and is also gluten-free but not as starchy as cornstarch so should be used in double the amount. Compared to wheat flour, it contains less iron and phosphorus and more calcium and fibers (5). It is used as a thickener in fruit sauce, pie fillings, and puddings (4).

4. Potato starch

Starch is extracted from potatoes, dried, and ground into a fine powder to form potato starch. Potato starch contains resistant starch, which, in the large intestine, may play a prebiotic role as a fermentation substrate for probiotic bacteria within the colon. In particular, resistant starch the preferred substrate of Ruminococcus bromii, which then also enhances the growth of other probiotic species. Among commercial starches, potato starch has the greatest viscosity and the lowest pasting temperature with a moderate increase in viscosity after cooling. This indicates that potato starch gelatinizes rather easily compared to other starches, and produces more viscous pastes that break easily (6). Additionally, much like cornstarch, it is also fairly flavourless and gluten-free.

Something to note is that potato starch can be easily broken down by heat so must be used later in the cooking process. It is almost as starchy as cornstarch so can be added in equal volumes. 

5. Xanthan gum

Xanthan gum is made when bacteria ferment sugars, by microbial fermentation from the Xanthomonas campestris organism. It is very stable to viscosity change over varying temperatures, pH, and salt concentrations. It is also very pseudoplastic which results in a decrease in viscosity with increasing shear. It reacts synergistically with guar gum and tara gum to provide an increase in viscosity and with carob gum to provide an increase in viscosity or gel formation. It is used in salad dressings, sauces, desserts, baked goods, and beverages at 0.05–0.50% (4). 

It is a rather strong thickening agent so it must be carefully used in your recipes. It has little to no nutritional value aside from potassium and sodium. Another reason to use small amounts of Xanthan gum is that it may cause digestive issues in some people when eaten in large quantities.

6. Tapioca flour

Made from finely ground Cassava or tapioca root, this flour has far fewer carbohydrates and so is preferred by diabetic people in their food (8). The making of this flour involves an intricate process of soaking, washing and pulping as well as treatment as some Cassava roots contain traces of cyanide. 

The flour made of the roots is called tapioca.

Cassava is the third largest source of carbohydrates for human food in the world in terms of food calories produced per unit area per unit of time, significantly higher than other staple crops. Cassava is classified as sweet or bitter depending on the level of toxic cyanogenic glucosides. The sweet cultivars can produce as little as 20 milligrams of cyanide per kilogram of fresh roots, whereas bitter ones may produce more than 50 times as much (7).

Tapioca flour too must be used in double the amount as it is not as starchy as cornstarch.

7. Ground flaxseeds

Seed from flax is rich in omega-3 fatty acid (up to 24% by weight), total dietary fiber, and lignans. It is used in cereal-based products and cereal mix (4).

Ground flaxseeds quickly absorb water to form a gel-like texture. However, this mixture is not as smooth as cornstarch as it is grainy from the tiny flaxseed pieces. Flaxseeds contain a lot of fibre and can be added to your dish to increase its fibre content.  A tablespoon of ground flaxseeds mixed with 4 tablespoons of water can replace 2 tablespoons of cornstarch.

Other FAQs about Cornstarch that you may be interested in.

What can I substitute for Cornstarch?

What can be used instead of cornstarch?

Can I substitute cornmeal for cornstarch?

Conclusion

As we have seen, cornstarch has many nutritional substitutes that are quite easy to find in the market or at home. There are both gluten and gluten-free substitutes. Be sure to keep in mind to double the volumes were mentioned as some of these substitutes aren’t as strong of a thickening agent as cornstarch.

Citations

  1. Yan, Yunxian, and Zhao Guiyu. The empirical study on price discovery of cornstarch futures market in China. Appl Econ Lett, 2019, 26, 1100-1103.
  2. Tharanathan, Rudrapatnam N. Starch—value addition by modification. Crit rev food sci nutr, 2005, 45, 371-384.
  3. Aprianita, Aprianita, et al. Physicochemical properties of flours and starches derived from traditional Indonesian tubers and roots. J food sci technol, 2014, 51, 3669-3679.
  4. Igoe, Robert S. Dictionary of food ingredients. Springer Science & Business Media, 2011.  
  5. Dorta Villegas, Ana Marina, and Ana Teresa Ciarfella Pérez. Determination of the content of iron, phosphorus, calcium and some antinutritional factors in guapo (Maranta arundinacea) rhizome flour. Saber, 2014, 26, 146-152.
  6. Dupuis, John H., and Qiang Liu. Potato starch: a review of physicochemical, functional and nutritional properties. Am J Potato Res, 2019, 96, 127-138.
  7. Abdullahi, M., and A. M. Saba. Comparative study of different processing methods for the reduction of cyanide from bitter cassava flour. ChemSearch J, 2014, 5, 1-7.  
  8. Astina J, Sapwarobol S. Attenuation of glycaemic and insulin responses following tapioca resistant maltodextrin consumption in healthy subjects: a randomised cross-over controlled trial. J Nutr Sci. 2020; 9, e29.