Corn Starch and Gluten Intolerance: Is Corn Starch Gluten-Free?

Is corn starch gluten-free, you may be wondering. If you are a fan of sauces, glazes, gravies, soups, pies, casseroles, and a variety of other desserts, you’ll want to know more about corn starch and gluten.  This ingredient is an essential ingredient in many delicacies, but can everyone consume it safely?

Corn Starch

Corn starch, or maize starch, is a carbohydrate extracted from corn’s endosperm. It resembles regular flour and is an excellent replacement for it. It is often preferred to flour because it is a clearer thickener, meaning that the resulting gel is transparent and not opaque. Another great benefit of corn starch is that it is somewhat flavorless, which is not the case with flour. More importantly, it packs twice the thickening power.

Also, flour is not exactly healthy. Although corn starch is also packed with carbohydrates (even more so than flour), it brings no saturated fat to the table.

In theory, corn starch is made from corn and is a gluten-free product that contains only carbohydrates and no protein. But is this always the case? Sadly, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Is Every Corn Starch Free?

Is corn starch gluten-free in its natural form? Is all corn starch gluten-free? Not really. Again, corn starch should be a food ingredient that comes from corn and contains nothing but carbohydrates, making it absolutely gluten-free.

The reality, however, is a bit different and corn is not to be blamed here. Corn, by and in itself, is completely gluten-free. Gluten cross-contamination, however, depends on the manufacturers that make corn starch.

Cross-contamination occurs when processing and packaging products. This is particularly problematic for people who are gluten-intolerant, as even the smallest amount of gluten can cause problems with their digestion. The cross-contamination most frequently occurs with companies that make corn starch products in addition to wheat products, such as flour and flour-based foods.

What Brand to Choose?

Many brands claim that their product is gluten-free. In fact, most corn starch brands do. However, it is evident that cross-contamination is very much a thing and that even if you buy a product with “gluten-free” printed on its product box, you still may end up with a trace amount of gluten in the product. So, how to know which brands don’t present a risk of cross-contamination?

The answer is straightforward. Expensive as they are, choose the brands that focus on gluten-free foods.

The good news here is, as mentioned, that corn starch is two times better at thickening liquids than flour, so you may still end up paying less, despite the fact that gluten-free foods are more expensive. Another approach would be to carefully read and examine the cheaper product packages and to google the facility they came out of. If the facility also processes wheat products, it’s a cross-contamination risk. This approach may take some time, however.

Using Corn Starch

Exactly owing to its fantastic thickening power, corn starch is more prone to clumping and forming lumps. This tends to happen when you add it into a hot liquid, as you would with flour. The way to use corn starch as a thickening agent is to mix it with a liquid at room or colder temperatures to form a slurry.

Once the corn starch molecules have had the time to distribute evenly, creating a slurry substance, bring it to a full boil before allowing it to cool. Be careful not to freeze sauces and similar mixtures that you thickened with corn starch. Doing so will cause the mixture to become thin.

Corn Starch Questions

There isn’t a better gluten-free replacement option for flour than corn starch. Corn starch is almost nothing but carbohydrates. It is a great option for people with celiac disease, and many people prefer this ingredient for other reasons too.

Is It Vegan?

Corn starch isn’t made using any form of animal products and it is absolutely vegan. It is actually very popular in the vegan world, as it’s an excellent substitute for eggs. One tablespoon of corn starch and three tablespoons of warm (not hot) water and you get roughly the same substance as an egg. On the other hand, you won’t get the same taste and you won’t get any proteins, either.

Is It Paleo?

The paleo diet is an extremely popular means of losing weight and eating natural foods with the goal of achieving ultimate health. Corn starch, however, isn’t very Paleo. It contains fewer nutrients than regular flour (fewer vitamins, no protein), and flour in itself isn’t Paleo. Corn starch is highly processed and if you are really dedicated to your Paleo diet, it isn’t recommended. However, it is used in very small amounts as a thickener, so many Paleo dieters consume it in spite of it being a processed product.

Is It Bad for You?

We all know that flour isn’t exactly a healthy ingredient, even though it is somewhat nutritious. Being gluten-free and vegan, is corn starch good for you?

While it isn’t really unhealthy per se, but it is a processed starch that contains nothing but carbohydrates and calories. It isn’t at all nutritious. However, using flour as a thickener brings much more calories to the table, as corn starch is used in much smaller amounts to achieve the same thickening goals.

Alternatives

Arrowroot and tapioca flour are excellent alternatives to corn starch. The former contains fewer calories and offers protein, vitamins, and minerals, such as iron, potassium, magnesium, and vitamins B and C. Tapioca flour is vegan-friendly and a great thickener. Both are gluten-free, too.

A Gluten-Free Alternative to Flour

Ultimately, corn starch may not be “better” than flour, but it is certainly a different option that helps you achieve similar results in cooking.

Although not all corn starch is gluten-free, it all depends on the manufacturers. In its true form, it is a completely gluten-free product that serves as an ideal replacement for flour. It is also a much more efficient thickener than flour and has some other upsides as well. It’s definitely worth trying.

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