Learn more about gluten-free starches in general and their application in daily gluten-free cooking and baking.
What are gluten-free starches and what are they used for
Starches are often used in (gluten-free) cooking and baking. In terms of gluten-free cooking, they are great for thickening soups, gravies and sauces. For gluten-free baking, they serve as a binding and thickening agent and contribute to the soft and airy structure of the baked goods. If you would like to learn more about gluten-free flours for cooking and baking, please check out my article on different types of gluten-free fours here.
There are four major gluten-free starches:
- Corn starch
- Potato starch
- Tapioca starch
- Arrowroot starch (often also called Arrowroot powder)
You can divide these starches into two groups: gluten-free grain starches and gluten-free root starches. While corn starch belongs to the first group, potato, tapioca and arrowroot starches belong to the latter.
How do gluten-free starches work in cooking and baking
Due to the chemical structure of potato, tapioca, and arrowroot starch, these starches gelatinize at a relatively low temperature. Sauces thickened with these starches have a glossy appearance and feel silky.
Once they are cooked, they perfectly blend in with the finished product, meaning that they do not have an intrinsic taste. However, the chemical structure of these root starches does not withstand long periods of cooking. As such, you can use them best to thicken a product towards the end of the cooking process.
Corn starch for cooking and baking
Corn starch is one of the most efficient thickeners. In contrast to root starches, you can use it at higher temperatures. However, once you have reached higher temperature, the thickening process starts immediately. To avoid that the end product becomes too thick, start adding the starch slowly in small amounts.
Corn starch is also readily available in most grocery stores.
You should keep corn starch in an airtight container and stored in a dark, dry, and fairly cool place. However, you do not need to store it in a refrigerator.
- One tablespoon of corn starch is equivalent to three tablespoons of all-purpose flour.
Arrowroot starch is ground from the root of the plant, It has no intrinsic taste and is great for thickening recipes. As it becomes clear when cooking, it is ideal for clear end products. It should be noted, however, that it does not mix well with dairy, as the final product will turn into a rather slimy mixture.
In addition, I recommend mixing it with a cool liquid before adding it to a hot fluid. This way you can avoid the formation of unpleasant lumps.
You should keep arrowroot starch in an airtight container and store in a dark, dry, and fairly cool place. As for corn starch, refrigeration is not required.
Arrowroot starch may be hard to find in some local grocery stores. I usually buy mine via Amazon.
- Arrowroot starch is a great substitute for corn starch.
- Two teaspoons of arrowroot substitute one tablespoon of corn starch
Tapioca starch thickens fairly quickly at a relatively low temperature. Not only is it excellent for correcting sauces and soups just before serving, is is also a very good component in a flour blend.
Similar to Corn starch and Arrowroot starch, Tapioca starch should be kept in an airtight container and stored in a dark, dry, and fairly cool place. If you do want to store it for an extended period of time, I would recommend storing it in the refrigerator.
Tapioca starch may be hard to find in some local grocery stores. As with Arrowroot starch, I usually buy mine via Amazon.
Potatoe starch for cooking and baking
Potato starch has an extra fine texture and is a wonderful thickening agent, that is readily available in most grocery stores. Its light intrinsic taste is hardly detectable in the final product. Apart from its usefulness in cooking, it is great for adding a bit of extra moisture to baked goods.
Potato starch should be kept in an airtight container and stored in a dark, dry, and cool place (no refrigeration is required). It has a fairly long shelf life.
Tipps for how to use gluten-free starche for cooking and baking:
- As a general rule in working with starches: To avoid lumps in the final product, you should mix the starch with a small amount of cold liquid until it is complete dissolved. Whisk this mixture into the liquid you intend to thicken and cook it briefly. Do not overcook it or cook it at a too high temperature. This could cause the liquid to thin again.
- Starches give food a transparent and glossy appearance. This may look somewhat artificial in some dishes. As a general rule, if you do not mind a transparent and glossy finished product, choose Tapioca or Arrow root starch. If you aim for a more natural, less transparent and glossy product, choose corn starch.
- Cornstarch is the best choice for thickening dairy- and/or lactose-free-based sauces.
- Arrowroot starch should be your first choice if you want to thicken an acidic liquid. In contrast, when mixed with acids, Corn starch loses its thickening ability.
- If you plan to freeze a dish, use either tapioca or arrowroot as a thickener.
- Given that all starches have different strengths and weaknesses, it’s a good idea to stock all four in your pantry.
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