Corn flour and corn starch are made from the same grain, but the names indicate two different products with different properties. Note that in the United Kingdom, what Americans call corn starch is referred to as cornflour.
In this SPICEography Showdown, we will look at the properties that make corn flour different from corn starch and the best ways to use each of these corn products.
How does corn flour differ from corn starch?
Corn flour’s consistency is very fine when compared to regular cornmeal, but is coarser than corn starch. Corn flour has a similar texture to whole wheat flour, while corn starch is much finer and has a consistency similar to that of baking powder.
Because corn flour is a more finely ground cornmeal, it includes all parts of the dried corn kernel. It is also yellow like the corn kernel and has the nutty, grassy flavor of corn. Corn starch is made from one part of the corn kernel: the endosperm, the center of the corn kernel. The endosperm is the starchiest part of the kernel.
Corn starch is primarily used for thickening, though it can also be used to replace some of the wheat flour in bread doughs and to coat the exterior of fried foods. Corn starch has a neutral flavor, which is usually considered an asset since it is often used in dishes where it needs to play only one role — that of a texture enhancer.
Nutrition is another critical difference since corn flour has all the nutrients found in whole corn kernels. Corn starch contains only the nutrients from the endosperm, which are limited to trace amounts of a few minerals.
Corn flour is available in some stores but is still a niche product compared to corn starch, which is much easier to find.
Can you use corn flour in place of corn starch and vice versa?
Corn flour can work in place of corn starch in some applications. Since it contains the endosperm, it can be used for thickening, but it is not ideal since it does have much more than just the endosperm. For example, it has the exterior part of the kernel called the hull, which can lead to a slightly gritty texture in some dishes. You can use corn flour for breading, though it will offer a different flavor and a crunchier texture.
Corn starch can work in many of the applications that require corn flour but not ones like cornbread since it won’t provide the yellow color and corn flavor that are the essential characteristics of that dish. You can use it for breading, but it won’t offer the same kind of crunch or flavor that you would get from corn flour. It will also look noticeably different.
When should you use corn flour and when should you use corn starch?
Corn flour works best as a finer alternative to cornmeal. It can provide everything that you would get from cornmeal but without the grittiness. Use it to bread fried foods and in batters and doughs for a corn flavor with a smoother consistency.
Corn starch is most effective when you use it as a thickener. It is a popular addition to pie fillings and puddings to get a smooth gel-like consistency. You can also use it to thicken soups and sauces and even in ice cream.