Corn Starch: A Neutral, Corn-Based Thickener

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The invention of corn starch (a.k.a. maize starch or corn flour) is widely attributed to a chemist named Thomas Kingsford in the 1840s, but he may only have invented a part of the manufacturing process. His invention was actually based on a process for extracting vegetable starch invented in 1840 by Orlando Jones, an Englishman. Kingsford merely applied Jones’s method to corn. Kingsford’s method involved soaking corn kernels in an alkaline substance and then grinding them. This process was called wet-milling.

At the time that he his process for making corn starch, Kingsford was working at a New Jersey wheat starch factory owned by Colgate & Company. Kingsford would eventually go into business for himself and start his own corn starch factory.

Until 1850, corn starch was used primarily for laundry and as an industrial binder and was not considered edible. Once it was recognized as a food, cookbooks started publishing recipes that included it.

Kingsford’s factory in Oswego, New York would eventually become the world’s largest producer of corn starch.

Corn starch flavor profile

One of the best benefits of corn starch as a thickener is that it has no taste. The taste is neutral, which means that it does not interfere with the flavor of the food that it is being used to thicken.

Health benefits of corn starch

Corn starch does not contain any vitamins but it does provide other nutritional benefits, such as:

  • It contains minerals: A 100g serving provides 3 percent of the iron you need each day along with 3 percent of the manganese and 4 percent of the selenium. Iron is needed to make hemoglobin for oxygen to be transported throughout your body. Manganese is needed for proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Selenium fights inflammation and may improve heart health.
  • It’s a great source of energy: Calories are a way to measure energy and corn starch has a relatively high calorie count because it is mainly a carbohydrate, which means that it is a rich source of energy. As such, corn starch can help to provide you with the fuel needed for physical activity.
  • Weight gain: If you need to take in more calories as a way to gain weight, you can use corn starch to help without significantly increasing the amount of food that you consume. Since it functions mainly as a thickener, you can just add it to liquid foods to make its presence unobtrusive.
  • Fiber: Corn starch provides a small amount of fiber. You can get 4 percent of your daily requirement from a 100g serving. Fiber can help to slow the rate at which your blood sugar spikes and may keep cholesterol from being absorbed in your digestive system.
  • Diabetes: In addition to being able to help with diabetes prevention because of its fiber content, corn starch can be used by people who already have the disease to manage blood sugar. If it is consumed in its uncooked form, corn starch digests and releases glucose slowly thus preventing hypoglycemia.
  • Celiac disease: The body of someone with celiac disease reacts to the gluten found in wheat and certain other grains. Corn starch as no gluten, which means that it can be used as a part of a gluten-free diet.

Common uses of corn starch

The main use of corn starch is as a thickener. Its neutral flavor makes it useful for thickening both savory and sweet dishes ranging from gravies and sauces to puddings and pies. It is a popular thickener for sauces in Asian stir-fried dishes and bakers combine it with wheat flour to make cake flour.