Cornstarch or Cornflour as we call it, is starch that’s derived from corn. It’s made from the tiny white endosperm at the heart of a corn kernel. The kernels are processed so all of the outside shells removed. The endosperms are ground up into the fine white powder we know as cornstarch. The key word here is processed.
How is it used?
- Thickener: Cornstarch thickens almost twice as much as flour. It is used frequently when cooking in things likes sauces — anyone who has made ‘white sauce’ knows this. Chinese gravies use cornstarch often, even processed yogurt has cornstarch to give it a thick and even consistency. .
- Baked goods: Cornstarch is frequently used in baked goods to give products a good form.
- Fried foods: It’s added to batters to give fried foods a light and crispy texture, especially in Chinese foods
What nutrition does it provide?
Cornstarch is basically a highly processed carbohydrate which contains about 30 calories or 7 grams of carbohydrate per tablespoon. There’s no protein, fat, vitamins, minerals or fiber. Since it looks like baking powder which is has no calories, you may think cornstarch also has no significant calories but they can add up.
Is cornstarch unhealthy?
It is not healthy for sure — cornstarch doesn’t add any sort of nutritional value to foods other than calories – which most of us get more than enough of anyway. However, with the insignificant amount we use in our Indian cooking it will not cause any harm. I consider healthy foods to be those that give me good stuff like fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. Simple sugars are important for energy (calories) but there are plenty of healthy energy-containing foods that also provide nutrients and fiber.
What are some better alternatives to using cornstarch? If you’re worried about GMOs or pesticides, there are a few brands of organic cornstarch out there. If you’re looking for actual substitutes, there are quite a few!
- Heat reduction: Evaporation will thicken anything you are trying to cook. Simmer sauces uncovered, over low heat for a long period of time and your sauce will get thicker.
- Flour: It’s still a processed grain but adding whole wheat flour instead of white will at least bring some vitamins and fiber to the dish.
- Hung curds: Adding a dollop of this can thicken gravies
- Pureed vegetable: Puree a bit whichever vegetable you are cooking and add it back to the gravy for added thickness.
In general, I think avoiding cornstarch in large quantities or in processed foods might be a good idea because it is calorically dense, however I might not be so quick to rule out trying a new recipe if it only calls for a tablespoon or two.
Bottom Line: Use sparingly at home. Avoid products where cornstarch is in the first 3 ingredients — this means that the product has no nutritional substance.