You may think that all starches are interchangeable as thickeners, and while this is true in some cases, a lot of the times you’ll get the best results when using the starch that is most appropriate for your dish.
In cooking, we use different kinds of starches and because most carry similarities and differences, it is important to understand these properties so we can always choose the starch that will behave best when cooking.
We can distinguish starches by their source, so here are the different kinds of starches most commonly used in the kitchen today.
Starches sourced from grain.
Grain starches are represented by wheat flour and cornstarch, one of the most widely used starches today. Compared to wheat flour, cornstarch does a better job at thickening foods because it is almost pure starch.
Use cornstarch and wheat flour for foods that take longer cooking times and cooking at higher temperatures. Usually these starches require high heat to gelatinize and they thicken foods quickly once the temperature is achieved.
Cornstarch can be used for thickening fruit pies and it is unadvised to use it in dishes that contain orange juice, lemon or lime.
Starches sourced from roots.
Root starches include potato starch, tapioca and arrowroot. These are thickeners commonly used when needing to thicken dishes faster and without too much cooking.
While grain starch granules are medium size, root starches are larger-grained and require lower temperatures to gelatinize. The latter are usually added at the end of the cooking process and unlike grain starches that have a cereal taste once cooked, root starches provide a less nuanced flavor.
When it comes to foods that you intend to freeze, it is recommended that you use a root starch such as tapioca since this is the kind of starch that will retain its texture following the freezing process.
Potato starch is great for thickening soups.
Soups are many people’s daily bread, but because many of us prefer soups with a little bit of body, thickening is the way to go about it, and one of the most efficient ways to thicken up an otherwise clean and thin soup is using potato starch.
Unlike cornstarch and wheat flour that would give the distinctive aftertaste when used to thicken a soup, potato starch will not and you can even add a little extra in case your soup has not thickened up enough.
The advantage is you can add potato starch at the end of cooking the soup so it doesn’t over thicken. What’s more, you can add the starch after you’ve cooked soups. For example, if you need to freeze the soup, you can take it out a day or two after and add potato starch after heating it up.
Root starches are also great for baking.
Because of their neutral flavor, root starches such as potato starch are often used in baking and preparing custards, pie fillings and puddings. Especially if other methods have failed, try adding root starches to your recipe to test whether they provide the right texture to your food.