Starch is a polysaccharide (contains many glucose molecules) and is arguably the most common carbohydrate present in almost all diets. Foods with exceptionally high starchy contents are staple foods like maize, rice, potatoes, cassava, and wheat.
Starch is used as a food additive in many ways. It works as an emulsifier, a glazing agent, stabilizer, but most commonly, as food thickeners (water/moisture absorbers).
Wheat starch is made of wheat. It is mostly found in foods like bread, pasta, cereals, tortillas, noodles, puddings, sauces, soups, salad dressings, and pie fillings, to name a few.
While they are ubiquitous, they may not be available when you need them for some reason or the other. On the other hand, you will find out for different reasons that some people would rather not have wheat or any of its derivatives. And it’s why substitutes are necessary.
What is the best substitute for wheat starch? Nothing comes close to replacing wheat starch in meals like corn starch. Corn starch is similar to wheat starch in more ways than one. Perhaps the most pronounced difference is that corn starch is a purer form of starch than wheat starch.
An Overview of Wheat Starch
First things first, wheat starch is not 100% starch. It contains some protein, fat, and even gluten.
It is a simple starch made from the processed endosperm of wheat grain. In simpler terms, they are made from hydrated flour. Once the water evaporates, the gluten matrix forms and the starch can be washed out.
There are two significant types of wheat starches used:
- Native Starch: This is starch, extracted as it is, from wheat, in starch powder. In this way, it is impossible to dissolve in cold water or alcohol.
- Modified Starch: This is starch that has been enzymatically acted upon. Modified starch powders have enhanced qualities of the natural variants. They are usually used for foods that cannot be heated or foods that have low pH.
Wheat starch controls food viscosity, texture, moisture retention, adhesion, and gel formation. Again, however, it is primarily used in the food industry as a food thickening agent.
There are two ways wheat starch works to thicken foods – gelatinization and retrogradation.
When heated, these foods have an increase in viscosity (starch molecules absorb water and swell). The same thing happens when the food begins to cool, and a gel forms.
Why Replace Wheat Starch?
- Non-availability: Wheat starch might not be available at the grocery store you’re visiting. If it isn’t, you can go for the nearest substitute you see.
- Health reasons: The presence of gluten in wheat starch prevents people with severe allergies from taking them. The disease peculiar to gluten consumption is Celiac disease.
- Experimental reasons: You don’t even need to get tired of wheat starch before thinking about trying out other options.
Best Recommended Substitute for Wheat Starch: Corn Starch
In a heartbeat, you can choose corn starch when wheat is unavailable.
It is often preferred over wheat starch because it is solely a food thickener – it contains no carbohydrates, proteins, or fat.
It’s not as though they have no carbohydrates… they’re simply not absorbed. These kinds of starch are called resistant starch. They escape digestion through the small intestine to end up in the large intestine as insoluble dietary fibers.
Corn starch has a purer and more refined production process. Here’s how:
- Soak kernels in water to soften them.
- Mill the softened kernels to crack the outer shell.
- Use a separator to free the germ (which contains starch, fiber, and gluten)
- Grind and screen
- Process in a centrifuge to exclude the thinned gluten.
And this is a huge plus side to corn starches. With no gluten, they’re generally more acceptable and used for cooking on a large scale.
The funny thing is that most times, people who suffer from allergies like this never know until they try… instead of trying to find out if you’re allergic to gluten (and experience the pain that comes if you’re right), why not just take gluten-free starch?
Despite the purity of corn starch, it is served in the same ratio with wheat starch. In other words, you’ll be adding one spoon of corn starch in place of one scoop of wheat starch.
Other Substitutes for Wheat Starch
The Maranta genus plant is widely known for its roots. They’re dried and ground into white, fine powders known as arrowroot starch.
They are usually preferred over even corn and wheat starch due to the higher fiber content in them.
When mixed with water, it forms a jelly-like consistency. The ratio of arrowroot starch to wheat starch is 2:1. This means that for every spoon of wheat starch, you add double the amount of arrowroot.
Like arrowroot, potatoes are not grains, and hence do not contain gluten.
Potato starch is formed by drying the extracted juice from freshly crushed potatoes and grinding it into a fine powder.
Like wheat starch, however, potato starch is highly dense in calories (possibly even more). It is highest in carbohydrates and has non-negligible amounts of fats and proteins. All of this will be absorbed into the small intestine (unlike corn starch) and significantly contribute to weight gain.
Hence, if you’re working on taming your weight, potato starch might not be the best option.
Cassava is a root vegetable very common in African countries. Tapioca starch is formed by drying filtered ground cassava. While you can prepare most starch yourself at home, it is best recommended that cassava be handled by pros. This is because it contains cyanide, which is a deadly human poison.
Common to all starches, tapioca starch is also an excellent food thickener. Use it like arrowroot starch: 2:1. And you don’t even need to worry about adding too much at a time. Tapioca starch doesn’t thicken as quickly as others.
Other Common Alternatives for Wheat Starch are:
- Ground flaxseeds
- Psyllium husk
- Xanthan gum
- Guar gum
- Rice starch
If you ever feel tired of wheat starch, try any of these out!