Is Cornstarch Gluten Free?
If you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, you need to be very careful about the ingredients you use in cooking. Even if an ingredient isn’t made with anything that contains gluten, it could still be contaminated if it is processed on shared equipment.
Unfortunately, this is often the case with cornstarch.
Generally speaking, cornstarch is not a gluten-containing ingredient because it is made from corn, a gluten free grain. The problem is that some manufacturers that produce this ingredient also produce products that contain wheat and other gluten containing grains.
Keep reading to learn more about how cornstarch is produced, used, and to learn about some gluten free alternatives.
What is Cornstarch and How is It Used?
Cornstarch is a baking product made entirely from corn. Manufacturers start with corn kernels and grind them, then they wash it to separate the starch from the fiber, protein, and oil components. The resulting substance is very fine and powdery, commonly used in cooking and baking. Cornstarch can also be used to clean silverware, to starch clothing, or even as polish for your car.
The most common use for cornstarch in cooking is as a thickening agent, though it can also be used as a partial substitute for flour in gluten free baking. Cornstarch is frequently used to thicken the filling for pies and in gravies, sauces, soups, and casseroles. It is a preferred thickener for many recipes because, when mixed with water, it creates a gel that is transparent rather than opaque – this makes it perfect for desserts that incorporate a fruit glaze.
When using cornstarch, it is important to know some simple tips. First and foremost, never add cornstarch straight to hot liquid because it will form clumps that you won’t be able to whisk out. When using cornstarch as a thickener, mix it with a little bit of liquid at room temperature to create a slurry then whisk that into your hot liquid. You should then bring the liquid to a full boil before cooling it to make sure the cornstarch fully gelatinizes.
Why Isn’t All Cornstarch Gluten Free?
Because cornstarch is made entirely from corn, a gluten free grain, it naturally does not contain any gluten. Unfortunately, it is often manufactured on equipment shared with other grains and grain products, including wheat. This means that there is some risk for cross-contamination, though many celiac sufferers do not have a reaction to cornstarch.
If you’re worried about the cornstarch you are using, there are certain national brands that are labeled gluten free. Here is a quick list:
- Hodgson Mill (certified gluten free)*
- Argo & Kingsford’s
- Bob’s Red Mill
- Clabber Girl
*We recommend always going with products that are certified gluten free to ensure the utmost safety.
Every person with celiac disease reacts differently to certain ingredients, so you may or may not have a reaction to cornstarch if it isn’t certified gluten free. Just to be safe, however, you may want to avoid brands that use shared equipment. Some of the brands that produce cornstarch that may be processed on shared equipment include Cream, Frontier Natural, and Rapunzel.
What Are Some Gluten Free Alternatives?
If you’re concerned that the cornstarch you have in your pantry might not be completely gluten free (or if you simply don’t want to take the risk), there are some gluten free alternatives you can try.
Here are a few options along with some tips for using them:
- Arrowroot – Typically sold as arrowroot starch or arrowroot powder, this is a starchy flour derived from the Maranta genus of plants. This starch contains more fiber than cornstarch but forms the same kind of clear gel when mixed with water.
- Potato Starch – Made by crushing potatoes to release the starch then drying it into a powder, this ingredient is high in carbs but has little flavor. It can be substituted at a 1-to-1 ratio.
- Tapioca – This starch is extracted from the cassava root and ground into a pulp then dried into a flour. Tapioca starch can be substituted at a ratio two tablespoons per 1 tablespoon cornstarch.
- Rice Flour – Made from finely ground rice, rice flour is naturally gluten free and colorless when mixed with water. It works well for thickening clear liquids, but you need twice as much rice flour as cornstarch to get the same effect. It can, however, be used hot or cold.
- Ground Flaxseed – When mixed with water, ground flaxseeds form a jelly by absorbing the liquid. The consistency of the ground seed is very gritty, however, but very high in fiber.
- Psyllium Husk – A plant-based soluble fiber, psyllium husk is very low in carbs and you only need a small amount to thicken recipes compared to cornstarch.
- Xanthan Gum – This vegetable gum is made by fermenting sugar with the bacteria Xanthomonas campestris then drying and powdering the resulting gel. Xanthan gum can be used in small amounts to thicken large quantities of liquid and can be used as a 1-to-1 substitute.
- Guar Gum – Made from a legume known as the guar bean, this vegetable gum is made by removing the outer husk of the bean then drying and grinding the starchy endosperm. Guar gum is low in calories but high in fiber and generally cheaper than xanthan gum.
When a recipe calls for cornstarch, there is generally a good reason. If you have gluten free cornstarch on hand, that is what you should use. If you don’t, however, the alternatives listed above can be used as a substitute, but it might change the finished product.
Tips for Cooking with Cornstarch
Before cooking with cornstarch, you should make sure that the brand you’re using is gluten free. If it doesn’t say so on the label, you may want to do a quick check into the brand to see if they also produce baking products that contain gluten.
Once you’ve made sure that the cornstarch you’re using is gluten free, here are some simple tips to help you use it properly:
- Use less cornstarch than you would use flour if you’re using it as a thickener – it is a much more powerful thickener than flour, so use a little at a time until you achieve the desired effect.
- Cornstarch breaks down much more quickly than flour, so you should add it at the end of cooking – remember, you always need to mix it with some room-temperature liquid before adding to hot liquid to avoid clumping.
- Sauces and soups thickened with cornstarch do not tend to reheat as well as recipes made with other thickeners – you should also avoid freezing recipes made with cornstarch.
- Cornstarch should not be used as a 1-to-1 replacement for flour in baking recipes because it doesn’t contain the protein needed to give baked goods their structure and rise.
- When storing cornstarch, it is important to avoid humidity because it will absorb moisture – store it in an airtight container away from extreme heat.
- As long as it is properly stored, cornstarch can last indefinitely because it only contains starch, no protein or fat that might break down or go rancid.
Though cornstarch is frequently used in cooking and baking, it generally isn’t the star of the recipe. If you’re curious to see what cornstarch does in different types of recipes, here are some you can try:
Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ¼ cup cornstarch
- 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- Pinch salt
- 2 ¾ cups unsweetened almond milk
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Whisk together the sugar, cornstarch, cocoa powder, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat.
- Stir in the almond milk then bring the mixture to a boil.
- Cook until the mixture thickens, stirring constantly.
- Remove from heat and stir in the butter and vanilla extract.
- Let the mixture cool before serving warm or spoon into dessert cups and chill before serving.
Easy Cornstarch Cookies
Servings: About 4 dozen
- ½ cup butter, softened
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 large egg
- Pinch salt
- 1 2/3 cup cornstarch
- Colored sprinkles
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking sheet with parchment.
- Cream together the butter, sugar, and vanilla extract in a mixing bowl until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the eggs and salt until well combined.
- Add the cornstarch and beat until it comes together in a dough.
- Gather the dough into a ball, adding a little bit of cornstarch if needed to keep it from sticking.
- Pinch of small pieces of dough and roll them into balls.
- Place the dough balls on the baking sheet and flatten with a fork dipped in cornstarch.
- Sprinkle the cookies with colored sprinkles and bake for 11 to 12 minutes until just firm.
- Cool the cookies completely before removing from the pan.
Servings: About 3 dozen
- 3 tablespoons powdered gelatin
- 3 1/3 cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup cornstarch
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 2 to 3 tablespoons rosewater
- 4 to 5 drops red food coloring
- 1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- Grease an 8x8-inch square baking pan and line the bottom with parchment.
- Sprinkle the gelatin over ¼ cup boiling water in a small bowl and stir until the gelatin dissolves.
- Combine the sugar with ¾ cup warm water in a small saucepan.
- Stir over low heat to dissolve the sugar then bring to a boil and heat to 240°F.
- Simmer at 240°F for 5 minutes – do not stir – then remove from heat.
- Whisk together the cornstarch with 1 1/3 cups cold water then place over medium heat and bring to a boil.
- Cook until the mixture thickens then whisk in the sugar syrup along with the gelatin mixture and cornstarch until well combined.
- Bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes then remove from heat and stir in the rosewater and food coloring.
- Strain the mixture into the baking pan and skim the foam.
- Let cool for 15 minutes then cover lightly with oiled parchment and cool at room temperature overnight.
- Turn the dessert out onto a cutting board dusted with powdered sugar and slice into squares using a knife dipped in powdered sugar.
- Dust the squares with powdered sugar and store in an airtight container.