Corn starch is extracted from the endosperm of corn kernels through a multi-step enzymatic process. Also known as cornflour or maize starch, it has been cultivated and used for thousands of years across the Americas. Today, corn starch has many culinary, industrial, and technical applications. This article will provide a comprehensive look at corn starch, from its historical origins to modern production methods, nutritional value, industrial uses, and some delicious recipes to experiment with at home. Understanding how to make starch from corn can deepen our appreciation for this versatile pantry staple. Join us as we explore the world of corn starch!
Corn Starch Explored
What is Corn Starch?
Corn starch, sometimes called cornflour, is a fine white powder extracted from corn kernels. It consists almost entirely of starch granules made of two glucose polymers: amylose and amylopectin.
Some key attributes of corn starch:
- Appearance: White powder
- Texture: Silky and smooth
- Taste: Neutral
- Solubility: Insoluble in cold water
- Gluten content: Gluten-free
Unlike all-purpose flour, corn starch contains no protein. This makes it ideal for achieving smoothness and sheen in sauces, gravies, and desserts.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Corn was first domesticated in Mesoamerica around 10,000 years ago and quickly became a dietary staple across the Americas. Various indigenous groups, like the Maya and Aztec, used primitive nixtamalization processes to make masa flour from corn for tortillas and tamales.
Europeans adopted corn from the Americas in the 16th century. By the 1800s, the wet milling process allowed for large-scale extraction of corn oil and starch. Today, the United States is the world’s leading producer of corn starch.
Culturally, corn starch facilitates beloved traditions. Asian dumpling wrappers, English puddings, and American fried chicken all rely on the thickening power of corn starch. It also lends a unique texture to many Latin American antojitos like empanadas, pupusas, and arepas.
Nutritional Profile and Health Considerations
Per one tablespoon (8 grams) serving:
- Very high in carbohydrates, mostly starch content.
- Trace amounts of iron, calcium, and potassium.
- No vitamin content.
- Gluten-free, making it suitable for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
- Due to minimal protein, not a substitute for all-purpose flour in baked goods.
- High glycemic index, so may cause spikes in blood sugar.
Corn starch can fit varied diets, but portion control is advised, especially for those with diabetes. Consider swapping a portion of starch for veggies or lean protein to balance blood sugar impact.
Production and Environmental Impact
How To Make Starch From Corn? The Production Process
The journey from corn field to pantry involves several steps:
- Harvesting: Corn kernels are harvested and transported to processing facilities.
- Cleaning: Kernels are scrubbed and screened to remove debris. Water and sulfur dioxide are added to loosen kernel hulls.
- Steeping: Kernels soak for 30-48 hours to soften endosperm. Steeping liquors contain lactic acid, ammonia, and enzymes.
- Coarse Grinding: Kernels are coarsely ground to expose germ and fiber. Screens and hydrocyclones separate out germ and fiber.
- Fine Grinding: Remaining slurry is finely ground to release starch and gluten.
- Separation and Concentration: Starch is separated from gluten and protein in hydrocyclones.
- Washing: Starch milk is washed to remove remnants of gluten and fiber.
- Drying: Moisture content is reduced to around 10-12% for storage stability.
- Packaging & Distribution: Dried cornstarch is packaged for commercial and consumer use.
Environmental and Economic Impacts
Corn production requires significant amounts of water and fertilizer. Runoff can pollute groundwater and cause algal blooms. However, crop rotation, no-till farming, and other practices can make corn farming more sustainable.
The Corn Refiners Association estimates that corn starch manufacturing contributes over $6 billion to the United States economy annually. The global starch market is projected to reach $190 billion by 2027. Corn starch represents a major industry worldwide.
Innovations in Production
- Biotechnology: GMO corn varieties with higher starch content are being developed. Critics argue this negatively impacts biodiversity.
- Sustainable Farming: No-till methods and crop rotation preserves soil health and reduces chemical inputs.
- Water Recycling: Facilities are implementing closed-loop water recycling to conserve water.
- Supply Chain Optimization: Partnerships between farmers, transporters, and processors aims to increase efficiency.
- Clean Energy: Some wet milling facilities are transitioning to solar, wind, and natural gas energy.
In summary, optimizations across the supply chain can make corn starch production more sustainable and responsible. But work still remains to improve environmental practices.
Diverse Applications and Recipes
Culinary Uses and Techniques
In the kitchen, corn starch serves multiple purposes:
- Thickening agent for sauces, stews, puddings, and pie fillings
- Binder and coating for fried foods like chicken, tofu, and tempura
- Adds sheen and stability to glazes on meat and vegetables
- Lightens texture in dumpling wrappers, gnocchi, and noodles
- Creates crispness in baked goods and fried snacks
- 1 Tbsp corn starch = 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour for thickening
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch + 2 tsp water = 1 egg as binder
- Mix corn starch with cool liquid before heating to prevent lumps
- Don’t boil for more than 2 minutes after thickening to avoid thinning
- Combine with arrowroot starch for clarity and sheen
Beyond the Kitchen: Industrial and Technical Uses
In manufacturing, corn starch is valued for its adhering, thickening, stabilizing, and binding traits. Key uses include:
Pharmaceuticals: Tablet binder, capsules, ointments
Paper: Coating, sizing, adhesive
Textiles: Sizing agent, finishes
Cosmetics: Talcum and face powders, creams
Bioplastics: PLA plastics, foodservice items, packing materials
Research is also exploring using corn starch to generate renewable biofuels through fermentation.
Get hands-on with corn starch in the kitchen with these tasty recipes:
Crispy Corn Starch Fried Chicken
Marinate chicken pieces in buttermilk for tenderness. Dredge in seasoned corn starch for an ultra-crispy coating.
Chinese Pork & Mustard Green Dumplings
Add a slurry of cornstarch and water to ground pork to create juicy dumpling filling. Fold in roasted mustard greens.
Raspberry Corn Starch Pudding
Simmer raspberries in cornstarch sweetened with condensed milk for a dessert with beautiful magenta tones.
Crispy Cauliflower Tempura
Dip cauliflower florets in a light tempura batter made with corn starch for quick vegetable frying.
Glistening Teriyaki Meatballs
Finish baked meatballs in a simple pan sauce of soy sauce, honey, and cornstarch for a glossy sheen.
Zesty Orange Tofu Stir-Fry
Fry cubed tofu coated in a corn starch batter. Toss in a flavorful stir-fry with bell peppers and citrus zest.
Future Directions and Consumer Insights
Cutting-Edge Research and Future Applications
Exciting innovations using corn starch are underway in labs around the world:
- Nanocrystals – Processing corn starch into nanoparticle-sized crystals for medicine, cosmetics, packaging, and more.
- 3D Printing – Developing corn starch-based bio-inks for food and tissue printing applications.
- Renewable Materials – Converting corn starch into polylactic acid (PLA) for compostable plastics and films.
- Biofuels – Using corn starch as a feedstock for producing bio-ethanol through microbial fermentation.
As technology progresses, corn starch could provide solutions for sustainability across many domains, from energy to infrastructure.
Market Dynamics and Consumer Trends
The global corn starch market size was valued at $16.7 billion in 2021. It is projected to expand at a CAGR of over 7% from 2022 to 2030.
Key drivers include:
- Booming processed and convenience food sector
- Rising meat and dairy production
- Demand for gluten-free foods and pharmaceutical excipients
- Sustainability trend favoring plant-based bioplastics over petrochemical plastics
Many consumers also seek out:
- Organic: 47% increase in sales of organic corn from 2019-2020
- Non-GMO: Verified non-GMO corn starch for processing
- Locally Grown: Regional supply chains between farmers and producers
Expert Opinions and Case Studies
Chef Edward Lee, Restaurant Magnus in Kentucky:
“Corn starch is an amazing gift from indigenous civilizations. It absorbs flavors easily so I use it to coat proteins and vegetables before frying or roasting – the starch seals in the juices and enhances any glazes or spices.”
Dr. Sujit Banerjee, Food Scientist at UConn:
“Modified corn starches are getting very sophisticated. We are tailoring functional properties like texture, solubility, and adhesion to suit specific applications from food to medicine. The potential is limitless.”
Greenpoint Starches, Brooklyn NY:
This wet milling facility sustainably produces corn starch locally using urban grown corn. They employ a closed loop water system and re-purpose waste for animal feeds.
Conclusion: How To Make Starch From Corn
From ancient Mesoamerican cultures to modern industrial applications, corn starch has served an invaluable role. This ubiquitous pantry staple nourishes traditions across the globe thanks to the scientific ingenuity that unlocks its functional potential. However, work remains to improve environmental practices across the supply chain. As corn starch continues fueling our foods and products, a balanced approach is needed – appreciating its benefits while progressing towards greater sustainability.
Now it’s your turn. Try making one of the recipes, experimenting with corn starch in your kitchen, or starting a conversation about sustainable choices you make for ingredients and supplies. Tiny steps in our homes and communities can make a big difference.
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.