Cornstarch is a commonly used ingredient in a lot of different dishes – both desserts and main courses – and as such is an important part of the culinary practices in the west.
But what exactly is cornstarch, and is it safe to eat by itself?
What Is Cornstarch?
Cornstarch, as its name suggests, is the starch derived from the corn grain (also known as maize).
Cornstarch is a commonly used, versatile food ingredient used in countless dishes right across the board, and has many applications within modern cooking, and the food industry as a whole.
While most notably used as a thickening agent, cornstarch also has many unique and unusual scientific properties, which can make it both useful and (in some cases) dangerous.
One such dangerous element to cornstarch is its flammability, which can be a leading cause of dust fires in processing plants, making it a relatively volatile substance that needs to be treated and processed properly during production.
What Is Cornstarch Used For?
Within society, cornstarch has countless applications, spread across a series of different industries.
Cornstarch is a thickening agent, and is used in countless dishes right across the board – as well as things like gravies, soups, stews, and sauces that are served alongside other meals.
As well as thickening liquids, it also prevents lumps forming in things like gravy and custard, making for a more enjoyable consistency and taste.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, cornstarch also has several non-food related applications, namely in the making of paper products, adhesives, as well as in the manufacturing of textiles and materials products.
Cornstarch also has numerous applications within the medical industry, namely as an anti-stick agent used in medical products.
Some notable examples include condoms, diaphragms, and latex gloves.
Other medical uses include the enabling of glucose supply to people suffering with glycogen storage disease.
Glycogen storage disease is a metabolic illness wherein the body cannot properly synthesize glycogen in the way it should.
Cornstarch can be used to aid this condition (in small amounts), helping to deter glycogen fluctuations, and to maintain the continued health and wellness of the patient.
How Is Cornstarch Manufactured?
The process for separating the starch from the corn grain can be complex, and requires specific steps to take place for the process to work as it should.
First the corn is ‘steeped’ for 30 to 48 hours – a process that involves the corn grain being soaked in liquid to extract the flavors and soften it.
The germ is then separated from the endosperm, and those are then ground separately while being soaked.
The starch is then removed from each component through a process of washing.
The starch then undergoes a process called ‘wet milling’ – separated from the corn steep liquor, the cereal germ, the fibers, and the corn gluten using centrifuges, before being dried for packaging.
How Should Cornstarch Be Eaten?
Cornstarch is generally consumed as a paste, and to get it to this state, it needs to be cooked.
This is generally done by boiling it in water, as you would with gravy granules, and then adding it into the mixture you are wanting to use it for.
While it is not recommended to be eaten raw, it is very unlikely to cause any serious side effects – other than digestive discomfort, stomach upset, nausea, and similar symptoms associated with eating something you shouldn’t.
How To Know When Cornstarch Is Cooked?
When cornstarch has been properly cooked, it turns translucent in appearance.
If this is the case, and all of the granules have been dissolved, then your cornstarch is safe to be applied to whatever dish you are using it for.
Is Cornstarch Good For You?
Despite being safe in moderate amounts, eating too much cornstarch (as with most things) is not advised.
This is because cornstarch has a high glycemic index, predominantly due to the high carbohydrate content, and the lack of any nutrients.
Foodstuffs that have a high glycemic index can negatively affect your blood sugar, and so consuming too much cornstarch can encourage other negative conditions like type 2 diabetes.
Cornstarch can also cause unwanted weight gain when consumed in large quantities.
This is because cornstarch is a carbohydrate, and thus cannot be burned off as energy, instead being stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles.
This means that those who consume large amounts of cornstarch will undoubtedly gain weight.
Cornstarch is also not suitable for people with celiac disease, or who observe a gluten free diet, due to the large amounts of gluten that are present within it.
What Is Cornstarch Good For?
Despite its questionable place within the modern diet, cornstarch is not only good for thickening liquids within cooking, but also for those following certain diets.
Cornstarch is particularly suitable for vegans, as it can be used as a substitute for eggs in baking, due to the fact that it helps thicken up a mixture.
And there we have it, everything you need to know about cornstarch, and whether it is safe to consume by itself.
Cornstarch has many uses within both the food industry, and within various elements of manufacturing, making it an unusually important component in many day to day functions.
But with this versatility comes a need to treat and prepare it properly, be it as an element in cooking and food preparation, or as an industrially functional ingredient.