Unlike any other food item that you need to study labels and ingredients for hours to identify if it is vegan or not, cornstarch is pretty straightforward. It is made from the endosperm of corn grains, and hence it is vegan.
But we’re sure you want to learn more. And, we assure you that there is more to it. Let us try and understand more about cornstarch and understand why it is vegan and why sometimes it might fall under the purview of questionable practices.
For now, we’ll begin by understanding why we need cornstarch in our kitchens, why is it necessary, and what are its uses. We introduce you to the world of cornstarch and its manufacturing best practices to best support your vegan lifestyle.
Everything About Cornstarch
Starting right from history, Cornstarch has been in existence since 1842, when it was used for starch laundry and more. And when we say that it is made from the endosperm of the corn, we mean the inner white part of the kernel.
The thick starchy liquid extracted from the white part of the kernel is then used for various cooking purposes. The most popular use is that of a thickening agent for different dishes. Bonus: it is also gluten-free!
When made on a large scale, this item is often made by adding corn kernels (or whole maizes) to some water containing sulfur dioxide.
Uses of Corn Starch
Despite its many uses in the kitchen, three are the most common, and you’ll find yourself using cornstarch time and again for these purposes. Of course, since corn starch is vegan, vegans can prepare yummy dishes using it.
Cornstarch will be your best friend whether you want to stir fry, deep fry, or shallow fry any of your dishes for that crispy, crunchy texture to end with. Of course, you could also use plain flour or any other crisping agent, but cornstarch is lighter and crisps up more quickly than other flours.
- Thickening Agent
Popular in Chinese cooking, the shiny glaze in thick gravies and stuff like Manchurian is achieved by thickening the gravy (or any other liquid on heat) with a little addition of cornstarch will create just the right glossy texture and feel.
Want those crumbly, delicious cookies, desserts, or cakes? Just put a little bit of cornstarch with your batter preparation. And it is that easy to bake wonderful dishes using cornstarch.
Cornstarch and GMO
So now that we know that cornstarch is vegan and essential in our kitchen, it is time to delve into production techniques that might be problematic or shady for some vegans.
Apart from vegans, several environmentalists have been against GMO crops owing to their detrimental effects on soil and human health (unverified study). So, if your cornstarch is made out of GMO corn crops, you might want to consider upgrading to organic cornstarch.
So, of course, cornstarch is vegan, but that doesn’t mean that it will render us in prime health. It is a kind of ultra-refined flour. And we know we should say a big no to anything that refined.
Thus, let us look at some healthier alternatives to cornstarch:
- Wheat Flour
Unlike all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour is not as refined and hence is a healthier alternative to cornstarch. But since wheat flour is thicker, you will have to add almost double the amount of cornstarch for the same thickening effect.
- Potato Starch
Many people prefer potato starch over cornstarch as the former is gluten-free! But potato starch is quite starchy and doesn’t add a flavor to your dishes (unlike grain flours).
Arrowroot might be the best alternative to cornstarch as it is often almost as starchy but much healthier. Just replace the cornstarch and use arrowroot as you would. It is also gluten-free!
Again, another gluten-free option, tapioca, is extracted from a root vegetable called cassava. The starchy liquid from this vegetable is further dried to make flour.
So, if you wish to head towards a healthy lifestyle, adopt these (vegan as well) options in your lifestyle instead of cornstarch.
Ahead, we answer the most frequently asked questions about cornstarch, its uses, and the vegan lifestyle.
- Is Cornstarch Harmful to Health?
Apart from being a gluten-rich flour, cornstarch also contains many carbohydrates and calories. That being said, it is not nutrient-dense to consume and enjoy daily.
You should try and avoid having excess cornstarch as it might have the following detrimental effects on your health:
- A high amount of carbs will increase blood sugar levels.
- Like with any other refined food, your heart might take its toll.
And of course, there are no essential nutrients in it for you to consume regularly.
- Can Vegans Consume Cornstarch?
As we discussed above, cornstarch is made from only one ingredient: the endosperm of corn. Hence, it is completely vegan-friendly. So, of course, vegans can consume cornstarch as they want.
- Is Corn Starch a Natural Thickener?
Of course! But again, many ardent vegans might contend that most cornstarch is made out of GMO cornstarch and hence refuse to consume mass-produced cornstarch.
Such individuals might then opt for organic cornstarch or other substitutes for a better lifestyle, health, and environment.
- What’s the Difference Between Cornstarch and Corn Flour?
The name suggests that corn flour is made by grinding dried corn kernels. And cornstarch, of course, is made from the innermost white part of the corn kernel. The formal is faint yellow while the latter is bright white.
In this article, we understood why cornstarch is vegan, why we love to have it in the kitchen and why it might not be the best for our health. And we also understood what might be the best and healthy alternatives to cornstarch.
To summarize: yes, cornstarch is 100% plant-based. It is a super-refined flour, so it is not good for our health as it might cause heart and blood glucose troubles.
Also, alternatives like wheat flour, tapioca, or arrowroot are some of the best replacements for cornstarch for a healthier lifestyle. They will have the same thickening effects but are mostly gluten-free.