Wheat starch is arguably the next big food trend, as it is made from wheat, but only contains minute traces of gluten.
This product, if commercialized, will become just as readily available as wheat flour. It works great as a thickening agent and is easy to use.
But, for now, we are still very much in the phase where it’s hard to come by. As great as this product is, and as much as we are seeing it in recipes today, it still isn’t as easy to find as most other starches.
So, what are the best wheat starch substitutes? The nest substitutes for wheat starch are corn starch, potato starch, and tapioca starch. These are easy to find and very affordable. Other substitutes include xanthan gum, guar gum, arrowroot powder, psyllium husk powder, and ground flaxseed.
Today we will look at this very interesting starch and exactly what it is. It shouldn’t be confused with wheat flour, which we will also discuss in depth. Then, finally, we will have a look at all the possible substitutes for wheat starch.
What Is Wheat Starch?
Wheat starch is considered to be a by-product of wheat gluten. When normal wheat is processed, the endosperm part of the wheat grain is used to extract the starchy elements.
This is done using a special solution of water and starch. The mixture is then heated to remove the water and moisture, leaving only the final product, a fine powdery starch.
During this process, all of the proteins are removed, which means that the whole chemical structure of the product changes. Your doughs won’t become elastic because normally the proteins and gluten are what create that elasticity.
Therefore, you will be left with extremely dense and hard products. Wheat starch can only be used as a thickening agent and not as a flour.
This form of starch isn’t very well known, as it is mainly sold to industrial manufacturing factories and companies rather than chain grocery stores.
It is difficult to come by. However, with a recent increase in demand for gluten-free products, this one has become a bit more available.
Wheat starch is produced on a much smaller scale compared to potato starch and corn starch, which are both more commercially found.
This product doesn’t contain any gluten. Protein in wheat is what holds and creates more gluten. When those proteins are removed, so is the gluten and you are left with a starch.
Wheat Starch Vs Wheat Flour – What’s the Difference?
We have another article dedicated to this very subject of starch vs flour, but we’ll explain it briefly here as well so you can have a deeper understanding of what starch is and what it does before we get into substitutes.
To create wheat flour, a wheat grain is carefully ground and processed.
Each grain produces an endosperm (that contains the protein and starch), the germ (which also contains protein, but also fat and vitamins), and lastly the bran (which is packed with fiber).
Wholegrain wheat flour is made using all three parts of the grain, whereas brown flour only uses the germ and bran parts. These flours still contain nutrients.
White flour is a heavily processed form of flour that only uses the endosperm. This type of flour is bleached to produce its fluffy white color, but during this process, any minute remaining nutrients are destroyed.
To make white flour, moisture is added to the grain before milling. This helps make the endosperm softer and easier to extract during the process. The moisture is eventually evaporated and creates a fine white powdery substance.
There are varieties of white flour that vary in protein content. You get hard flour, which has a higher protein and gluten content, or soft flour, which has a lower protein and gluten content.
Flour is used as mostly a binding ingredient. This helps add structure when the proteins are hydrated.
This hydration forms gluten bonds and the more it is worked, the more elastic the bonds get, ultimately creating the internal structure of the product.
Wheat flour is used in pancakes, pastries, breads, baked goods, and a ton of other dough and batter products.
Wheat starch, on the other hand, as we’ve already discussed, is extracted from the endosperm (the same part which is used to make white flour).
Where the endosperm is used whole (just extremely refined) to make white flour, for wheat starch that endosperm is hydrated and then evaporated to only leave a starchy white powder.
Wheat starch, like many other starches, has a wide variety of functions. It mainly functions as a thickening agent. This means it aids in creating certain textures, binding ingredients together, and retaining moisture.
Starch can also be used as a fat substitute, emulsifier, stabilizer, and glazing agent. The only thing it cannot do is act as a flour.
The other major difference between these two wheat products is that wheat flour contains gluten, whereas wheat starch contains virtually none (although for people that are extremely sensitive, it might still cause a reaction).
The Best Substitutes for Wheat Starch
Because wheat starch is a type of pure starch, there are a ton of easy substitutions that are affordable and easy to find.
All of these starch substitutions are gluten-free and also have different characteristics that will benefit many different people and be suitable to various dietary restrictions.
1. Corn Starch
Corn starch is arguably the most popular starch powder you can find world-wide. It is not only easily accessible but also very affordable.
Corn starch is made from corn kernels, which naturally doesn’t contain any traces of gluten, making it perfect for people who are extremely sensitive to gluten, like those with Celiac disease.
Corn starch is also only made using the starchy endosperm of the kernel. This form of starch is just as diverse as many others, if not more!
It has one of the biggest moisture absorption capabilities, meaning it makes for a great thickening agent.
Corn starch is also very easy to use, as you slowly add liquid and mix until it forms into a paste.
Then you continue adding liquids until it is the same consistency as the base you need to add it to. There is no need to hydrate it before using it or to process it in any other way.
You can use corn starch in equal amounts to wheat starch and they are used in exactly the same ways.
2. Potato Starch
Potato starch is another very common starch ingredient that can be found easily. In some parts of the world, it is actually more popular than plain old corn starch!
The process of extracting this form of starch is very unique, as it comes from fresh potatoes. Have you ever seen a cloudy, grainy liquid seep from a cut potato? Well, that’s the starch inside the potato leeching out.
To extract the potato starch, a fresh potato is continuously crushed to release all of that starch. All the leached starch is then dried by evaporating the moisture and ground into a fine powder.
Potato starch is also gluten-free. However, it is extremely high in carbohydrates and fats. If you are watching your calories, definitely be sure to use potato starch in moderation, or completely choose another substitute.
Just like corn starch, potato starch can be substituted in a 1:1 ratio, meaning in equal parts.
You also have to slowly add liquid to the powdery starch to hydrate it. The goal is also to get it to the same consistency as the base you want to incorporate it into in order to prevent lumps from forming.
One very important thing to keep in mind when using potato starch is that it hydrates extremely quickly, so you have to work fast.
When kept in very hot heat for too long, it might break down completely and lose all of its thickening characteristics.
3. Tapioca Starch
Tapioca starch, or Cassava starch, is a popular thickening agent in South America, Asia, and Africa, where the cassava plant grows naturally. This is another natural gluten-free product.
Over the decades, the plant has grown in popularity and today it can be found almost everywhere around the world.
This starch is obtained from cassava roots, which is a type of vegetable. Like the potato, the roots are ground to extract the starchy liquid. This liquid is also dried by evaporating the moisture and further ground to produce a fine powder.
Tapioca starch should always be bought from a reputable supplier or manufacturer, as cassava can potentially contain hazardous amounts of cyanide.
The root and powder are always (or should always) be treated before they can be used for food purposes.
Tapioca is very high in carbs, but low in protein and other nutrients.
To substitute wheat starch with tapioca starch, you can use a 1:2 ratio, meaning every tablespoon of wheat starch should be replaced with 2 tablespoons of tapioca starch.
Unlike potato starch, tapioca starch thickens very slowly, so it can handle prolonged heat.
4. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan Gum has been a popular ingredient in many restaurants, especially fine dining ones. But it has only recently become more commercially available.
Xanthan gum is a plant-based starch that is obtained from a bacterium. This means that it is another gluten-free product!
To produce this thickening agent, the bacteria is first fermented with some sugar. What is extracted is a gel-like product that is then dried. This produces a powder that can directly be used in your products.
This powder is very effective, and you only need small amounts for big results.
Too much of it (or too frequent use) can actually cause some digestion problems, which is why not many people are the biggest fan of it – especially not as an everyday substitution.
Xanthan gum can be used in a 1:1 substitution, however if you require large amounts of wheat starch, it is better to start by only adding half the amount of xanthan gum, and slowly increasing it.
Adding too much xanthan gum to a recipe can change the texture completely and leave you with a slimy texture.
5. Guar Gum
The next substitution sounds a lot like xanthan gum but is actually very different. Guar gum is obtained from guar beans, which is a legume.
The husks are removed to extract the endosperm. This endosperm is then ground, dried, and further processed into a fine powder.
Unlike xanthan gum, guar gum doesn’t have any health risks. It is low in calories and high in soluble fiber. Besides that, it is also much cheaper compared to xanthan gum, which is why many people prefer it.
Guar gum is very similar to Xanthan gum in one way only; you don’t need a lot to make a big change. You can use an 8th of what the recipe calls for. So if you require 2 tbsps of wheat starch, then start by only adding ¼ teaspoon.
Only increase the amount by 1/8 – ¼ teaspoons at a time to prevent over-thickening.
This starch doesn’t require heat to start thickening a product, which is another big benefit of using it. You can sprinkle the guar gum over your food and continuously whisk it until it has been fully incorporated.
6. Psyllium Husk Powder
Psyllium powder is made from the husks of Plantago Ovata seeds. This isn’t a commonly found ingredient but is increasing in popularity. The availability will depend on where you are located.
This powder and thickening agent contain a ton of calories due to its high fiber content but doesn’t contain any carbohydrates or fats.
We aren’t the biggest fans of this substitution, even though it does work perfectly, as it is also often sold as a laxative, which isn’t always great for people with sensitive stomachs.
But then again, it can be the perfect solution if you have a sensitive stomach!
When using psyllium husks as a substitute, make sure to start with a third of the required amount, a 1:3 ratio. So, for every 1 tbsp of wheat starch you require, substitute it with 1 tsp of psyllium husk powder.
This powder also works very quickly, so make sure to work fast.
7. Ground Flaxseed
Also very commonly known as ground linseed, this superfood is high in fiber and nutrients!
It has a ton of health benefits including preventing constipation and helping with cholesterol and heart disease.
This product thickens extremely quickly and the best way to substitute it is by combining 1 ½ tsps of flaxseed powder with 2 tbsps of water. This substitution will work to replace 1 tbsp wheat starch.
Keep in mind that this powder does have some texture to it, which could relate to your product. So we wouldn’t recommend using it to make smooth jellies, but rather to thicken sauces.
8. Arrowroot Powder
This is a more well-known plant-based starch obtained from the roots of an Arrowroot plant.
This plant is mostly found in tropical areas, but the ground starchy version can easily be found worldwide.
Just like potato starch, this root is ground to extract the starch. The starch is then dried and further ground into a powder. It is a gluten-free starch, which is an added bonus.
It has a very high fiber content, which is why many people prefer it over substitutes like corn starch.
To substitute wheat starch using arrowroot powder, you can use a ratio of 1:2 ratio, meaning for every 1 tbsp of wheat starch required, you can add 2 tbsps of arrowroot powder.
You might need to add a tiny bit more to achieve a nice thick consistency.
Up Next: Do Oats Come From Wheat?