Have you ever thought about what would make the best alternative for cornstarch when frying chicken?
The best cornstarch substitute is potato starch. It has the right structure to provide the crispy and rigid coating that cornstarch does. Additionally, it does not have a distinct taste and is gluten-free, just like cornstarch. Potato starch can be heated to high temperatures and it won’t burn which makes it perfect for deep frying food.
Continue reading if you want to learn more about why potato starch is the best alternative to cornstarch and what are other options you can choose from.
What Is Cornstarch?
Cornstarch is a starch derived from corn kernels. It is a widely-used ingredient in culinary.
You can find cornstarch on the ingredient list for soups and sauces where it is used as a thickening ingredient.
If you’re in need of cornstarch in your pantry, Clabber Girl is a great brand.
One of the most popular uses of cornstarch is frying. Due to its unique consistency cornstarch makes a crispy coating for whatever you are going to fry, from chicken wings to onion rings.
As cornstarch is mainly starch, it contains lots of calories and carbs. As far as the nutritional value goes, there isn’t much to be expected from it.
One cup of cornstarch (128 g) contains 488 calories. It contains 0.1 g fat and 117 g carbohydrates, and 0.3 g protein.
As for the minerals, one cup of cornstarch has 11.5 mg sodium, 3.8 mg potassium, and iron (3% of the daily value).
People who have problems with blood sugar and cholesterol levels are not recommended to eat meals made with cornstarch.
Why Does Cornstarch Get Crispy When Fried?
Some people argue that food fried in cornstarch gets the crispiest. But why is it so?
We can fry food dipped in a coating or we may skip it and put, say chicken wings with the skin on, directly into the oil.
The chicken will still get crispy and have some crunch to it, but there is something magical in using a cornstarch coating – a golden glossy outside layer that protects the delicate meat by keeping it juicy and delicious.
Thus, frying with a cornstarch coating is a more delicate way of frying food, as it helps maintain the qualities of what’s under it.
But what is the science behind the cornstarch coating getting so crispy?
As starch is mixed in with a liquid to make the coating, its granules absorb water content and expand in size when touching the hot oil. The same thing happens when the starch is directly applied to a moist surface of the food.
The moistened particles of cornstarch separate from each other. The water in the granules quickly evaporates when heat is applied. By this time, the starch particles don’t move around anymore. They are locked into place and form a crunchy crust covering the food.
The consistency of the coating depends on the molecular structure of the starch. There are two types of molecules in starches, including cornstarch – amylose and amylopectin. Depending on the origin of the starch, the ration between these two molecules differs.
Amylose and amylopectin ‘work together’ to form the crispy coating. However, how much crunch you will experience when biting into a fried food depends on how much amylose is in the starch used for coating.
Cornstarch is considered to be one of the best starches to be used for frying as it has up to 28% of amylose.
Potato Starch: The Best Cornstarch Substitute
While there are many substitutes for cornstarch, not all of them work well for frying food. Being similar to cornstarch in many ways, potato starch is the best alternative for cornstarch.
What is Potato Starch?
Potato starch is derived from the roots of the potato plant. Potatoes are crushed to help the starch granules separate from the cells. The starch grains are later dried to make the final product – potato starch.
A high-quality potato starch that we can recommend is made by Pure Organic Ingredients. It’s GMO-free, gluten-free, and vegan.
Potato starch granules have a slightly rounded oval shape and are larger in size than the rest of the starch varieties.
One cup of potato starch is quite high in calories – 571 calories in 160 g of starch. One cup of potato starch also contains 11 g protein, 133 g carbohydrates, and 0.5 g total fat.
Compared to cornstarch, potato starch has a higher nutritional value. There are 88 mg sodium and 1601 mg potassium in a cup of potato starch.
Potato starch contains calcium, vitamin C, iron, magnesium and is rich in vitamin B-6 (60% of the daily value).
If you’re vegan and want to fry up some delicious eggplant (or maybe some tofu) with the potato starch, we highly recommend checking out this article: The Best Vegan Egg Substitutes For Frying.
Why Is It the Best Substitute for Cornstarch?
Using cornstarch is a good way of getting a crispy coating while protecting the meat and keeping it juicy inside. As mentioned above, the reason for this the high amylose content of cornstarch granules.
When looking for the best substitute for cornstarch, it is essential to keep in mind that we should find an alternative that comes as close as possible to the molecular structure of cornstarch.
This way it is possible to achieve the same effect as with cornstarch.
1. Amylose content
Potato starch, compared to other starch varieties, has a higher amylose content – from 20-22%.
Having a higher amylose content, potato starch can easily compete with cornstarch as far as creating the brittle coating on fried food.
Aside from the high amylose percentage in potato starch, there are multiple other reasons why it makes the best cornstarch substitute for frying.
2. Potato starch is gluten-free
Potato starch, just like cornstarch is gluten-free. This makes it a good alternative for people who use cornstarch for frying as a gluten-free coating.
Coatings with gluten-free starches are lighter as gluten attracts both moisture and fat. With potato starch and cornstarch, the coating is light and crispy as opposed to being too oily and heavy when made with ingredients with high gluten content.
3. No problems with the ratio
You may be intimated by the thought of substituting one ingredient with another as it often implies changes in the amount you use.
Luckily, the ratio for cornstarch and potato starch is 1:1, which makes it easier than ever to alternate between the two.
4. Neutral taste
Some call it bland, we call it neutral. Potato starch does not have a distinct taste, which makes it a good alternative to cornstarch.
The latter, in spite of being derived from corn kernels, does not taste like much.
Thus, potato starch will not interfere much with the taste of the fried food but only provide a crispy coating for it.
5. High-temperature endurance
While it is not recommended to cook potato starch for a long time, it can be cooked in high temperatures with great results.
This is another reason why potato starch makes a good coating for deep frying.
Cornstarch Vs Potato Starch: Are They Always Interchangeable?
The primary difference between cornstarch and potato starch is how they are derived. The former is derived from corn kernel which makes it a grain starch, while the latter is a root starch.
Aside from being interchangeable in frying food, cornstarch and potato starch can be used as a thickening ingredient in soups and sauces. However, there are certain rules in using these starches.
As potato starch, in comparison to cornstarch is not suitable for long cooking processes, it needs to be added to the dish toward the end of the cooking time.
Cornstarch, on the other hand, needs to be cooked for a longer time to avoid the chalky flavor it may give to the dish.
2 Other Cornstarch Substitutes for Frying
There are a number of substitutes for cornstarch when it comes to thickening soups or gravies and baking cookies or cakes. However, when it comes to choosing a substitute for frying, the list of alternatives is narrowed down.
1. All-Purpose Flour
All-purpose flour is one of the most popular coatings used by home cooks as it is always at hand.
This flour is a blend of two kinds of wheat – soft and hard. Thus, this is not a gluten-free choice and cannot substitute cornstarch from that aspect.
However, if you don’t mind a small amount of gluten in your food, all-purpose flour is a good choice. As it doesn’t have a pronounced taste, it serves as a blank canvas and you can add different spices to get the desired flavor.
If you are substituting cornstarch with all-purpose flour, you need to use 2 times more flour. As the latter contains less starch, it takes a lot more of the product to reach the desired consistency when mixed with a liquid.
So, if the recipe states 1 cup of cornstarch, you will need to add 2 (or more) cups of flour.
2. Rice Flour
Rice flour is much lighter than all-purpose flour and can make a lighter and crunchier coating than other flour substitutes for cornstarch.
Rice flour has less starch content and it takes double the amount of cornstarch in a recipe.
Another point that makes rice flour a great alternative for cornstarch is that it is made of only rice and thus, is gluten-free.