The culinary arts have produced an undeniably long list of seemingly indistinguishable ingredients. Joining the likes of butter and shortening are flour and starch. After all, mistaking starch for flour is not a surprise as they are both used for cooking and baking.
It should go without saying that flour and starch playing a vital role in innumerable recipes. Whether you are using them as thickening agents for sauces, breading for frying, or as main components for baking – avoiding these two ingredients is virtually impossible.
This leads us to the central question: What’s the difference between starch and flour? Starch is a simple carbohydrate, and flour is the powder that results from crushing raw whole grains. Flour contains high levels of starch, but starch does not contain any flour. Starch contains empty calories while flour contains some protein and minerals. They can be used similarly in cooking, but starch is better for deep frying since it makes a crispier breading.
Of course, this brief answer hardly scratches the surface. That is why, to adequately address this matter, this guide will delve into the specific characteristics, nutritional content, and practical kitchen applications of these two food items. So, be sure to keep reading.
Starch Vs Flour – How They’re Made
Looking at starch and powder, and basing our judgment solely on their appearance, it would be so easy to confuse the two.
After all, they are both white powders with almost identical textures. Moreover, they are also derived from plants – this can include potatoes, wheat, rice kernel, or corn.
Despite sharing a common origin, one of the striking differences between flour and starch is the amount of processing involved to produce them. Whole grain flour, for instance, needs only a minimal amount of processing.
On the other hand, producing starch is a wholly different story as pretty much everything else needs to stripped away before you can arrive at the final product. Remember, starch is one step away from being considered a sugar.
To truly understand these substances, we must take a closer look at both of them.
What is Starch?
In a nutshell, starch is a form of carbohydrate albeit a simple one.
Remember, plants store their excess energy in the form of starch. This is true for cereals like rice, corn, and wheat but it also applies to crops like potatoes.
Though it traces its origins from plants and cereals, starch undergoes a rigorous reduction process before becoming a white, odorless, and tasteless powder. That said, it contains traces of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms.
Starch, being a simple carbohydrate, can easily produce glucose once digested. Glucose helps provide the body with the energy it needs to function.
That said, it becomes extremely clear why starch has found a multitude of uses in the kitchen. For instance, starch is commonly used as sweeteners and thickening agents in recipes.
What is Flour?
Flour, on the other hand, is a powder that we get from grinding or milling raw grains.
Traditionally, grains are crushed between stones or wheels until they turn to the white powder that we are all familiar with.
Of course, advances in technology and modern machinery have made the process more efficient over the years but the same concept still applies.
Flour made from cereal comes in many forms. Listed below are some of the most commonly used types of flour:
Notice that throughout history, these cereal flours have been used as the primary ingredients for the various staple foods across the different cultures all over the world.
Whether you are baking bread, making the batter, or making sauces, any type of flour will always be an indispensable tool to have in the pantry.
Starch Vs Flour – Proper Usage
As you probably already know, both flour and starch are incredibly versatile ingredients in the kitchen.
Presented below are the different ways to use them when frying and making sauces. This serves to show how their properties can affect the way they are used in the kitchen.
Take note: both flour and starch are great if you want to make some thick sauces. However, in this regard, starch has a distinct advantage. Below is a brief breakdown of why that is:
- Starch is tasteless – The fact that starch has no taste makes it an ideal thickening agent for sauces. It is the definition of a neutral palate. This means that you won’t be forced to adjust the recipe to reach the desired flavors when using starch because it simply blends into the background, so to speak, and lets your other ingredients shine.
- Starch makes sauces look good – Once fully incorporated into your sauce, the starch helps create a glossy veneer. This makes your sauce appear more enticing and appetizing.
- Starch doesn’t clump – One of the major complaints home chefs have with flour is that it tends to get clumpy. This means that you will then have to work to smoothen the sauce if you want to achieve the right level of consistency. Of course, this is not the case when working with starch as it never gets clumpy during the cooking process.
- Starch has twice the thickening power of flour – Compared to flour, starch has twice the thickening capacity. This means that you also need to use smaller amounts. For instance, instead of putting in 2 tablespoons of flour, you will only need to use 1 tablespoon of starch.
Of course, this does not mean that you should always choose starch over flour when working with sauces. Listed below are some of the advantages that come with flour:
- Flour is versatile – It should be stated here that using starch with vinegar-based sauces, or any highly acidic mixtures, would be ill-advised. It simply won’t mix well. Luckily, this is not the case when working with flour.
- Flour works better with fat – If you are working on rich and buttery sauces, then flour is definitely the ideal choice.
At the end of the day, the choice of using starch vs. flour ultimately depends on the type of sauce that you are making.
For instance, if you are making a custard or a gravy then starch would be your best option. However, if you want something creamy then you may want to go with flour instead.
Flour and cornstarch work perfectly well for fried food. They make for excellent breading. However, there are subtle differences that you need to take note of.
Namely, flour won’t be able to give you the perfect crispiness we are all looking for when making a fried chicken recipe.
Needless to say, starch is the best breading option for frying. It can give you the perfect golden brown and the sweet crunch you want with every bite.
By the way, not only do you need the right starch and/or flour to deep fry delicious food, but you also need the right pot!
Starch Vs Flour – Nutritional Value
Now that we have established the different processes that go into making flour and starch as well as the different ways to use them, it is time that we take a look at another crucial aspect that needs to be discussed. We are referring to the nutritional value of flour and starch.
Below is a table showing the number of vitamins and minerals you can expect from corn flour compared to corn starch.
Corn Flour vs Corn Starch Nutritional Data
||Whole Grain Flour||Corn Starch|
|Vitamin A||250 IU||0.0 IU|
As the table above makes explicitly clear, whole grain flour is significantly more nutritious compared to starch. This is true across the board.
The most noticeable of which is the amount of protein that can be found in flour. To be more precise: flour has at least 16 times more protein compared to starch.
In terms of important vitamins and minerals, starch literally brings nothing to the table. That said, based on the data itself, it is made clear that you can expect very little nutrition from starches.
So, it is fair to say that they are what has come to be known as empty calories.
It is also worth noting that fad diets, particularly the gluten-free kind, make use of high levels of starch. Notice how this is true for so many of these gluten-free recipes. That is why most of these diets are counterintuitive to their purported goals.
Clearly, this is an instance when knowing your ingredients can make a concrete difference in the healthiness of your diet.
There you have it, everything you need to know about starch and flour. We have covered everything from the process of making them to their different uses in the kitchen as well as the nutritional value you can expect from these ingredients.
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