When shopping for ingredients, I purchase as many fresh, natural, or minimally processed ingredients as possible. Therefore, the word “modified” in the title may seem a little contradictory. Before you raise an eyebrow, though, hear me out! In this instance, the word modified isn’t as bad or artificial as it sounds. Modified food starch is a thickening agent when added to liquids, prevents caking, and creates silky textures. Unlike regular starch thickening with heat, modified starch thickens as it cools. For recipes that do not tolerate heat, modified food starch can open a world of possibilities.
Food starch is derived from foods high in starch and dehydrated into a powder. The starch molecules absorb water and thicken recipes when added to foods containing liquids. The amount of starch added controls the thickness. Starch commonly derives from corn, potatoes, tapioca, waxy maize, or wheat. Food labels may not specify the source, but you can rest assured if you avoid gluten. Wheat is one of the “big eight” food allergens federally required to be labeled. No matter the source, starches will thicken the same way. The only difference is whether starch is regular or modified. But why even make modified food starch?
The Difference Between Modified and Regular Food Starch
Modified food starch is created by processing regular starch to alter the starch molecules. Think of modified food starch as powdered sugar is to granulated sugar or as popcorn is to corn kernels. However, corn starch is processed either physically, chemically, or enzymatically instead of milling sugar into a powder or heating corn kernels until popped. No matter the process used, the goal of modifying corn starch is to kick-start water absorption.
Regular starch requires heat to start starch gelatinization or the process of water absorption. As a recipe heats, the starch molecules move around and collide. As they move faster and react with each other, the wall of the molecule breaks down and weakens, allowing water to flood inside the molecule. As a result, the starch molecule will swell until reaching total capacity, which causes recipe thickening. Modified food starch recreates the exterior wall breaking down outside of a recipe, eliminating the need for heat as a catalyst.
What Foods Contain Modified Food Starch?
Chances are you’ve eaten modified starch without even knowing it. And if you’re someone that makes jam or bakes pies in the fall, you’ve used it under a different name, Clear Jel! It’s a common ingredient outside of pastries and canned goods! It can be found in items scattered throughout a grocery store. It’s commonly added to processed foods, including instant pudding mixes, salad dressings, seasoning blends, sauces, jams and jellies, pie fillings, and even some yogurts. It does not impact the flavor, and whether a product is heated determines when to use regular or modified food starch.
Does it Contain GMOs?
Modified food starch and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. While it is an altered form of regular starch, the change isn’t on a genetic level. Therefore, if the product used to produce the starch contains GMOs, the modified starch would also include them. However, if sourced from non-GMO products, starches will also be GMO-free. If a food starch does not specify on the packaging whether or not it is genetically modified, you may need to contact the manufacturer for clarification.
As a generalized answer, modified food starch is neither good nor bad for you. It isn’t an ingredient you should avoid unless you have an allergy or sensitivity to the ingredient. The foods containing modified food starch are usually sugary desserts, snack foods, condiments, and spice blends with minimal nutritional value. Whether it’s good or bad depends on your dietary needs and the nutrition and ingredients list. If you have questions about a specific ingredient or dietary requirements, always consult a licensed medical or nutritional expert for the best advice.
How to Thicken Recipes
Food starch is a common ingredient, and the purpose is relatively straightforward: thicken recipes, improve the food consistency, and prevent caking. However, when working with food starch, it can be temperamental. Starch likes to mix with water first before being added to a recipe. It’s also best added in small doses to avoid over-thickening. Two tricks can help ensure your recipes thicken as intended with the best consistency.
Avoid Adding Directly to a Recipe
Regular and modified food starch likes to mingle with the rest of the ingredients gradually. If you were to pour a measured amount of food starch directly into a recipe, the molecules tend to clump together. It will require some heavy whisking to make sure the molecules evenly distribute. Instead, add equal amounts of cornstarch and cool water to a small bowl and whisk until smooth. The consistency should be a thin paste resembling watered-down school glue. Once mixed, add the cornstarch to your recipe, whisking as you pour.
Add in Small Increments
Where to Purchase
If you’ve added modified food starch to your shopping list, there are two grocery store aisles you can find it. The first area is next to the regular food starch in the baking section. If you don’t see it there, the other spot to check is by the canning jars or seasonal area. Also, keep an eye out for another name for modified food starch, Clear Jel. If you can’t find it in stores, Clear Jel is also available online.
Try Modified Food Starch in Your Recipes!
Modified food starch is an ingredient I encourage you to experiment with more. It’s not as unnatural as it sounds and can open a world of possibilities. I’ve even used modified food starch in homemade butter frostings with Bailey’s. Without it, the icing would have either been too runny to use or not flavorful enough. If I notice a recipe is too watery at the end of cooking but don’t want to heat it further, I’ll add a starch and water mixture. With strawberry season here, now is the best time to make homemade jams and jellies using Clear Jel. You can buy it on Amazon here!
This article contains affiliate links. As an Amazon
Associate, I may earn a small commission by purchasing items linked to Amazon.
There is no added expense for you, and it will help support Flavors of Paradis
LLC. All products recommended are hand selected by Flavors of Paradis unless
otherwise stated as a sponsored product.