If you are living a gluten-free lifestyle, you are no doubt looking for ways to make foods that are just as tasty as gluten-containing foods. Starches can help you to achieve that goal. Starches can be used as a thickener for sauces and can add moisture, lightness, and texture to baked goods.
Here is a rundown of some starches that are gluten-free:
This starch comes from tropical plants. Arrowroot is used to make biscuits, cakes, hot sauces, and pudding. In Asian cuisine, Japanese arrowroot (kudzu) is used to make noodles. It works well to thicken up sauces, and is often used instead of cornstarch. Unlike cornstarch or other thickeners that make a sauce that is cloudy, arrowroot sauces are clear. It also adds body and texture to baked goods, or can be used to bread veggies, chicken, and fish. Arrowroot is not high in nutrition.
As you can probably guess, potato starch comes from crushed potatoes. The starch is then washed and dried out. Although potato starch doesn’t offer much in the way of nutrition, it does help to add moisture and texture. Because it absorbs a lot of moisture, potato starch is a good starch to use if you are baking something you want to be crispy. Potato starch should be combined with a gluten-free flour.
Tapioca starch is a commonly used starch in gluten-free products, and it is often called for in recipes. Like arrowroot and potato starch, it is not high in nutrition, and it won’t add flavor to your cooking. It adds structure to baked goods, and will make them nice and golden brown. It can also be used as a thickener in sauces and gravy or as a batter coating. Just beware—using too much tapioca starch can give the final product a strong taste and can even make food taste slimy.
Cornstarch is a good substitution for potato starch or tapioca (although if you do make this substitution, you should add in a leavening product such as baking powder or baking soda). Although it won’t help your baked goods rise as much as tapioca, it will provide flavor and a crispy texture. And, cornstarch is very easy to find and relatively inexpensive.
Like other starches, rice starch can be used to thicken sauces and in baking. However, some cooks complain that rice starch can result in a finished product that is grainy and baked goods that are heavy and chewy. As often happens with gluten-free cooking, you’ll have to try rice starch for yourself and decide if you like the results.
Bean starch may be a bit harder to find than cornstarch or the other starches listed. Bean starch can result in bread and baked goods that are more elastic, meaning they will have a nice texture. Bean starch also helps to produce bread that has a soft texture.
One more tip when using starches for cooking: a grain starch such as cornstarch is good to use when you want to thicken something right at the beginning of cooking, such as stew. “Root” starches, such as potato, tapioca, and arrowroot, should be used if you need to thicken a sauce quickly, right before taking it off the stove.
As you can see, different starches will contribute different things to add to your cooking. Often, a recipe will call for a combination of starches so that you reap all the benefits you can—for example, a recipe might call for both tapioca starch (which will result in golden-brown baked goods) and potato starch (which will add a nice light texture to baked goods).