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What is cornstarch in Australia?
Corn starch, also known as maize starch, is starch that comes from corn kernels. There’s also something called ‘modified corn starch’ which is starch that is treated, processed, or otherwise changed to make it more useful, consistent, or effective.
It is most commonly used in recipes to thicken liquid for when you want richer soups, stews, or gravies. It can also be used to prevent caking in powdered mixtures, like in confectioner’s sugar.
Cornstarch is different from flour (another thickening agent) because it mixes in clear; flour lightens the mixture a little bit. But like flour, one of the biggest issues with using cornstarch is that it can form lumps if it’s not prepared correctly. To prevent lumps from forming, you have to mix the cornstarch with a cold liquid (usually water or milk) before adding it into the recipe.
Cornstarch also has non-culinary uses. For example, you can make ‘slime’ with your kids with just cornstarch and a few other ingredients like water, dish soap, or glue. It’s also used in the manufacture of biodegradable plastic-like materials. Cornstarch is also the anti-sticking agent of choice for most latex medical products, such as gloves, condoms, and the like.
Some people may use cornstarch as a natural deodoriser since it absorbs moisture and odours quite well. It can also be used in dry shampoo, as a multi-purpose cleaner, to treat bug bites, or on the face as a translucent setting powder.
Cornstarch vs corn flour vs cornmeal: are they the same?
In Australia, the line between cornstarch and corn flour gets blurred sometimes. In plenty of cases, they’re used interchangeably, but there’s also a stark difference in other cases, especially when used in the United States or other parts of the world.
Generally, cornstarch is made just from the starchy endosperm of the corn plant, while cornmeal uses the entire kernel. Cornmeal is also a very coarse grain that can be used to make grits, cornbread, and polenta.
In the US, corn flour is just basically finely-ground cornmeal. But in Australia and the UK, cornstarch and corn flour often refer to the same thing. Always be wary of this when following recipes online!
To further complicate matters, there’s also something called ‘wheaten cornflour’. Wheaten corn flour can be used in the place of regular corn flour, except it’s made out of wheat instead of maize. The textures, tastes, and final products are similar, but the biggest difference is that regular corn flour is gluten-free while wheaten corn flour is not.
If a recipe calls for cornstarch, but you don’t have it at home, you have a few options. The most common substitution is flour, especially if you’re using it to thicken a liquid.
Flour is less ‘effective’ at thickening, so you’ll need to double or triple the amount of flour to match the amount of cornstarch dictated by the recipe. You’ll need to make a roux first (by adding oil or butter) before adding it into the recipe, or else you’ll get lumps. You can also use arrowroot powder or potato starch as a direct one-to-one substitution. Other alternatives include tapioca starch or rice flour.
If you’re using cornstarch as a household cleaner, then your best bet would be to use vinegar and/or baking soda instead.
Where to buy cornstarch
You can get Coles-branded cornflour (which is, again, interchangeable with cornstarch in Australia) for just $AUD 1.50 for a 300g box.
Woolworths Essentials’ gluten-free cornflour retails for $AUD 1.90/500g.
Some Aldi products (like their string cheese) are dusted with cornstarch to keep them from caking/sticking, but they also have run-of-the-mill cornflour/cornstarch that you can buy for your kitchen pantry.
IGA stocks multiple brands of cornstarch, including this $AUD 1.29-dollar 450g Compliments-brand cornstarch.
Like plenty of kitchen staples, cornstarch has multiple uses. You should always keep a box handy just in case you need it – for cooking, household cleaning, or having fun with your kids.