How to Use Starch in gluten free baking is the second in my yearlong series on gluten free flour. This project was to determine the best uses for each of the gluten free ingredients I had in my kitchen.
I also wanted to be able to better answer your questions. In my cooking classes and on my YouTube channel people always have questions about substitutions. Whether it's because of food allergies, intolerances, preferences or to improve your baking there's always more to learn.
I cleaned out my cupboard and found I had 21 ingredients for baking! You certainly don't need all of them but I suggest you skim over the first two posts (How To Use Rice Flour and this one on starches). Then scan the list of all 12 posts at the bottom and find what you're interested in right now.
Do I Need to Use Starch in Gluten Free Baking
Yes. Most gluten free recipes are trying to mimic the role of wheat flour to get the same result.
Wheat flour is about 75% starch and 6-13% protein, depending on how it's processed. That means we're always using a combination of flour and starch.
Remember from the last post I explained the three purposes of wheat flour;
- to thicken sauces, gravies, soups and stews,
- coat meats and vegetables,
- create structure in baked goods.
This is why different flours, starches and blends will work better in certain recipes.
An Exception To Every Rule
An important understanding for gluten free cooks is that there are always exceptions. Here's what I mean:
- You might read too much tapioca starch makes baked goods dense and gummy yet Brazilian Cheese Bread is a South American specialty made only with tapioca starch.
- It's common to see that a flour blend can include 30-60% white rice flour yet that amount has a lingering mouthfeel to me. (It took me years to figure that out!)
- Many sources say white rice flour is not ideal in cookie recipes yet you've probably tasted delicious cookies that contain it. My Sugar Cookies is a perfect example.
This series is general information about gluten free flour and recipes. With so many possibilities for combining flours and people sharing what they cook gluten free by the minute, there will be contradictions.
Just keep an open mind, take what's helpful and leave the rest.
How Do I Know What Starch Works Best
Every gluten free flour contains a different amount of starch and protein and each behaves differently. Add to that the long list of gluten free flours available and the number of combinations is endless.
Below is an overview of tapioca starch, potato starch and cornstarch. It will help you decide how and when to use each one for the best results. You'll also be more confident with substitutions and choosing new recipes.
Bake, eat and repeat! Keeping notes is a good idea too.
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An Overview of The Three Most Common Starches
All the starches do not behave the same (because that would just be too easy). My pantry includes these three.
- tapioca starch
- potato starch
Here are some key points to know about starch in general.
- Starches need time to hydrate before going in the oven so letting batter or dough rest for up to 30 minutes can improve the texture of some baked goods.
- The high starch content of some gluten free flours (and blends) can result in a gritty texture. Many batters and doughs benefit from more liquid to properly hydrate.
- More liquid may then require a longer baking time in some recipes.
What About Arrowroot Starch
At the beginning of my gluten free baking adventures I added tapioca starch to my pantry and later potato starch. I already had cornstarch.
As all gluten free cooks do, I run across recipe ingredients I don't have all the time. I was so happy with how potato starch improved my baking that I never saw enough recipes with arrowroot starch to make me want to try it.
If you use arrowroot starch and you're happy with your results then keep using it. I simply have no experience or recipes to share.
Properties of Cornstarch
- This powdery white cornstarch is not the same as corn flour. Do not substitute.
- Not ideal for baking, too much cornstarch results in baked goods with a starchy texture.
- Stirring too vigorously may cause a mixture to break down and thin out.
- Cooking over high heat can cause lumping.
- Freeze and thaw stable.
Best Uses for Cornstarch
- As a thickener for sauces, gravy, pie filling and pudding
- To dust on meat to help breading stick.
- Makes a light batter for fried foods.
- As an ingredient in breading to help with browning and crispiness.
Properties of Potato Starch
- Potato starch is not the same as potato flour. Do not substitute.
- Made from raw potatoes it has no potato taste.
- Gives a smooth texture and tenderness to baking.
- Provides structure and binding power in baking.
- Too much potato starch gives baked goods a crumbly texture.
Best Uses for Potato Starch
- In muffins, quick breads and my EGFG gluten free flour blend.
Properties of Tapioca Starch
- Tapioca starch is all starch but is sometimes called tapioca flour. They are the same ingredient.
- Gives chewy texture, elasticity and structure to baked goods.
- Aids in creating a crisp crust and in browning fried foods.
- Can be used as a thickener for pies and sauces.
- Too much tapioca starch makes baked goods dense.
Best Uses for Tapioca Starch
- Great in cookies, common in blends (see 11 gluten free flour recipes) and moist breads like cornbread.
- It's stretchy properties means it makes pliable wraps.
- Brazilian cheese bread and any variation of it like Pizza Cheese Buns.
Tapioca Starch vs Cassava Flour, Is There a Difference
Yes, tapioca starch and cassava flour are different so give different results in recipes. They both come from the cassava plant. Tapioca starch is extracted from the root of the cassava plant. Cassava flour is made by grinding the dried root of the plant to a fine powder so is more fibrous.
South American home cooks tell me Brazilian Cheese Bread is most authentic when made with cassava flour. I'm sure there's a difference and some day I'll try it.
Is Sweet Rice Flour A Starch
Technically no. Sweet rice flour contains some protein so it's not a starch. It has a higher starch content than other rice flours so acts like a starch and is often used in gluten free flour blends and recipes for baked goods.
For more on sweet rice flour refer to How to Use Rice Flour.
Watch How To Use Starch in Gluten Free Baking on YouTube
Best Tip for Gluten Free Recipes
I ask Google cooking questions all the time but gluten free cooks know that if they want to repeat a recipe they better save it. Figure out a system to save your favourites and create a tried-and-true list. Over time you'll learn to vary them in different ways to easily expand your repertoire.
Once you find a few recipes you make often, like pancakes or muffins, you can experiment and learn how different flours and starches change the results. I do this with my Banana Muffin recipe over and over.
Best Recipes To Use Starch
Recipes Using Cornstarch
- Breaded foods like Breaded Pork Chops, Breading for Chicken and Pork and Shrimp Lemongrass Skewers
- White sauce and all the recipes you make with it: Mac and Cheese, Lobster Macaroni and Cheese, Greek Moussaka, Greek Pastitsio and Eggs Florentine.
- Battered foods like Battered Fish and Chinese Chicken Balls
- Buttermilk Biscuits
- Thickening sauces like Vanilla Cream and Lemon Curd
- Rhubarb Strawberry Crisp
- Angel Food Cake
Recipes Using Potato Starch
I use potato starch in my EGFG gluten free flour blend so the majority of my baked goods include potato starch. A smaller amount of my recipes call for individual flours and that included potato starch. This is a small sampling of the recipes.
- EGFG gluten free flour blend
- Yorkshire pudding
- Australian Lamingtons, Angel Food Cake and Orange Cupcakes with Orange Icing
- Buttermilk Biscuits and Yogurt Pancakes
- Cherry Hand Pies
- Sugar Cookies, Thumbprint Cookies and more (check my A Roundup of Gluten Free Cookies)
Recipes Using Tapioca Starch
- Brazilian cheese bread and a variation, Pizza Cheese Buns
- Cornbread, Cornmeal Raspberry Muffins and Cornbread Chorizo Stuffing
- Crusty Bread and Buttermilk Biscuits
- Flaky Pie Crust and all the recipes you can make with pastry (Pot Pies, Tourtiere, Pumpkin Pie...)
- Thumbprint Cookies, Sugar Cookies and more (check out A Roundup of Gluten Free Cookies)
- Australian Lamingtons, Angel Food Cake and Chocolate Cupcakes
- Layered Cappuccino Brownies
Let me know in the comments below if you have any questions or tips to share about using starches in gluten free baking.
Originally posted 2017, updated October 2022.
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This is the second in a series of blog posts on gluten free flours. My intention is to provide a basic overview for the everyday home cook, both new and experienced. Let me know in the comments below what you found helpful and what your biggest challenge is with gluten free baking.
How To Use Gluten Free Flour series:
- How To Use Rice Flour in Gluten Free Baking
- How To Use Starch in Gluten Free Baking
- Millet Flour and Sorghum Flour
- Corn Flour, Cornmeal and Masa Harina
- Almond Flour and Quinoa Flour
- Binders in Gluten Free Baking
- Chickpea Flour
- Teff Flour
- Buckwheat Flour
- Coconut Flour
- Oat Flour
- How To Use A Gluten Free Flour Blend