Is Cornstarch Gluten Free?

Cornstarch is a common ingredient in many packaged and prepared foods. Knowing if cornstarch is gluten free is key to ensuring you remain healthy and comfortable. This article will  explore what exactly cornstarch is, how it is made, whether it is gluten free, and what alternatives to cornstarch you can use yourself in cooking and baking. 

What is Cornstarch?

Cornstarch is a fine white powder derived from corn. Cornstarch is made by removing the hard outer shell on corn kernels to reveal the white starchy endosperm. This refined part of the grain is then ground up to create cornstarch. It is also sometimes referred to as corn flour. 

Cornstarch is most often used as a thickening agent in foods like sauces and soups. It is also used as a batter or coating on foods like meats and vegetables.

Is Cornstarch Gluten Free?

Corn is largely considered to be a “gluten free” grain. However, I’ve shared previously that this is not the case. Corn contains a type of gluten called zein. Research shows that many with celiac and gluten sensitivity react to corn just as severely as wheat, barley, and rye.  

Aside from this fact, corn and cornstarch are oftentimes cross contaminated with wheat and other grains, because many  manufacturers of cornstarch also process foods that contain gluten. In addition, corn itself can be easily cross contaminated in the fields and on the farms where it is grown. 

Cornstarch Alternatives

Those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity should avoid corn and cornstarch. Be wary of many of the hidden sources of corn-based ingredients when purchasing packaged foods and eating food that you haven’t prepared yourself. 

Here are some alternatives to cornstarch that you can try in your cooking and baking:

  • Arrowroot Flour
    • Arrowroot is a starch obtained from the rhizomes of several tropical plants, most commonly Maranta arundinacea, which is native to Indonesia.
    • Use twice as much arrowroot as cornstarch.
  • Flaxseed Gel
    • Flaxseed gel can be made by mixing ground flax seeds with water to create a gelatinous substitute that can work to thicken foods similarly to cornstarch.
    • Mix 1 tablespoon of flaxseed with 4 tablespoons of water to replace roughly 2 tablespoons of cornstarch. Let the mixture sit for five minutes to thicken prior to using.
  • Tapioca Starch or Cassava Flour
    • Both are extracted from the storage roots of the cassava plant, but are slightly different. Tapioca starch tapioca is just the extracted starch, while cassava flour is made from the entire root. Cassava flour has more fiber than tapioca starch.
    • Use twice as much tapioca starch and cassava as cornstarch .
  • Water Chestnut Starch
    • A very popular thickening agent used in many Asian cuisines, it is made from the root vegetable water chestnut.
    • Use a 1:1 ratio to cornstarch. 

The Bottom Line

Though labeled gluten free, cornstarch contains the gluten ,zein, which causes those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity to react negatively. Additionally, cross contamination of cornstarch with other grains makes it even more likely to cause a gluten reaction. 

Because of this, it is best to avoid cornstarch and foods that contain it. Instead, try out one of the gluten- and grain-free alternatives the next time one of your recipes calls for cornstarch.

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