Corn Starch vs Baking Powder: The Complete Guide for Both’s Best Uses (2022)

Corn starch vs baking powder: What Is the Difference Between Cornstarch and Baking Powder?

When a recipe calls for cornstarch and you don’t have any on hand, you might be tempted to substitute similar ingredients, such as baking powder.

While it may appear to be a feasible idea, it may not work because different ingredients have different properties and applications.

So, what exactly is the distinction between cornstarch and baking powder? The main distinction is that cornstarch is used as a thickening agent, whereas baking powder is used as a leavening agent. The former thickens mixtures, while the latter causes them to rise.

Continue reading to learn more about the differences between cornstarch vs baking powder, how they are used, if they can be used interchangeably, and much more!

What Exactly Is Cornstarch?

corn starch vs baking powder
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Cornstarch is a flavorless and odorless starch powder derived from corn endosperm. It is used to thicken soups, gravies, sauces, and glazes, and its primary function is to absorb moisture.

This powdery, white substance, developed in 1844 in New Jersey, is gluten-free because it is derived from corn and is an essential ingredient in cuisines all over the world.

While all grains contain starches to varying degrees, corn starches are relatively easy to extract and purify. As a result, cornstarch is a low-cost ingredient that can be used in both cooking and baking.

Cornstarch, like other culinary starches, is primarily used as a liquid thickener and stabilizer.

When cornstarch is heated and exposed to moisture, the molecules begin to expand, unwind, and bond together in networks.

When enough bonds are formed, it begins to absorb moisture, much like a sponge, and thickens the liquid to which it is added.

What Is the Purpose of Cornstarch?

Cornstarch is valued for its thickening properties because it is made up of long chains of starch molecules that unravel and swell when heated. This is known as gelatinization, and it is what causes the thickening.

Cornstarch, in addition to being a thickening agent, is also an anti-caking agent. A common application would be to dust shredded cheese or powdered sugar with cornstarch to prevent clumping.

It also aids in the absorption of excess moisture caused by condensation, preventing the formation of a slimy texture.

Cornstarch can also be used as a marinade for meat or fish for stir fry, as a substitute for flour in shortbread, and to make food extra crispy.

Cooking with Cornstarch

The method for using cornstarch is the same whether you’re thickening gravies, soups, sauces, or any other liquid.

When cooking with cornstarch, never add it directly into a hot liquid as this may cause lumps.

Instead, make a slurry with room temperature or slightly cool water (or any other liquid). Mix the slurry into the liquid to be thickened and gradually raise the temperature.

This will ensure that the cornstarch molecules are distributed evenly before they begin to swell and gelatinize. The thickening effect starts around 150°F and peaks around 180°F.

When the sauce has thickened to your liking, stir it as little as possible and avoid bringing it to a boil, as this will cause the thickening effect to break down.

What Exactly Is Baking Powder?

corn starch vs baking powder
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Baking powder is a non-toxic powder that is used as a leavening agent in baking.

It has a long shelf life, is cheap, and contains three basic ingredients in different proportions: a base (baking soda, also known as sodium bicarbonate), an acid (cream of tartar), and a buffering agent (cornstarch).

When the base and acid are combined with water, a chemical reaction occurs that produces carbon dioxide, which aids in the growth of foods in both size and volume.

The presence of cornstarch prevents the base and acid from reacting prematurely by absorbing any moisture to which they may be exposed.

What Is the Purpose of Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a useful ingredient in cooking as well as a leavening agent in baked goods.

Baking powder, which is commonly used to make pancakes and waffles light and fluffy, is also used in recipes such as American-style dumplings, Middle Eastern falafels, and other fritter-like fried foods.

Baking powder can be single-acting or double-acting, with most commercial varieties being the latter because they begin releasing carbon dioxide as soon as moisture is introduced.

The heat of the oven or griddle releases the remainder of the gas.

Professional pastry chefs, on the other hand, use single-acting baking powder, which skips the first rise of double-acting baking powder and reacts only to high temperatures.

How to Use Baking Powder

The best way to cook with baking powder is to follow the recipe exactly and use the amount specified.

Baking powder is used in recipes that do not contain acids. For example, when baking powder, eggs, milk, and flour are combined in a recipe, the baking powder acts as a rising agent when it reacts with the liquids.

A good rule of thumb is one teaspoon of baking powder for one cup of flour, but you can certainly experiment.

Is it possible to substitute cornstarch for baking powder?

corn starch vs baking powder
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Can you use cornstarch instead of baking powder or vice versa? They’re both powdery, white substances used in cooking that have a similar appearance and feel. Is that to say they’re interchangeable? Certainly not.

The primary distinction between the two is that cornstarch is a thickening agent used in a wide range of recipes, including gravies, sauces, pies, and even ice cream, whereas baking powder is a leavening agent.

When combined with other ingredients, they serve entirely different functions and are not interchangeable.

While they are excellent choices for their respective purposes, they would be poor choices if switched. Cornstarch and baking powder cannot be used as leaveners or thickeners, respectively.

Because baking powder is made of cornstarch, you might think it can be used in its place. Regrettably, this is not the case.

The amount of cornstarch in baking powder is insufficient to produce the desired thickening effect as actual cornstarch. In addition, using a lot of baking powder in your recipe will give your food a bitter, sour, and salty flavor.

Cornstarch is commonly used as a thickening agent in baking and cooking, and it can be substituted with potato starch, rice flour, arrowroot flour, wheat flour, or any other type of similar starch.

Here are some of the best cornstarch substitutes:

Cornstarch Substitutes

Potato Starch

Although potato starch’s thickening properties do not last long after baking, it can be a good choice for foods that you intend to eat right away.

Potato starch has a delicate flavor and is ideal for sauces because it is made by crushing potatoes to release their starch content, which is then dried into a powder.

When replacing cornstarch, use 1 tbsp potato starch for 1 tbsp cornstarch. Just be careful when whisking it because it clumps up more than cornstarch.

Rice Flour

Rice flour, which is made from finely ground rice, is a popular ingredient in Asian cuisines for desserts, soups, and rice noodles. It is naturally gluten-free and can act as a thickening agent in most recipes, making it an excellent substitute for cornstarch. It is especially useful for clear liquids because it is colorless when mixed in water. When used in place of cornstarch, however, it is recommended to use twice as much to achieve the same results.

Arrowroot Flour

Arrowroot flour is a starchy flour derived from the roots of the Maranta genus of tropical plants. To make arrowroot, the plant’s roots are dried and ground into a fine powder. This powder can be used as a thickener in cooking and is frequently used instead of cornstarch because it is gluten-free and contains more fiber. It forms a clear gel when mixed with water, making it ideal for clear liquids. To achieve the same results as cornstarch, use twice as much arrowroot powder.

White Flour

Wheat flour, which is made by grinding wheat into a fine powder, is another excellent cornstarch substitute that contains not only starch but also protein and fiber. However, in order to achieve the same results as cornstarch when thickening liquids, you will need to use more of it. As a result, it is advised to use twice as much. Use 2 tbsp wheat flour for 1 tbsp cornstarch. Keep in mind, however, that using flour will not give whatever you’re thickening the glossy sheen that cornstarch would. Also, cook it for a few minutes longer to remove the raw flavor of the flour.

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