If you like homemade bread you’re probably already well-acquainted with wheat starch. Apart from bread, this wheat grain extract is used as a thickening agent in a wide variety of baking products and other foods, sauces, and soups.
When wheat starch is unavailable, there are several other options you can try, like corn, potato, or tapioca starch. They have different characteristics and might not work for all recipes, so when choosing a wheat starch substitute, consider what you need to do with it.
The best substitutes for wheat starch
Wheat starch is a carbohydrate that has been part of our diet for thousands of years. It is a common ingredient in many foods and it’s often considered good for gluten-free diets.
In fact, during the processing of wheat starch, the gluten proteins are removed. However, it is very difficult to separate these small components, so it is believed that wheat starch might still contain a small percentage of gluten.
For this reason, even though wheat starch is often found in products labeled as gluten-free, it is always better to check the ingredients, because a product containing wheat starch is only considered gluten-free if it contains less than 20 parts per million (ppm) of gluten.
There are several substitutes for wheat starch, including other cereal starches or tuberous starches.
The cereal ones are considered the best wheat starch alternatives, but depending on what you need to do with them, you can also consider other options.
Generally speaking, all starches are good substitutes for wheat starch. However, each one has its own unique properties, for example, different levels of viscosity, or may not endure blending well.
It is also important to consider the availability of these products because some substitutes for wheat starch are easier to find than others.
So, if you’re out of wheat starch flour, you can try one of the following replacements.
Cornstarch is the best substitute for wheat starch, the one you can replace in all recipes and the easiest to find in stores.
Just as wheat starch is a carbohydrate extracted from the endosperm of wheat, cornstarch is a carbohydrate extracted from the endosperm of corn.
This starch is naturally gluten-free, so it’s the best option for those people affected by celiac disease. It works also as a gluten-free substitute for flour, just like sorghum.
Although cornstarch is mainly used as a thickening agent, you can also use it as a coating for tarts, fruit pies, and other desserts before you start baking them.
This natural starch has many uses and apart from being a great wheat starch replacement, it is also a good substitute for other foods, including okra.
2. Potato starch
When the starch of the potatoes is extracted and processed into a powder, you get potato starch. This starch is very versatile, you can use it as you would use cornstarch and it is often compared with it because it is also gluten-free.
Potato starch is sometimes labeled as potato flour, but the two are different products because potato flour is nothing but dried potatoes ground into a powder-like substance that is more similar to wheat flour than wheat starch.
When using potato starch as a substitute for wheat starch, you have an advantage over cornstarch, because potato starch can tolerate higher temperatures and that’s why it is often referred to as cornstarch when baking.
This starch is usually present in grocery stores, but when it’s not available in your area, you can easily find it online at reasonable prices. Use it in place of wheat starch in a ratio of 1:1 (1 tablespoon of potato starch equals 1 tablespoon of wheat starch).
3. Tapioca starch
Tapioca starch comes from the cassava root and is sometimes called cassava starch. It is mainly used as a thickening agent and works well in both savory and sweet dishes.
Since it comes from a root, tapioca is considered healthier than other types of starch, like potato starch. However, unlike potato and cornstarch, tapioca doesn’t withstand high temperatures well, and it’s better added to your dish at the end.
In fact, cooking tapioca starch for too long will cause a loss of thickening to the final product. Another difference between tapioca and other starches is that tapioca starch adds a glossy appearance to the dish.
If you want to make tapioca starch at home starting from the cassava plant, be aware that this plant contains cyanide, which is harmful to our body. Boil cassava for at least 20 minutes to remove this component.
You can use tapioca starch as a replacement for wheat starch in a ratio of 2:1 (2 tablespoons of tapioca equal 1 tablespoon of wheat starch).
4. Rice starch
Rice starch is a carbohydrate extracted from white rice, appearing like an insoluble white powder made, like other starches, by two components: amylose and amylopectin.
It is not to be confused with rice flour, which like all other flours, still contains gluten proteins. Rice starch is, in fact, gluten-free.
When mixed with hot water, rice starch takes a smooth and creamy texture, resembling a gel. That’s why rice starch is often a component of baby food, coatings, soups, and sauces.
Rice starch might not be the first wheat starch substitute that comes to mind, but its white color and neutral taste guarantee that the final result of your dish will be completely unaltered in both taste and color.
5. Psyllium Husk
Psyllium husk is a great wheat starch substitute in low carb diets. This starch comes from the Plantago plant, which is grown in India. In recent years, the demand for gluten-free and low carb alternatives has brought psyllium increasing popularity.
Psyllium is an amazing thickening agent and is also used in low-carb baking to avoid the goods falling apart. It can become so thick that it’s important to add enough liquid for the starch to build up.
Start mixing a single teaspoon of psyllium in your dish and add more until you reach the consistency you desired. Stir well with every teaspoon added to reduce the risk of constipation.
Psyllium is a perfect vegan option and you can add it to soups, stews, juices, and hot drinks among other goods.
6. Arrowroot powder
Arrowroot powder is a tuberous starch just like potato starch. It is made from starches extracted from several plants, including the Maranta arundinacea (arrowroot plant) which gives it its name.
This powder is white in color and has no flavor. It is sometimes referred to as cornstarch because it’s high in fibers, and it’s a healthy substitute for wheat starch.
Arrowroot powder, like many other starches, is used for its thickening properties and when mixed with water, it can turn into a gel just like psyllium.
Since it can withstand acidic components very well, it’s often used as a thickener for fruit jellies and fillings.
As it happens with tapioca, cooking arrowroot for too long at high temperatures will diminish its thickening ability, so it’s not recommended for recipes that require a long cooking time. In order to avoid this, it is sometimes better to add arrowroot towards the end of the cooking process.
You can replace wheat starch with arrowroot in a ratio of 2:1 (2 tablespoons of arrowroot substitute 1 tablespoon of wheat starch).
7. Xanthan Gum
Similar to psyllium, xanthan gum is a gluey starch that is often used to keep gluten-free baked goods together. It is made by fermenting sugar with a plant bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris.
With a growing interest in gluten-free diets, xanthan gum has known its fortune as a food additive that enhances elasticity in dishes and helps to keep the same texture in gluten-free food as it would be in traditional form.
While xanthan gum is one of the main reasons gluten-free goods have become so readily available, it’s important to note that too much of this ingredient in your dish can cause gastrointestinal issues.
Moreover, too much xanthan gum might turn your dish into a slimy solution, so use it with caution. In order to replace wheat starch with xanthan gum, start with a small amount and build it from there until you reach the desired texture.
8. Guar Gum
Another vegetable gum is guar gum, which doesn’t come from a plant bacteria or a root, but from a type of bean called guar bean. When the husk of the guar beans is removed, the endosperm is extracted, dried, and turned into powder.
Guar gum is preferred to many other types of starches because it has high fiber content and low calories. It’s considered to be a healthier choice than wheat or corn starch.
This gum, just like xanthan gum, is an extremely strong thickening agent, so it shouldn’t be overused in your dish. Start very small, for example with a quarter teaspoon of guar gum, and then build from there.
9. Ground Flaxseeds
This wheat starch substitute is a good absorbent and like other starches becomes a gel when mixed with water. However, its consistency is less smooth than other alternatives to wheat starch.
Ground flaxseeds can be the nutritious addition your dish lacks. Sometimes they’re used as toppings for oatmeal or soups, and they can also be added to hot drinks to boost the nutritious content.
If you want to replace wheat starch with ground flaxseeds, remember to use a lot of liquid. In order to substitute 2 tablespoons of wheat starch, mix 1 tablespoon of these seeds with 4 tablespoons of water.
How to choose a wheat starch substitute.
Starches are mainly composed of amylose and amylopectin, and it’s the proportions of these two components that change the properties of each starch.
Low amounts of amylose
Starches of this type usually present these characteristics:
– Can be cooked for a long time without losing thickening properties.
– Make the final result thick enough to be sliced with a knife.
– Become spongy when frozen, and might leak fluids.
– Turn your solution clear when hot, but make it opaque when cold.
These starches usually include the most popular ones like wheat and corn.
High amounts of amylopectin
Starches of this type usually present these characteristics:
– Become thick at lower temperatures but can’t always keep the thickness when cooked for a long time.
– The final dish has a glossy coating that is not firm enough to be sliced.
– They can be frozen with no changes.
– The solution remains clear whether hot or cold.
These starches usually include root starches like arrowroot and tapioca, but more in general all those starches tend to turn into a waxy gel when mixed with liquids.
Based on these characteristics, it’s will be easier to choose which starch is good for your recipe. For example, if you need to make a pie, you will need a starch that once set becomes thick and firm enough to be sliced, like cornstarch.
Simply, to pick the best wheat starch substitute for your needs, consider how you want the final result of your dish to look like and then pick accordingly.