Is Cornstarch Vegan? Here’s Everything You Need To Know

Cornstarch is a widely used ingredient in the culinary world, as it’s the perfect thickener for sauces, gravies, glazes, marinades, soups, and more. 

As the name suggests, cornstarch is derived from corn, but because it’s highly processed, some people might wonder if it’s vegan-friendly.

So, is cornstarch vegan? Cornstarch is vegan because it’s obtained by grounding the endosperm of corn kernels, which is naturally a plant-based food. 

What Exactly Is Cornstarch?

Sometimes referred to as corn flour, cornstarch is made with corn kernels, more specifically the carbohydrates found in the endosperm material, or tissue that covers the seed.

It is a refined product that you get by removing the most nutritional parts of the corn and leaving only the internal starch, also called the endosperm, which is dried and ground into a fine white powder that we call cornstarch.

cornstarch

Cornstarch is used for many culinary, household, and industrial purposes. It was first developed in 1844 in New Jersey and is produced today in corn-growing countries such as China, Brazil, and India. 

In the kitchen, cornstarch is mostly used as a thickening agent for marinades, sauces, gravies, glazes, soups, casseroles, pies, and other desserts.

One can also use it as a coating because it seems to increase the crispiness of foods when fried as it allows for better oil absorption. For example, it’s great for making a crispy version of tofu.

Cornstarch also comes in a variety of store-bought products, even those labeled as vegan-friendly. 

Is Cornstarch Vegan-Friendly?

Cornstarch is not made with animal products, in fact, it is a byproduct of corn production, which makes it a vegan-friendly product. 

However, some claim that the production process is not free from cruelty or exploitation, as is the case with any form of agriculture.

The goal of veganism is to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose. 

This doesn’t mean you have to completely abolish any and every ingredient that might involve cruelty or exploitation, as that occurs with almost every mass-produced grain, vegetable, or fruit, even though it is not on a comparable scale to animal agriculture. 

Is Cornstarch and Corn Flour The Same Thing?

Countries outside the United States, including the United Kingdom, Israel, and Ireland, refer to cornstarch as corn flour, so the nomenclature can certainly vary depending on where you live. 

However, they are two completely different ingredients, particularly in the way they can be used in recipes mostly due to their different nutritional composition.

For instance, corn flour can be used to make bread, pancakes, biscuits, waffles, and pastries, in addition to or as a substitute for wheat flour. 

Cornstarch, on the other hand, is primarily used to thicken soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. It is mostly starch so it doesn’t contain protein or fat and can’t be used in the same way as corn flour is used for baking. 

In other words, cornstarch is more of a thickening agent, whilst corn flour can be used similarly to any other flour, making it strikingly different from cornstarch. 

Is Cornstarch Gluten-Free?

gluten free

Corn is a gluten-free grain, and cornstarch is an ingredient typically processed from the endosperm of corn, which means it’s also technically gluten-free.

The issue is that sometimes cornstarch is processed in a facility that also manufactures gluten-containing foods, so it might be contaminated with gluten. 

You can verify this by checking the label on the cornstarch, and if doesn’t come with a “gluten-free” symbol, then it’s probably not gluten-free. 

A few companies that sell gluten-free cornstarch are:

  • Anthony’s 
  • Argo
  • Bob’s Red Mill
  • Clabber Girl
  • Earthborn Elements
  • Hodgson Mill
  • Pure
  • Repunzel
  • Rumford

These are mostly options you can find in a grocery store or supermarket near you, or you can also order them through online marketplaces like Amazon or Walmart.

Is Cornstarch Healthy?

Cornstarch is a highly-refined product that goes through a process that strips corn from its nutrients, so I can’t make the claim that cornstarch is a healthy ingredient.

In fact, cornstarch is what can be classified as a refined carbohydrate, which means it has undergone extensive processing, so it’s less healthy than the original source. 

Each serving of cornstarch is high in carbs and calories but generally low in micronutrients such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber, so it’s an ingredient capable of increasing blood sugar levels and may be associated with adverse effects on heart health.

However, in comparative terms, it’s not as bad as eating a sugary cookie or milk chocolate, but it’s something that you have to consume in moderation, and it can certainly be part of a healthy diet. 

Can You Eat Raw Cornstarch?

Eating cornstarch right out of the box (or raw) seems to be (or have been) a trend on YouTube, however, there’s no information suggesting that doing so is healthy.

Raw cornstarch may contain harmful bacteria which can cause food-borne illnesses; so it’s always advisable that you cook it before you consume it. 

Does Cornstarch Go Bad?

Cornstarch has a really long shelf life, in fact, it has an indefinite shelf life, which means that as long as you keep it dry, you should be able to continue using it.

Therefore, as long as you keep it covered in a cool dark place (the pantry) away from moisture, you should be able to keep it dry. If your cornstarch comes in a bag that’s not easily resealable, it’s best to transfer the powder to an airtight container or a resealable pouch upon opening.

5 Cornstarch Alternatives

alternatives to cornstarch

If you want to use an alternative to cornstarch, there are a couple of products you can use that play a similar role to cornstarch in recipes.

Cornstarch is more of a thickening agent, and the following ingredients also have that quality to them:

  • Potato starch

As the name suggests, potato starch is a starch extracted from potatoes. To extract the starch, potatoes are crushed, releasing the starch grains from the destroyed cells. The starched is then dried and ground into powder. To substitute cornstarch in a recipe, you can use potato starch at a 1:1 ratio. 

  • Tapioca starch

Tapioca starch or flour is made from the crushed pulp of the cassava root, a shrub that is native to South America and the Caribbean. To make tapioca starch, only the starchy part of the plant is used. Since it’s a less powerful thickening agent, you need to add it at a 2:1 ratio to effectively replace cornstarch. 

  • Arrowroot

Arrowroot is extracted from the tubers of the tropical plant, Maranata arundinacea, and it’s also an excellent replacement for cornstarch. Since arrowroot has a similar nutritional profile to cornstarch, you can replace it at a 1:1 ratio.

  • Xantham gum

Xanthan Gum is a microbial polysaccharide made from fermenting sugar with a bacteria called Xanthomonas campestris, which creates a gel that is dried and milled into a powder. This gum can act as a powerful thickening, emulsifying, and stabilizing agent. You can swap cornstarch for the same amount of xanthan gum as a thickener in your cooking. 

  • Wheat flour

Wheat flour is a thickening agent that is often used to make a roux, which is a mixture of flour and fat cooked together and used to thicken sauces. To effectively replace cornstarch, it’s best that you add twice as much flour as you would cornstarch.

Brief Summary

Cornstarch is obtained from corn kernels, therefore, it is suitable for vegans.

Although it is highly processed and lacks a lot of the nutrients in corn, it’s still only corn and it isn’t mixed with animal ingredients or additives. The same goes for most starchy flours like arrowroot and tapioca starch, which are 100% vegan as well.

Alexandre Valente

Hey there! My name is Alex and I've been vegan for more than five years! I've set up this blog because I'm really passionate about veganism and living a more eco-conscious life. Hopefully, I can use this website as a channel to help you out on your own journey!

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