Yesterday on Twitter, during the What is Vegetable Extract kerfuffle, my good friend @notoriouslynice asked:
@HeatherSolos I’d like to know, too, if you find out. Also, what is modified food starch?
First what is starch?
Starch is a white, odorless complex carbohydrates that serves as primary means of energy storage for plants.
When we talk about starches in reference to food, we usually have a couple of different meanings in mind. Sometimes we say that foods like potatoes are starches. In that case we just mean that the food contains a lot of starch. Other times we refer to products like corn starch. In this latter case, we are more concerned with what the starch does than what it is.
Starches are well known for their thickening properties and are often used to thicken gravies and soups. Corn starch doesn’t work well under certain conditions, if the liquid is too cold it will remain grainy and if the mixture is subjected to heat that is too high, the starch breaks down.
On a nutritional label, modified starches are plant starches whose chemical structures have been changed through physical or chemical changes. Sometimes the starches are treated with acid other times heat or the way in which they are dried achieves the changes necessary to give the desired properties.
Why are the starches modified?
When the structure has been changed it can be used as a thickening agent under many different conditions
The starches have many applications in processed food:
- thickening agent at low temperatures – instant pudding
- ability to withstand high temperatures – instant cheese sauce -this is why your powdered mac and cheese sauce won’t “break” and become grainy no matter how badly you abuse it
- use as a fat substitute
- anti-caking agent -keeps foods like shredded cheese separate
- humectant -can keep some foods moist
Like many things found in food, a modified starch isn’t in and of itself a bad thing. However it might be time to take a look at your overall diet if most of your foods contain this ingredient.
Puddings, canned soups, sauces, and gravies probably shouldn’t be the bulk of your diet.
Those who have celiac disease or are avoiding gluten should avoid any food item with modified food starch on the label, unless the food is specifically labeled gluten free. Without the gluten free label, the modified food starch may contain gluten.
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