Navigating the toolbox of starch ingredients challenges even the most tenured food scientist. A little often goes a long way, so usage levels should start small.

“Perhaps the single biggest challenge when formulating with starch is finding the right one,” said Shiva Elayedath, senior technical services manager, Cargill. “There’s instant versus cook-up, modified versus native, and all from a variety of botanical sources. Within these broad groups, there are a myriad of options. Viscosity needs, storage conditions and processing requirements, such as mixing, shear, temperature and pH, all factor into the selection equation.”

A knowledgeable ingredient supplier can help a baker identify the right starch or starch blend for the specific application and shelf life goals. Product claims, such as all-natural, organic and non-G.M.O., should be considered up front to narrow down ingredient options. Some starches work better than others in specific applications.

“Native wheat starch is recognized for providing good moisture retention properties to extend the shelf life of yeast-raised donuts and various sweet goods such as coffee cakes and Danish pastries,” said Mark Floerke, scientist at ADM. “To aid in batter viscosity, pre-gelled wheat starch is an effective ingredient to use without producing a gummy result. It is often used in cupcakes, pudding cakes and various loaf-type cakes where a lighter, open-celled structure is difficult to achieve with only wheat flour or other starch types in the formulation.”

Corn-based starches are the most widely available and used in all types of baked foods. They contain about one-fourth amylose to three-fourths amylopectin. Content in high-amylose varieties ranges from half to as much as 70%, and on the flip side, amylopectin makes up a waxy maize corn starch.

“Corn starches have dominated the space for many years and have shown to be incredibly versatile for baked goods,” said Chris Thomas, principal technical service technologist, Ingredion, Inc. “Today corn starches, both modified and clean label, are widely used in baked goods.”

Many corn starches are designed for specific applications. A modified cold-water swelling corn starch, for example, has been shown to help prevent long-term moisture loss in extended shelf life baked foods and frozen products.

“The whole intact granules are able to hold onto water for longer periods of time and prevent the moisture from migrating out of the baked items,” said Kelly Belknap, applications scientist, Grain Processing Corp. “In an 18-month shelf-life study on cakes, we found that this starch reduced hardness and also delayed moisture migration to the top of the cake.”

Instant starches are widely used in the baking industry to deliver several attributes.

“For sweet baked goods like cookies and cakes, pre-gelatinized or instant corn starches are used for building and maintaining viscosity in batters, controlling spread in cookies and delaying staling in finished products,” Mr. Thomas said. “They are used in snack crackers to aid in sheetability of the dough and to impart expansion and texture in finished crackers.”

In cake mixes and muffins, instant starches provide good batter viscosity and assist with moisture migration during baking.

“For soft, chewy cookies, there are instant starches that help reduce spread and increase height,” Mr. Elayedath said. “For other cookie types, instant starches may help keep them soft and tender and enable them to maintain that texture throughout their shelf life.”

A variation of corn starch is known as resistant corn starch. 

“It can replace part of the wheat flour in most bakery recipes to add a clean label source of fiber with minimal impact to moisture level of doughs or batters,” Mr. Thomas said. “Resistant corn starch may also help reduce calorie content in baked goods due to its lower calories-per-gram content.”

Getting away from gluten
Alternative starches can improve the texture of gluten-free baked foods. Tapioca starch, which is derived from treated and dried cassava root, is also now commonly used by bakers. It is a versatile starch that may be used in the same manner as corn starch. In some instances, it performs better.

“Tapioca starch can greatly reduce breakage in snack crackers,” Mr. Thomas said. “It has a very clean, bland flavor that is very desirable in fillings. Tapioca starch brightens other flavors. It also does a great job imparting a creamy texture in certain food systems like cream fillings.”

The potato tuber is used to make a food starch ingredient that is very refined and almost completely void of fat and protein. It often is used in snack foods to provide high expansion during extrusion. Because of its neutral taste, good clarity, high-binding strength and long texture, it is a common ingredient in gluten-free baking. Most gluten-free recipes rely on starch blends to replace the missing gluten.

“Native rice starch can improve the crumb structure of gluten-free baked bread, resulting in a product that is lighter and less cake-like,” said Steven Gumeny, regional products manager, Beneo. “It can prevent breakage in gluten-free biscuits and be used as a partial substitute for wheat flour in cakes and breads.”

Modified tapioca starch provides a desirable mouthfeel without chalkiness when used in gluten-free pizza crust and flatbread.

“It has been shown to improve the three-dimensional matrix usually provided by gluten in baked goods and also helps replace the water-binding functionality of gluten,” Mr. Floerke said.

Resistant corn starch also may restore nutrition lost when replacing wheat flour in gluten-free baked foods.

This article is an excerpt from the April 2019 issue of Baking & Snack. To read the entire feature on starches, click here.