One of the most unsung heroes in a foodservice kitchen is the humble cornflour which is commonly used in recipes to thicken liquids. It’s great for richer soups, casseroles, or gravies and when added to cake, biscuit and shortbread recipes, cornflour helps create a crumbly and tender texture.
Cornflour is different from regular flour which is often used as a thickening agent because it mixes in clear, giving cornflour-thickened sauces a translucent shimmer. Wheat flour on the other hand can lighten the colour of the mixture which is often not desirable.
As any experienced foodservice chef or cook knows, you need to mix cornflour with a liquid and whisk it before adding it to the dish, otherwise, it will clump and not thicken the sauce, soup or gravy.
Origins of cornflour
Cornflour comes from the corn grain (also called maize), which has been cultivated for around 9,000 years, originating in southern Mexico, and then spreading throughout Central and South America.
Europeans reportedly first encountered corn in the 16th century when Italian explorer Christopher Columbus under the flag of Spain visited the New World. From there, the Spaniards took it back home, and it was introduced to other parts of Europe.
An American named Thomas Kingsford is credited with ‘inventing’ cornstarch (cornflour) in 1842 when he discovered a way to isolate endosperms from corn kernels while working in a wheat starch factory in New Jersey. It was initially used to starch clothing, and gradually found its way to the kitchen.
How do starches thicken?
Starch granules dissolve when heated in a liquid, the granules swell, absorb water, and burst, emptying more starch molecules into the liquid. The liquid then thickens because of the traffic jam of molecules and also because the starch molecules absorb the water.
Because starches swell and gelatinise at warm temperatures, they cannot work effectively if they are added directly into hot liquids. The outer edges of the powdered starch will gelatinise instantly, virtually sealing off the rest of the starch and resulting in lumps. Then the outer surface of the starch cooks before the starch has a chance to disperse and dissolve in the liquid.
Cornflour is pure starch derived from corn, and that’s why it needs to be mixed with a cool liquid before being added to the hot liquid.
“In Australia, the names cornstarch and cornflour are often used interchangeably.”
What’s the difference between cornstarch, cornflour and cornmeal?
In Australia, the names cornstarch and cornflour are often used interchangeably. Whereas in other parts of the world like the US and UK they are different products. In the US, for example, corn flour is finely ground cornmeal.
Generally, cornstarch is made from the starchy endosperm of the corn plant, while cornmeal uses the entire kernel. Cornmeal is often processed as a very coarse grain used to make grits, cornbread, and polenta.
To further complicate things, in Australia we use another product called wheaten cornflour which we manufacture at Steric. Wheaten corn flour can be used in the place of regular corn flour, except it’s made out of wheat instead of maize. The textures, tastes, and final products are similar, but the biggest difference is that regular corn flour is gluten-free while wheaten corn flour is not. That’s why at Steric we also make Gluten Free Maize Flour.
Australian made Sunshine cornflour
Sunshine wheaten cornflour and Sunshine gluten-free maize cornflour by Steric are widely used by successful Australian foodservice operators. Used for baking, coating, as well as thickening.
Sunshine wheaten cornflour and Sunshine gluten-free maize cornflour are 100 per cent Australian made from dried, Australian-grown grains. At Steric’s advanced food production facility in Sydney, the company processes the raw product to create cornflour products, that are then packed and shipped to customers across Australia.