Next to water, starch is the most abundant constituent in the human diet. Starch is abundantly available, is inexpensive, is a desirable source of energy, and occurs in the form of granules (see the section "Granular Nature, Cooking Characteristics, and Solution and Gel Properties"). Starch occurs naturally in most plant tissues, including roots and tubers, cereal grains, vegetables, and fruits. Large amounts of starches are consumed as components of wheat, corn (maize), and rye flours and as components of potatoes and whole kernels of corn, rice, and barley. Starch composition and properties vary with the plant sources from which they are obtained. Each starch from each source is unique in terms of its behavior and characteristics. Starches may be isolated and added to food products as ingredients. Often, they are modified after isolation and added during the preparation process in modified form.

Native and modified starches serve a variety of roles in food products. They are added primarily to modify texture and consistency. Principally they serve to bind water, to thicken, and to form soft, spoonable gels, all controllable properties. Starches generally must be cooked in order to realize their physicochemical properties and to impart their functionalities. Heating starch granules in the presence of water causes the granules to swell, lose their crys-tallinity, and in some cases, break apart (see the section "Granular Nature, Cooking Characteristics, and Solution and Gel Properties"). When a starch is cooked in excess water, the resulting dispersion is called a paste.

Corn (maize) is the principal source of commercial starch in the United States (1-3). Lesser amounts of potato, tapioca (cassava, manioc), sorghum (milo), wheat, rice, and arrowroot starches are used in the United States (1), but a starch such as one from potato, wheat, or cassava may be the major starch in other countries. Minor amounts of sago, barley, sweet potato, mung bean, and rye starches find their way into commerce elsewhere.

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