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Potato starch is made through an extensive process of washing, sometimes cooking, and then separating the starch present in potato cell walls so that it can be made into powdered or liquid form. In cooking, this starch is often considered a substitute thickener for cornstarch or white flour. It has a higher heat point than cornstarch, however, so it may be better for certain foods that require high temperatures.
Another benefit to potato starch, especially as compared to wheat flour as a thickener, is that it is gluten free. This means that people who want nice thick gravy, soups, or stews, but who haven’t been able to achieve this with flour due to gluten intolerance, can use the starch instead with excellent results. Like cornstarch, the cook generally has to dissolve the starch in a little bit of water before adding it as a thickener so it will blend easily with other ingredients. Many people especially prefer starch made from potatoes or corn when thickening sauces because it can help the sauces remain translucent, while flour creates a more muddied appearing sauce.
Shoppers will find many types of potato starch on the market, some in organic forms. It is occasionally sold as starch flour or potato flour instead, but usually all names refer to the same starch. Again, with the lack of gluten, such flour could be used as a substitute for wheat flour in a variety of recipes, greatly enhancing the number of gluten free products that a cook can make. Potato bread made with the starch or flour is often sweet and excellent, though consumers should check labels on commercial brands because they may contain some wheat flour.
There are some interesting new applications for this starch that have nothing to do with cooking. It’s been found to be a creative way to make environmentally friendly products that are durable. “Plastic” cutlery made from potato and cornstarch is completely biodegradable and recyclable.
Some denim manufacturers also make clothing that is eco friendly. These jeans are made with organic cotton and given their indigo finish with a special group of ingredients that include mimosa flower and potato starch. They do sell for considerably more than standard denim jeans, however. Whether in cooking, cutlery or clothing, though, this humble starch is making its mark as being environmentally friendly and easy to use in lots of recipes.