What Is Modified Food Starch?

Updated August 25, 2022
Cornstarch in the bowl

Modified food starch is a food ingredient made from starch. Starch is a carbohydrate that is produced naturally by green plants. Commercial starch is derived from plant sources and used in food production. The starch can be modified chemically, enzymatically, or physically and is then called modified food starch.

Some starches may contain gluten, such as those made from wheat starch. Modified food starch may also be subject to cross-contamination. If you if you have eliminated gluten from your diet, it is important to look for this ingredient in the foods you choose.

What Is Modified Food Starch?

The term "modified food starch" can be somewhat ambiguous and it doesn't necessarily refer to one single type of ingredient. There are different methods used to create modified food starch and different sources that are used to produce it. To fully understand what is modified food starch, it can be helpful to learn where this ingredient comes from and how it is made

Sources

According to the National Celiac Association (NCA), modified food starch is most often created from corn. However, it can also come from various other starch sources, like:

  • Potato
  • Rice
  • Tapioca
  • Wheat

People sometimes use the terms "corn starch" and "modified food starch" interchangeably, but the two ingredients are not necessarily the same. Modified food starch may start out as corn starch but when it is modified (usually for improved binding or thickening properties), then it becomes modified food starch.

The term "modified" can also be confusing to consumers. To some it may indicate that the product is made from genetically modified ingredients (GMOs). While some modified food starch may be made from GMO ingredients, such as corn, the word "modified" in this instance does not mean that it has necessarily been genetically modified

Production Methods

There are different ways that modified food starch might be produced. The method for modification varies based on the starch itself and on what it will be used for.

A 2016 article in the International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition (IJFSN) provides information on how modified food starch is created. The ways it can be modified include:

  • Adding a positive electrical charge
  • Roasting it
  • Treating it with acid
  • Treating it with emulsifiers
  • Treating it with potassium hydroxide
  • Treating it with sodium hydroxide
  • Treating it with starch ether

Sometimes a starch may undergo more than one treatment, depending on the desired outcome.

Is Modified Food Starch Gluten-Free?

According to the NCA, wheat should be listed on the product's labeling of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulated products if a wheat-based modified food starch was used. However, those products regulated by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) might not list wheat on the label.

However, many people following a doctor-ordered or self-imposed gluten-free diet may have been advised to be careful with foods containing modified food starch, even if those products are not made with starch derived from wheat. The biggest concern is cross-contamination.

Just because the modified food starch does not contain wheat does not mean another gluten-containing ingredient is not present during manufacturing. Flours containing gluten may be used on conveyor belts to help keep products from sticking, and factories that produce foods with gluten may have some level of cross-contamination with the modified food starch.

Cross-contamination remains a serious issue for gluten intolerant individuals. Unless a company follows strict guidelines for producing gluten-free foods, you cannot be absolutely certain of its safe usage.

The safest way to know if a modified food starch product is gluten-free is to look for the gluten-free label on the package. But keep in mind that in accordance with FDA guidelines, products could still be labeled as gluten-free if there are less than 20 parts per million.

Foods That May Contain Modified Food Starch

Crispy Fried Greasy Potato Chips fall out or are spilled out of the package

Modified food starch is something you are going to commonly see in processed foods. Given how there are used, it makes sense. Just a few foods, you are going to see modified food starch as an ingredient include:

  • Candy
  • Canned soups
  • Capsules that contain some medications
  • Cheese sauces
  • Chips
  • Instant pudding
  • Low-fat ice cream
  • Powder-coated foods such as cocoa-dusted almonds
  • Premade meals

How to Avoid Gluten in Modified Food Starch

If you are concerned about gluten in foods containing modified food starch, there are a few ways you can avoid it.

  • Check the label for the words: gluten-free. This means the company has undergone testing and is certifying its foods as safe for consumption according to the FDA regulations.
  • Call the company that manufactures the food and ask. The FDA requires accountability of manufacturers regarding the food they produce. If in doubt, contact the producer before you consume products containing modified food starch.
  • Enjoy whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and meats that do not contain added ingredients such as food starch.

Modified food starches have made many improvements in the foods produced today, resulting in lower costs, more attractive products, and better tastes. They may also be a hidden source of gluten for many. Educate yourself about the foods you eat and double-check any source that contains modified food starch on its label to ensure the safety of your food.

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What Is Modified Food Starch?