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Flour vs. Cornstarch

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 
I am curious as to when to use flour vs. cornstarch as a thickening agent. For example, when I make cream gravy (e.g. sausage gravy), I use flour. What is the practical difference? - Thanks in advance
post #2 of 22
There are a few basic differences:
  1. Appearance: flour makes a gravy opaque and can dull or lighten the color, while cornstarch (when used properly) yields a clear, shiny sauce.
  2. Flavor: flour needs to be cooked enough to lose its raw flavor; cornstarch doesn't have much flavor on its own. And if you use a cooked flour (such as a long-cooked Cajun-style roux, or roasted flour), you ADD a roasty-toasty flavor you can't get with cornstarch.
  3. Cooking time: Flour needs relative long cooking, both to lose its raw flavor and to unleash its thickening powers; cornstarch needs only a short cooking time to thicken. In fact, if you cook cornstarch too long, it lets go and the sauce thins out again.

This is just a start. I'm sure others will chime in with more! :D
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #3 of 22
I second that suzanne,
Alton Brown did too!
post #4 of 22

rice flour???

does rice flour have the same properties as cornstarch???
post #5 of 22
I don't know, but potato starch works similar to corn starch- as does arrowroot.
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post #6 of 22
I also find that cornstarch tends to deaden flavors more than flour does, so you need to make sure your liquid is well seasoned before adding your cornstarch slurry.
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post #7 of 22
I think the biggest thing a roux has to offer is richness.
I use roux to emulsify or suspend fat into soups or sauces.
with corn or potato starch you lack the richness because
you cannot trap the fat within the liquid. One downside to
roux is the skin that forms on top of the sauce or soup. It
has to be strained constantly. Someone scientific, please
continue with explanations.
post #8 of 22
Thread Starter 

Thanks All I appreciate your comments

Thanks All I appreciate your comments
post #9 of 22
I use fat with flour....roux with oil or mount with butter/flour.....or pan drippings (aka meat fat).

cornstarch is added more to sauces ala minute for me.....Asian food has more cornstarch.
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post #10 of 22
Cornstarch however, (and arrowroot for that matter) are more efficient thickeners than flour. Because they are devoid of protein they will thicken with 50-100% greater efficiency than flour.

But of course, all the aforementioned variables must be taken into account when making a final decision of which thickener is best for your specific dish.

Mark
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post #11 of 22
I think these questions would be great for our visit by Harold McGee! May I suggest that those of us who have the update of On Food and Cooking check out pages 610 to 620 -- a wealth of information on "Sauces Thickened with Flour and Starch."
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
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post #12 of 22
Hi Mitch,

For a breakfast sausage gravy I like to use flour. But, as others have said...use the flour as a roux. Mixing it with a fat.

For my breakfast sausage gravy I like to brown the sausage in a cast iron skillet...then add the flour (I think three tablespoons or so) and cook, mixing into the sausage. Then add whole milk mixing the entire time with a whisk until the desired thickness is just past (so just a little on the thin side). As the gravy cools down it will thicken up a bit more. Salt and pepper.

dan
post #13 of 22
Don't forget it also comes into play how you're going to STORE said sauce, etc... (if at all). Flour thickened items will hold up to the fridgerator where corn-starch ones will have a tendency to "weep" and lose alot of their thickness while in the fridge.

As for which one to use... depends how quick you need it thickened. If you have the time use a roux, if it's an a la minute kind of thing, hit it with a slurry (I have to say arrowroot is a wonderful thing). As for a sausage gravy... I'd only use flour anyway, but I'm southern and couldn't right call it gravy if I used corn-starch.:)
post #14 of 22
So if I understand you all correctly, if I'm going to keep soup warm in a steamer for hours, I should be using flour? When I make a sauce, corn starch would be a better alternative. Thanks for the clarification!
post #15 of 22
You can make a roux with butter and cornstarch instead of flour, You use less, you don't have to cook it out as long as flour, It is more stable than a butter/flour roux [especially for holding]. The downside is it doesn't brown to different degrees like flour does. Just another option.:chef:
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post #16 of 22
Right. If you used cornstarch in the soup, as it held in the steamer the gelatinization would eventually break down. With flour, that is less likely to happen -- but then you also have to watch out that the soup doesn't get too thick. If that happens, it's easy enough to add a little stock, scalded milk or cream, or even water to thin it back to the proper consistency.
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post #17 of 22
Just FYI for those that cook Asian Stirfry, flour is never used as a thickening agent. Stirfries have that dark brown color because of Mushroom Soy Sauce (which is typically thicker in consistency than your standard soy sauce) and if you use flour, it will lighten the color of your dish.
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post #18 of 22

Thank you Suzanne for reminded me to look into McGee...I certainly will...  My interest is finding out which flour works better for a boeuf bourguignon or ragout de boulettes AND being gluten-free. I have been using my own gluten-free flour mix, but noticed that my sauces thinned after refrigeration... which sounds like it is due to the cornstarch content of my mix.  Is potato starch any better? That is a work in progress...lol!

post #19 of 22

Potato starch is no better.  You're going to have to use more reduction, and other ingredients which add structure -- like tomato paste -- that will help tighten up your liquids rather than binding them.  You can also, when it's appropriate, use things like egg liasons and butter finishes; but they're not germane to your purposes here, and you probably already know about them anyway.  

 

Good luck,

BDL

 

PS.  You're lucky to get an answer.  The last response in this thread was six years ago.  Suzanne's post, seven.    

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post #20 of 22

I prefer flour in sausage gravy, and turkey or chicken gravy as it tends to cling better to the product. Cornstarch thickened will run off . Flour based Rouxs must be cooked so the taste of flour is not detected when making a sauce. Hi acid sauces will break down starch thickened sauces when cooked over long periods.  Starch yields a clear sauce where flour does not. I have worked in classical kitchens where cornstarch is not permitted but is in the pastry shop it is. Both are good and acceptable when used in the proper way.

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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post #21 of 22

Try this:

 

Chickpea Gravy
2 Tbsp plain oil
1 tsp fresh garlic
3 tsp minced fresh ginger root
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
4 cups unsalted vegetable stock [GF]
1/3 cup besan flour [not chickpea or garbanzo flour]
1 Tbsp tamari soy sauce optional
pepper/salt to taste
Heat oil in a heavy saucepan on medium-low to sauté the garlic and ginger in the oil.
Add besan flour & spices and stir for 5 minutes until it browns
Once a thick paste is formed, add the stock while stirring constantly.
Once it thickens, add soy sauce, salt & pepper to taste ...

 

Besan provides a flour with taste and a depth of texture that a pure starch does not provide.

You can also use sorghum flour in place of besan, but some people detect a slightly bitter-flavour in the gravy [I bake with sorghum, but I have not tried it in gravy]

 

Quote:

My interest is finding out which flour works better for a boeuf bourguignon or ragout de boulettes AND being gluten-free.

 

 

post #22 of 22

Any thoughts on the use of the "modified cornstarch"?  i used it last Thursday and seem to get good result, but i did not try it for a stew where it is generally better the second time around.... but i will try next time. 

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