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thickeners

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
Hello. I was wondering if someone could explain the difference between cornmeal, cornstarch and masa harina. I believe that cornstarch is a finer milling of cornmeal????? Can I substitute any of these for the other? If so, do I need to alter quantites?
post #2 of 13
Where you are can make a difference in what things are called. Here's a source of information that might be a little confusing just because it uses various names, but it's a great resource: http://www.foodsubs.com, aka The Cook's Thesaurus.

Look at http://www.foodsubs.com/Flournw.html for cornflour, cornmeal, and masa harina

and at http://www.foodsubs.com/ThickenStarch.html for cornstarch
"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 13
Thread Starter 
Good website but it basically just defines what these are. As I already know this info, not much help. I am mainly interested to know if anyone can tell me if I can substitute masa harina for corn starch and if quantities need changing upon doing so. Thanks for any help!
post #4 of 13
Not very well. Masa harina has textural as well as flavor difference so there's some difference right off the bat. Corn starch is a pure starch, masa harina is not nearly so refined and will have less thickening power. Doesn't look like a good substitute to me.

You might be able to find other refined pure starches better suited to substitution for corn starch as a thickener. arrowroot, finely ground tapioca, potato starch (not potato flour) though you'll have to work out how much to use. Start with small amounts and work up until the finished product is like it should be.

And it's not too expensive to order corn starch off the web and have it for when you need it.

Phil
Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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Palace of the Brine -- "I hear the droning in the shrine of the sea monkeys." Saltair
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post #5 of 13
Cornstarch is derived from the endosperm of the corn kernel, much like flour is derived from the wheat endosperm. The difference between cornstarch and cornmeal is that the entire corn is ground into cornmeal. Masa harina *is* a finer sift, however it is still the entire kernel that has been soaked in lime juice. The acidity of the masa harina provides a particular type of structure versus that of cormeal because the proteins in the corn have been modified. They are not adequate substitutes for the other.

To use any as a thickening agent you must apply the proper methods. If you want to use a cornstarch as a thickening agent, it is applied to hot liquids and thickens at a boiling point. You would use masa and cornmeal like flour, however due to the fact there is no gluten in either, you would create a very dense product (in some cases you want that). If you are making soups, you can use masa or cornstarch, however the cornmeal would give your soup an unappetizing mouth feel (and keep in mind masa has a particular flavor that you may or may not want).

To thicken with flour (or masa/cornmeal) you would want to make either a "beurre manie" or a roux. To make a beurre manie, warm butter and then stir in your flour until you have pea-sized balls which would then be stirred into a hot liquid. To make a roux, you heat and melt fat and then slowly add your flour, stirring constantly, and cook until degree of brownness desired.
post #6 of 13
Thread Starter 
Great answers. Thank you very much for your help, I'm glad I came here for help!!
post #7 of 13
Masa is treated with an alkaline, causing various nutrients within the corn to be able to be absorbed by the human body.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
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post #8 of 13
You need to dissolve the corn starch in room temperature or cool water first then use the corn starch solution as the thickening agent. If the flour is applied directly to the soup or gravy, you may get lumps.

I also saw in an Alton Brown episode that if you overboil a gravy/soup that has cornstarch solution added, the thickening effect will be lost.
post #9 of 13
to my knowledge arrowroot does not loose its thickening POWERS like cornstarch
" Never fry bacon naked!"

-Powers
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" Never fry bacon naked!"

-Powers
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post #10 of 13
I may be mistaken, but I think the differences between arrowroot and corn starch (beside base component) are mainly it's ability to be refrigerated (the item that contains it that is) and one will weep, while the other doesn't and can hold it's thickening through said event.
post #11 of 13
A related question -- I have some masa harina, and some recipes for spoon bread that call for corn meal -- can I expect good results if I substitute the finer harina flour for the corn meal?

Thanks!
post #12 of 13
Correction -- what I really have is Goya Enriched Fine Yellow Corn Meal. The Spanish translation on the bag is Harina de Maiz Amarilla Fina.

So, OK for use in Spoon Bread recipes?
post #13 of 13
Blueicus,
I think he meant lime as in canning lime, not lime juice.....my wife calls
it Kal or Cal. Didn't know it made nutrients more easily absorbed....thought
it was only to help the undigesteable outer layer sluff off. We use the lime
when making fresh masa from masa corn....you soak it in a mixture of water and lime....I don't know the amount exactly....but have been told to add lime until you can touch your tongue with a little of the mixture on your finger and
it feels like a shock.....
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