What Is Modified Food Starch?

Beth Asaff
Modified Food Starch

Modified food starch is a chemically altered food ingredient made from starch. Because many starches may contain gluten or have been contaminated with gluten, be on the look out for this ingredient in many of the foods sold today if you are eliminating gluten from your diet.

Modified Food Starch

While the term modified food starch may accurately describe this ingredient, the use of the word "food" in its description interjects some ambiguity into the mix. What foods are modified? Possible sources include the following:

  • Corn
  • Potato
  • Tapioca
  • Rice
  • Wheat

All of these base ingredients are starches. According to GlutenFreeLiving.com, wheat will be indicated on the product's labeling if wheat was the starch base. Because the other starches may be contaminated with gluten during their manufacturing, however, it is recommended that anyone following a gluten-free diet avoid modified food starch.

How It's Made

There are numerous ways that food starch can be modified; the method varies based on the starch itself and on what it will be used for. These are some methods of producing a modified starch:

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

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

What It's Used For

Food starches are modified to make them easier to use in certain recipes. Modified starch has many uses in food products:

  • Making a product easier to dissolve in cold water or milk for instant gelatinized recipes
  • Helping powdered foods, like powdered cheese sauce and gravy, have a less lumpy consistency when mixed
  • Serving as a fat substitute for low-fat foods
  • Acting as an emulsifier for salad dressings in order to keep oils from separating
  • Forming a hard shell on some candies like jelly beans
  • Producing foods with longer shelf lives
  • Acting as a thickener for soups

Foods That May Contain Modified Food Starch

Because starches are modified for so many different reasons, you may find them in a variety of places:

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

Modified Food Starch and Gluten Sensitivities

Many people following a doctor-ordered gluten-free diet plan may have been advised to stay away from products 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 is gluten-free does not mean another gluten-containing ingredient is not present. 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. 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 to the modified food starch. Plants and factories that produce the modified food starches may not be following strict gluten-free guidelines as well.

Avoiding 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 their foods as safe for consumption.
  • Call the company who manufacturers the food and ask. The U.S. Food Administration requires accountability of manufacturers regarding the food they produce. If in doubt, contact the producer before you consume products containing modified food starch.
  • Eat more whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and meats that do not contain added ingredients such as food starch.

Educate Yourself About What You Eat

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.

What Is Modified Food Starch?