As gluten-free cooking and baking become more and more popular, people want to know what are the best healthy starches and grains to substitute for wheat flour? Potato starch is a starch derived from potatoes, and it’s often used to a thickener for sauces, soups and stews.
Is there gluten in potatoes? No, there is not, but that doesn’t automatically mean that potato starch is a health food. While it’s been known to help with blood sugar and good gut bacteria, it’s also low in nutrients and often genetically modified.
Let’s take a look at the pluses and minuses of this vegetable-derived complex carbohydrate as well as some healthier alternatives that are also gluten-free.
What is potato starch exactly? Well first, let’s talk about what is starch. Starch is an odorless, tasteless, soft white substance that is made by all green plants. Potato starch is the starch found in potatoes that are a product of the potato plant. The potato plant (Solanum tuberosum) is a member of the nightshade family and produces edible tubers more commonly known as potatoes.
Is a potato a grain? No, it is definitely not a grain. As a vegetable, the potato contains a large variety of nutrients, including potassium, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, zinc, copper, vitamin C and B vitamins. So you would think that its starch would also be rich in some or all of these nutrients, but unfortunately as you’re about to see, potato starch’s claim to fame is definitely not its vitamin and mineral content.
One tablespoon of potato starch contains about: (1)
- 40 calories
- 10 grams carbohydrates
- 0 grams protein
- 0 grams fat
- 0 grams fiber
There are around eight grams of resistant starch per tablespoon of raw potato starch as well, but not much else in the way of nutrition. (2)
Pros and Cons of Potato Starch
Let’s take a look at possible potato starch health benefits as well as some negative aspects of this vegetable starch.
1. Blood Sugar Helper
Many healthy starches fall into the category of resistant starch foods. As a resistant starch, potato starch has been shown to be helpful to blood sugar regulation.
What is a resistant starch? Resistant starches are able to travel through the body’s digestive system without being changed. Another example of a resistant starch similar to potato starch is unripe bananas.
A scientific study published in the journal Diabetic Medicine in 2010 investigated whether or not consumption of resistant starch could help people struggling with metabolic syndrome. The single-blind, randomized study had 20 subjects with insulin resistant consume either 40 grams per day of a resistant starch supplement or a placebo for a 12-week period. The study results showed that consumers of the resistant starch had improved insulin sensitivity compared to the placebo group. Overall, the researchers conclude that “consumption of resistant starch improves insulin sensitivity in subjects with the metabolic syndrome.” (3)
2. Boosts Good Bacteria
As a resistant starch, potato starch acts as a prebiotic in the body, which means that it actually feeds the good bacteria in your intestine. Research demonstrates that the helpful effects of resistant starches on the digestive system are likely the result of beneficial short-chain fatty acids being produced by bacterial fermentation taking place in the large intestine. (4)
For anyone trying to avoid gluten, one of the health benefits of potato starch is the fact that it is is naturally gluten-free.
4. Easy to Cook With
Once it’s cooked, this starch is said to have a lot of desirable culinary characteristics, including “neutral taste, good clarity, high binding strength, long texture and a minimal tendency to foaming or yellowing of the solution.” (5)
1. Low in Nutrients
Unlike its source, the potato, this starch does not contain significant amounts of vitamins or minerals. In terms of essential nutrients, it actually only contains one, which is carbohydrates. Ideally, potato starch would provide more nutrients.
2. Genetic Modifications
Starch from potatoes consists of of two main parts: amylose (20 percent) and amylopectin (80 percent). The amylose is considered the unwanted part because it encourages gelling when it is added to things. Potato starch can come from genetically modified potatoes. One specific example of this is Amflora, which is a genetically modified potato that has been specifically designed to produce only the amylopectin component of the starch. (6)
Potato Starch vs. Potato Flour
So what about potato starch vs. potato flour? Not surprisingly, both the starch and the flour come from a potato. Both are gluten-free, but they are two totally different things. Potato starch actually comes from a multistep process of extracting just the starch of a potato. Potato flour, on the other hand, is basically dried-up and ground-up potato. The starch and flour are used for different reasons and actually taste different too.
The starch is basically flavorless, but potato flour has a flavor similar to a potato. Potato starch is a white powder similar in texture to cornstarch while potato flour has more weight to it and is similar to wheat flour. Potato starch is used in baking and as a thickener in various recipes. Potato flour is often used along with or to replace wheat flour as the base for breads and cakes. (7)
Warning: Don’t attempt to use potato flour in place of potato starch as a thickener because you may likely end up with glue-like results!
How to Use (Plus Healthier Substitutes)
Potato starch is not expensive and is sold at grocery stores, health stores and online. Some products labeled “potato starch” actually have “potato flour” as their only ingredient so make sure to carefully read packaging. If you’re purchasing potato starch, you want to make sure that it’s non-GMO and ideally organic too.
It’s commonly used to thicken sauces, stews, soups, custards and puddings. It’s also used frequently in gluten-free and Passover baking. If you are using potato starch as a thickener in a hot liquid, it’s important to make sure it doesn’t boil because this will make it harder for the liquid to thicken. If you don’t have potato starch on hand, you can’t substitute it with potato flour. Potato flour has a much more potato-like taste, and it also has a heavier consistency.
Arrowroot starch is healthy substitute that also has many health benefits. GMO-free cornstarch is also gluten-free, and it is a more nutrient-rich alternative to potato. Plus, cornstarch is said to have a lower likelihood of clumping up compared to potato starch. While cornstarch is preferred for thickening dairy-based liquids, arrowroot works well with acidic liquids. Both arrowroot starch and cornstarch can be used in place of potato starch in a one-to-one substitution ratio. (8)
Here are some healthy resistant starch recipes that include starch from potatoes. Depending on your personal preference, feel free to substitute arrowroot starch for potato in these recipes.
In 2012, starch production around the world was said to be at around 75 million tons. The main plant-based starches made include wheat, corn, cassava and, last but not least, potato. These starches have similarities and differences depending upon their chemical makeup and nutrient content. (9)
Aside from matzo prepared under strict guidelines, forbidden Passover ingredients include wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. Cornstarch is not considered kosher so it’s also not allowed. So what ingredient is commonly used in Passover baking? Starch of the potato. (10)
If you read ingredient labels carefully, you may surprisingly see potato starch or potato flour found in the following: (11)
- baked goods, such as muffins
- canned soups
- shredded cheese
- spice mixes
- various prepackaged food items
Risks and Side Effects
When you first start incorporating resistant starch recipes that include potato starch into your diet you may notice some temporary changes to your digestion, such as bloating and gas. Potato allergies are not common, but you should avoid potato starch if you have a potato food allergy or potato intolerance.
- As a resistant starch, potato starch has been shown to have some pretty impressive health benefits, including positive effects on insulin levels and good gut bacteria.
- It’s an alternative ingredient for anyone following a gluten-free diet.
- This starch is often seen in Passover recipes.
- If you are going to use it, make sure it is organic and not genetically modified.
- Potato starch and potato flour are two totally different things.
- Arrowroot starch and cornstarch can be used in place of potato starch in recipes.
- When choosing between corn, arrowroot and potato starches, I would opt for arrowroot starch because it known to have multiple health benefits as well as notable amounts of nutrients.
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