Is Cornflour the Same as Cornstarch: Unveiling the Differences

Posted by Team OO on

Understanding the difference between cornflour and cornstarch is essential for both culinary experts and home cooks alike.

In the UK, cornflour refers to a fine, white powder obtained from the endosperm of the corn kernel, and it is largely used as a thickening agent in sauces and soups.

While it’s sometimes confused with cornstarch, in many parts of the world, including the United States, the term "cornstarch" is used to describe this same product, highlighting a transatlantic difference in terminology.

A bowl of cornflour and cornstarch side by side on a kitchen counter, with clear labels on each container

Despite the linguistic variation, the substance they refer to is essentially the same and plays a crucial role in cooking and baking due to its thickening properties.

The confusion typically arises when one encounters recipes from different countries, where the terminology might imply that they are separate products.

In addition to being a thickener, cornflour is sometimes included in baked goods to soften the texture, a usage echoed in the properties of corn starch.

They both act similarly in the kitchen, although they should not be confused with cornmeal, which is a coarser ground maize product and has different culinary uses.

Understanding Cornflour and Cornstarch

Cornflour and cornstarch are two ingredients commonly used in cooking and baking, both derived from maize, yet they serve different purposes due to their distinct properties.

Cornflour in British English refers to a fine yellow powder made from the whole kernel of corn. It retains the endosperm, germ, and hull, contributing a yellow hue and is often used to make bread or as a thickener for sauces.

Known in American English as cornmeal, its texture is somewhat coarser than its counterpart and adds a corn flavour to recipes.

In contrast, cornstarch is a white powder that is the starch extracted from the endosperm of the corn kernel. This refined product is primarily used as a thickening agent in soups, sauces, and various desserts. It has a neutral taste and becomes translucent when cooked, whereas cornflour may retain a slight yellow tint.

Here is a side-by-side comparison:

Property Cornflour (Cornmeal) Cornstarch
Colour Yellow White
Made from Whole corn kernel Corn endosperm
Texture Coarser Very fine
Usage Baking, breading Thickening
Flavour Corn-like Neutral

In summary, despite the similarities in their nomenclature, cornflour and cornstarch differ significantly. Cornflour (or yellow corn flour) is a yellow powder used for its flavour and as a mild thickener, while cornstarch is favoured for its potent thickening properties and neutral palate presence.

Culinary Uses and Applications

A bowl of cornflour and cornstarch side by side, with a measuring spoon and a recipe book open to a page about culinary uses and applications

Cornflour, commonly referred to as cornstarch in some regions, serves as a staple in cooking and baking due to its ability to alter the texture of food. It offers versatility across a range of culinary applications, from aiding in thickening to contributing to the crispness of fried foods.

Thickening Properties

Cornflour is renowned for its thickening abilities; it is frequently utilised as a thickening agent in various sauces and gravies.

When mixed with a cold liquid before being added to hot dishes, it prevents lumping. It's instrumental in achieving the desired consistency in soups, lending them a smooth texture without impacting the flavour.

Baking and Cooking

In baking, cornflour is an essential ingredient that contributes to the tender crumb of cakes and the flakiness of pastries.

It is often used in combination with flour to thicken batter and dough for pancakes, waffles, and breading for fried foods.

Cornflour's role in culinary uses extends to puddings and certain types of pastries, where it acts not just to thicken but to bind the mixture.

Frying and Coating

When used in frying, cornflour provides a light, crisp coating for breaded foods.

It can be dusted on items like chicken or fish to create a golden and crunchy exterior. The fine texture of the starch contributes to a more appealing final product in comparison to solely using flour.

Nutritional and Dietary Considerations

A bag of cornflour and cornstarch sit side by side on a kitchen counter, with a measuring spoon nearby. Labels clearly distinguish the two products

When assessing whether cornflour is the same as cornstarch, it is crucial to consider their distinct nutritional profiles. These include differences in gluten content, vitamins and minerals, and carbohydrate profiles.

Gluten Content

Cornstarch is inherently gluten-free, making it a suitable thickening agent for individuals with coeliac disease or gluten sensitivities.

In contrast, cornflour may sometimes contain traces of gluten depending on how it is processed or if it is blended with wheat products to enhance its properties.

Vitamins and Minerals

While neither cornstarch nor cornflour should be relied upon as a significant source of vitamins or minerals, they do contain minimal amounts of certain nutrients.

For instance, cornflour generally includes a trace of B vitamins, iron, and potassium.

Cornstarch, although less nutrient-dense, may still contribute a small amount to the overall nutritional profile of a dish.

Carbohydrate Profiles

Both cornstarch and cornflour are high in carbohydrates, with their primary nutrient being starch.

However, cornflour typically has a slightly higher fibre content, which can contribute to a balanced diet.

On the other hand, the predominance of starch in cornstarch provides a quickly metabolised source of energy, albeit with a minimal nutritive value beyond the energy provided.

Texture, Taste, and Appearance

A bowl of fine, powdery substance with a smooth texture, a neutral taste, and a white appearance, resembling both cornflour and cornstarch

When discerning between cornflour and cornstarch, their texture, taste, and appearance are vital attributes to consider. Here, we shall explicate these characteristics with clarity and precision.


  • Cornflour is derived from whole corn kernels, which imparts a certain denseness to the powder. Consequently, when used in baking, it yields a crumbly texture.
  • Cornstarch, isolated from the endosperm of the corn kernel, is more refined and results in a glossy finish when used as a thickening agent in sauces and gravies.

Taste and Flavor:

  • Products with cornflour can evidence a mild corn taste, recognisable and subtly sweet, carrying the inherent flavours of the grain.
  • Conversely, cornstarch is considered flavorless, which allows it to thicken dishes without altering their original taste profiles.


  • The innate color of cornflour reflects a pale yellow, reminiscent of the corn from which it is grounded.
  • Cornstarch is characteristically white and imparts a more neutral appearance to culinary concoctions.
Attribute Cornflour Cornstarch
Texture Dense, crumbly Fine, contributes to a glossy finish
Taste Mild sweet taste, retains corn flavours Neutral, does not add flavour
Appearance Yellowish due to whole corn kernels White, giving a clear appearance

Global Variations and Terminology

In the realm of cooking and baking, the terms cornflour and cornstarch often lead to confusion due to global variations in terminology.

In the United Kingdom and Ireland, "cornflour" typically refers to the fine, white powder derived from the endosperm of the maize kernel. This is used as a thickening agent in sauces, soups, and desserts.

In contrast, in the United States, the term "cornstarch" is commonly used to describe this same product, and it also serves similar culinary purposes. The powder is prized for its ability to form a clear gel when mixed with water and heated, which is ideal for thickening clear liquids.

The terminology can shift as one travels.

For example, in Israel, the Hebrew word for cornstarch is קורנפלור (pronounced "kornflor"), which directly translates to "cornflour," aligning with UK usage but potentially causing confusion for American English speakers.

Consider the following breakdown in terms:

Country Term for Maize-Based Thickener
United Kingdom Cornflour
Ireland Cornflour
United States Cornstarch
Israel קורנפלור (Cornflour)

Substitution and Alternatives

When exploring the interchangeability of cornflour and cornstarch, one must consider their properties and how they interact with other ingredients. Substitution of these kitchen staples can affect the texture and structure of a dish.

Comparing Different Starches

Cornflour and cornstarch are often confused due to their similar names, yet they serve different purposes in cooking and baking.

Cornstarch is a fine, powdery starch that's an excellent thickening agent, while cornflour is a finely milled flour from the whole corn kernel, including the germ and bran.

Here are specific characteristics and substitution tips for various starches and flours:

  • Potato starch: Great for thickening sauces; provides a glossy finish and can be a substitute for cornstarch in a 1:1 ratio.
  • Tapioca starch: Often used in gluten-free baking, this starch adds chewiness to baked goods. Use as a substitute for cornstarch in a 1:1 ratio.
  • Wheat flour: Not a direct substitute as it contains gluten and has different properties.
  • For thickening, use twice the amount of wheat flour for cornstarch.
  • Arrowroot starch: Similar to cornstarch, it's ideal for acidic dishes and can be substituted in equal amounts.
  • All-purpose flour: Commonly available but different in behaviour; it requires more quantity to match the thickening power of cornstarch.
  • Rice flour: A fine alternative in terms of gluten-free options; it's grainier and less starchy, so adjustments are needed for substitution.
  • Baking powder: Not suitable as a substitute for cornstarch as it serves a different role as a leavening agent.

Given the varying processing methods each starch undergoes, their properties might slightly differ.

Yet, if a home cook wants to substitute cornstarch with other starches or flours, the outcome is generally similar if ratios and context are considered.

For instance, when thickening sauces or gravies, many of these substitutes can be interchangeable, but slight adjustments to the cooking time or temperature may be necessary.

Frequently Asked Questions

The distinction between corn flour and cornstarch often elicits questions, particularly regarding their interchangeability and unique attributes.

Can corn flour be used as a substitute for cornstarch?

Corn flour generally is not a direct substitute for cornstarch because it's processed differently, resulting in a different texture and thickening properties.

What are the differences between corn flour and cornstarch when used in frying?

Cornstarch typically results in a crisper finish when used as a coating in frying, whereas corn flour can result in a heavier, breaded texture.

How do corn flour and cornmeal differ?

Cornmeal is more coarsely ground than corn flour, which leads to a texture difference in recipes; cornmeal provides a grainier consistency.

Does cornstarch go by a different name in the UK?

In the UK, cornstarch is commonly referred to as cornflour – not to be confused with corn flour (the finer alternative).

What are the primary uses of corn flour in cooking?

Corn flour is often used in baking and as a batter in fried foods to add structure and texture.

Is pure corn flour an equivalent replacement for cornstarch?

Pure corn flour is not an equivalent replacement for cornstarch. It will not provide the same clarity and thickening strength in sauces and gravies.

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