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Starch...What You Need To Know About It

Hands reading ingredients

Just the other day a member of the Gluten Free Club emailed me about one of our recipes that called for Jello.  She was concerned that Jello was made with modified food starch which can sometimes contains wheat.  I went to the companies website and it stated:

When listed in the ingredient statement of Kraft products, "food starch" and "modified food starch" often refer to corn starch. Our ingredient suppliers assure us that the corn starch we use in our products does not contain gluten. If a Kraft product uses food starches from a gluten-containing source, such as wheat starch, the source will always be identified in the ingredient statement.

So that means that the Modified Food Starch on the ingredients list for the Jell-O is not gluten based otherwise it would say so. This got me thinking that I needed to do a bit more digging on this subject of starch and here is what I found.

Food starch can come from a variety of sources, including wheat, corn, potato and tapioca

Starch is everywhere and not just in bread.  Starch is used as a thickening agent in a many different products.  There are lots of foods, like corn and potatoes, which are naturally starchy.  So even though we don't eat wheat, unless you're really careful about what you eat, you can see weight gain from eating too much starch. Starch thickens, binds and carries.

Because different foods contain starch naturally, there are different kinds of starch.  That's what is important for people with gluten intolerance to understand.

If you live in the USA, the manufacturer has to state if the food starch is derived from wheat on the food label

There are many starches that don't come from wheat.  So when you pick up a package of processed food at the grocery store, you might find the words "potato starch", "tapioca starch" or "wheat starch". So always look at the package ingredient on processed foods and make sure any filler starch used was not made out of wheat.

In the United States and Canada, the word "starch" with no further description means it is cornstarch.  Starch is found in corn, wheat, potatoes, milo, rice, tapioca and many other foods.  When the ingredient in the food is not cornstarch, then the actual kind of starch must be named.

Of course, a starch discussion can't stop there.  Science modifies everything today, so there's such a thing as "modified food starch".  A lot of beginner celiac sites will tell you to stay away from modified food starch, but the real answer is that you need to do more research.  Sometimes that's a wheat starch and sometimes it isn't.

A modified food starch has been altered chemically to make it work better in whatever food it's being added to.  There is even a modified wheat starch that is used in Europe to make gluten free products.  But it's not allowed to be used in the USA and Canada in any food called gluten free.

The truth is there are all kinds of studies being done to determine if the modified wheat starch is safe to eat if you have gluten intolerance.  They are still trying to decide if this modified wheat starch really does have all of the wheat protein removed.  Until they make up their minds, I guess I'm not really interested in being a guinea pig.  I always take the high road and play it safe when it comes to eating gluten.

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