Flours and Starches

Flours and Starches

In addition to being the principal ingredient in bread, noodles and pastries, flours and starches are used for texture and thickening in Asian cuisines. Wheat flour is used in Asian, but there are also a large number of flours and fine starches from an array of grains, pulses, seeds, roots and tubers. The source of the flour or starch largely determines its properties.

Starch from roots and tubers (e.g. arrowroot, potato starch and tapioca starch) has large grains with a low amylase content which means they will absorb water more readily, thicken at lower temperatures and remain fluid, though viscous. Grain starches (e.g. rice, wheat and maize) have small grains with a high amylase content which are not as willing to absorb water, require higher temperatures to thicken, and solidify somewhat when cooled.

Purchasing and storing : All flours and starches should be stored airtight in cool, dry place. If they are being kept for along periods and the climate is warm and humid, refrigeration is advisable to prevent weevil infestation. Some flours and starches used throughout Asia include :

Acorn starch (Castanopsis cuspidata, Lithocarpus corneus)

A fine, beige-colored starch derived from some non-bitter species of acorn. Acorn flour is made into bread in some parts of the world. In Korea, the silky starch, mook, is mixed with water (not as simple as it sounds) and cooked into a 'blancmange' that looks like caramel fudge. It sets into a gelatinous brown slab not tasting of much except, perhaps, green tea. This is cut into pieces and mixed with dressing of flavorsome ingredients before serving.

Arrowroot (Maranta arundinacea)

A fine, white powder with a starch content of 80 per cent. It is extracted from a tropical plant by pulverizing the rhizomes and washing them in water to obtain a milky liquid which, after further washing and drying, yields the fine grains of starch.

It is used as a thickener, and often added to rice flour in Thai dessert dishes. It is also used in China to make a variety of clear noodle, slightly tinged with yellow, with a rectangular shape (as distinct from the fine round strands or flat ribbon shapes of bean starch noodles) and a unique texture.

As a thickener, arrowroot starch is considered superior to cornflour in clarity and viscosity, and has no taste of its own, although overcooking will cause the starch to break down and the sauce to separate. An ingredient long known to the West for its easy digestibility (hence its suitability for infants and invalids), arrowroot jelly is taken to stop diarrhea.

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