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,
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.