Cornflour Substitutes for Cooking and Baking
As you’re digging through shelves in your kitchen and searching for cornflour, you may wonder, can cornstarch or cornmeal be used as a cornflour substitute? What’s the big difference between cornflour, cornstarch and cornmeal, anyway?
One of the best ways to learn about different flours, their special properties and how to use them is to sign up for interactive cooking classes near you led by world-class chefs. But if you're short on time and can't attend a cooking class, looking up cornflour substitutes may be your next best bet. Here’s what you need to know about the basics of cornflour, its other corn-derived cousins and the best cornflour substitutes for any type of recipe.
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What Is Cornflour?
Cornflour is a food product that comes from grinding dried whole corn kernels, including the kernel’s hull (or pericarp), germ and endosperm. Because cornflour uses all parts of the corn kernel, it can be considered a wholegrain flour. Cornflour isn’t intended to be consumed raw but can be incorporated into a wide variety of recipes, including fried foods, baked dishes and more.
Like most other types of flour, cornflour has a soft, powdery appearance. It is usually a pale off-white in color, but can also have a yellowish or even blueish tint, depending on the type of corn that’s used. Cornflour lends an earthy, smooth and slightly sweet flavor to recipes, similar to the whole-kernel corn from which it’s made. The texture of cornflour lies somewhere between a fine cornstarch and a grittier cornmeal, although cornstarch and cornmeal use a slightly different rendering process. Cornstarch generally doesn’t make a good cornflour substitute.
Cornstarch is made only from the endosperm, the main inner part of the corn kernel. When you make popcorn, the endosperm is the white puffy part that pops out! It’s also what gives corn its sweet and juicy flavor when cooked. Cornstarch is most often used as a thickener for sauces, soups and stews.
Cornmeal, on the other hand, is made from the whole corn kernel, like cornflour. The main difference between cornmeal and cornflour is that cornmeal is coarser. Cornmeal may also be referred to as polenta or maize meal. If you continue to grind down cornmeal, you will eventually render the finer cornflour. Cornmeal can be used as a cornflour substitute but will yield some slightly different texture results.
Regional terms for cornflour and its culinary cousins can also be confusing, to say the least. Cornflour is different from cornmeal and cornstarch in the United States. However, if you travel to the U.K., you may find that locals refer to cornstarch as cornflour. The equivalent to cornflour in the U.S. might be called corn meal, polenta or polenta flour in the U.K. In other words, if you were to go shopping for cornflour in the U.K., you may want to ask the grocery clerk for corn meal, not cornflour. Cornflour (U.K.) is more akin to what the U.S. would call cornstarch.
- Cornflour (U.S.) = Cornmeal or polenta (U.K.)
- Cornmeal (U.S.) = Maize meal (U.K.)
- Cornstarch (U.S.) = Cornflour or maize starch (U.K.)
Purpose of Cornflour in Cooking and Baking
Cornflour is a very versatile ingredient to have in any kitchen. In cooking, cornflour is most often used as a breading for deep-fried, pan-fried or baked meats and vegetables. Many worldwide cuisines use cornflour in their recipes, including Mexican, South American, Italian, Indian and traditional American cuisine. Some dishes that commonly use cornflour include fried catfish, corndogs, corn fritters, Karachi halwa, makki ki roti and pupusas.
In baking, cornflour can be used to make all sorts of cakes, breads, biscuits, cookies and pastries. Cornflour and cornflour substitutes are especially valuable for people with gluten sensitivity or celiac disease. While it tends to hold up better in cooking recipes, cornflour can also be a gluten-free substitute for all-purpose flour in baking. The lack of binding protein can give some baked recipes a brittle texture, but sometimes this is desirable for savory dinner muffins and crumbly cornbreads.
If you’re on the hunt for a good cornflour substitute, you’re probably making a fried or baked dish, not a soup or stew, which would more than likely use cornstarch or cornstarch substitutes. Most cornflour substitutes can be used on a 1:1 ratio. In other words, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of cornflour, you could use 1 cup of wholewheat flour instead. Of course, you may need to experiment with the cornflour substitutes or liquid measurements in your recipe to find the perfect ratio you love.
1. All-Purpose Flour
All-purpose flour is one of the most common ingredients you’ll encounter in basic recipes, culinary courses and online cooking classes. If you’re like most people, you probably already have a bag of all-purpose flour sitting on the shelf in your pantry. Luckily, all-purpose flour makes a good all-around cornflour substitute for baking or cooking, but especially for breading and fried foods. The only real disadvantage to using all-purpose flour as a cornflour alternative is that it isn’t gluten-free, and it may not provide the same slightly sweet flavor or wholegrain texture as cornflour.
2. Whole Wheat Flour
For a rustic texture and boost of wholegrain nutrients, reach for whole wheat flour as your cornflour replacement. Because it’s also made using the whole plant grain, whole wheat flour is one of the only cornflour substitutes that offers a comparable amount of vitamins and minerals. Whole wheat flour is a good cornflour substitute in baking but may not be great for fried foods. Keep in mind that whole wheat flour is not gluten-free and tends to give baked goods a heavier feel and distinct “healthy” flavor.
3. Buckwheat Flour
If you’re looking for a super healthy cornflour substitute in baking, buckwheat flour can be a unique and nutrient-dense option. While the name might be misleading, buckwheat is actually a gluten-free grain, making it one of the best cornflour substitutes for people with celiac or gluten sensitivities. Like whole wheat, buckwheat flour has a distinct and wholesome flavor that may not work well for cooking fried foods.
4. Spelt Flour
Spelt is a type of wholegrain wheat that’s considered an ancient grain. While it does contain gluten, spelt makes an excellent cornflour substitute in cooking, especially for fried foods like fish and okra. Spelt has a little more texture than all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour and also contains more protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, spelt flour tends to be more expensive than whole wheat or all-purpose flour, but it’s worthwhile if you want to splurge on a cornflour substitute.
5. Oat Flour
Oat flour is a good cornflour substitute for baking sweet gluten-free foods. Oat flour’s naturally sweet and toasty flavor provides a great balance with vanilla, cinnamon and other common spices. Oat flour can also be useful in recipes that call for cornflour (not cornstarch) as a slight thickening agent. Oat flour has a finer, fluffier texture than cornflour and tends to give baked goods a soft crumble effect. It’s also highly absorbent, so you will likely need less flour or more liquid when using oat flour as a cornflour substitute. You may need to play around until you find the perfect proportions.
6. Sorghum Flour
Sorghum flour is another good cornflour substitute and can easily be used in a 1:1 ratio with cornflour. Sorghum flour works well in sweet baked goods like cookies or banana bread, but is also an excellent alternative for regular breads and pizza crusts. When using sorghum as a cornflour replacement, keep in mind that its light, fluffy texture can be different from gritty cornflour, and its flavor is slightly “wheatier” than cornflour.
7. Chickpea Flour
Chickpea flour (or garbanzo bean flour) is an interesting substitute for cornflour due to its distinct properties and versatility. Made from dried and ground chickpeas, chickpea flour offers a generous amount of protein, fiber and minerals like zinc, folate and iron. As a cornflour substitute, chickpea flour has a similar earthy and nutty flavor profile but won’t bring the same natural sweetness as cornflour. As such, it is best used as a cornflour substitute in savory recipes like basic breads and provides an awesome crispiness to fried foods.
8. Brown Rice Flour
Rice flour is one of the most readily available cornflour substitutes, and brown rice flour brings a boost of nutrients to any recipe. Like oat flour, brown rice flour is very absorbent and sticky. Raw rice flour has a finer texture than cornflour and a heavier, denser feel when cooked. Its earthy nuttiness makes it a great cornflour substitute for baked dishes, but its sticky and malleable texture is not ideal for making fried foods or crispy breads.
9. Almond Flour
Almond flour is gluten-free, grain-free and high in protein and unsaturated fat, making it a good cornflour substitute for people following low-carb, keto or paleo diets. Almond flour contributes a mild sweetness and works well in almost any cornflour substitute recipes, including pizza crusts, breads, cookies and fried foods. On the downside, almond flour is one of the more expensive cornflour substitutes and the growing requirements for almond trees can put a strain on the environment.
10. Quinoa Flour
Quinoa flour tends to have a slightly grittier feel than all-purpose flour, making it one of the more comparable cornflour substitutes texture-wise. Quinoa flour has a naturally light and nutty flavor and a high moisture content, so you may want to use less liquid when substituting it in a recipe. Quinoa flour may not be the best cornflour substitute for fried foods, but it works well in breads, cookies and even homemade pastas, especially when paired with a binding agent like xantham gum or tapioca flour.
11. Semolina Flour
Made from durum wheat, semolina flour has a coarser, darker appearance than cornflour and generic all-purpose flour. The texture of semolina flour tends to fall somewhere between cornflour and cornmeal, making it a good cornflour substitute when you want to achieve that crispy, rough and authentic texture on fried foods. Semolina flour is also a good candidate for breads, cakes and homemade pastas because it contains a high amount of gluten.
12. Millet Flour
Millet is another high-protein cornflour substitute that’s safe for gluten-free diets. This wholegrain flour has a mild sweet and corn-like flavor that won’t be overpowering in savory dishes. The naturally coarse texture brings a nice crumbly crisp to recipes that is ideal for making deep-fried and pan-fried meats, vegetables and seafood. Crispy breads like hushpuppies and dinner muffins are also delicious when made with millet flour.
13. Cricket Flour
If you’re looking for a cornflour substitute that will really take you outside your comfort zone, try cricket flour. Sure, ground crickets may not sound appealing to everyone, but cricket flour is loaded with protein, fiber and prebiotics and is environmentally sustainable. What's more, cricket flour brings a grain-like texture and a mild umami flavor to savory dishes, sometimes compared to mushrooms, shellfish or miso. You can use cricket flour as a cornflour substitute in a 1:1 ratio or mix it with another cornflour substitute for a more approachable balance.
Finding the right cornflour substitute for your recipe, budget and dietary needs can be challenging, but there are dozens of tasty and healthy options available. From tender and light brown rice flour to protein-rich almond flour and quirky cricket flour, there’s sure to be something you’ll love. Don’t be afraid to try new ingredients or mix different cornflour substitutes together to get the best of both worlds!
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