Cornstarch vs Baking Powder: Which To Choose For Perfect Baking?

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder

Cornstarch vs Baking Powder: Which To Choose For Perfect Baking?

In the world of baking and cooking, few ingredients have the power to transform your culinary creations, like cornstarch and baking powder.

These kitchen staples might look similar, often tucked away in our pantries, but they serve vastly different purposes in the world of gastronomy.

In this article, I’ll delve deep into the cornstarch vs baking powder debate, dissecting their compositions, usage, and even exploring some nifty kitchen hacks along the way. So, let’s jump right in!

Table of Contents

What Is Baking Powder?

Baking powder is a leavening agent utilized in baking to help dough and batter rise.

It consists of an acid (usually cream of tartar) and an alkaline substance (typically baking soda) combined with a starch to prevent clumping.

When mixed with moisture and exposed to heat, baking powder releases carbon dioxide gas, creating bubbles that make baked goods light and fluffy.

What Is Cornstarch?

On the other hand, cornstarch is a fine, powdery substance derived from corn kernels. It is primarily used as a thickening agent in various culinary applications.

When cornstarch is added to liquids and heated, it absorbs moisture and swells, thickening the mixture.

It’s a versatile ingredient, commonly used in sauces, gravies, soups, and desserts to achieve a smooth, silky texture.

cornstarch vs baking powder for frying

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder: What’s The Difference?

When it comes to baking powder and cornstarch, it’s crucial to understand the fundamental differences that set them apart in the culinary world.

  • Chemical Reaction

The key difference between the two lies in their chemical reactions.

Baking powder causes a rapid release of carbon dioxide gas when combined with moisture and heat, leading to the immediate rise of your baked goods.

On the other hand, cornstarch has no leavening properties; it simply thickens liquids.

  • Results

If you were to substitute one for the other in a recipe, you’d likely be disappointed.

Replacing baking powder with cornstarch would result in dense, flat baked goods while using baking powder to thicken a sauce would be rather unappetizing.

  • Interchangeable

In the kitchen, baking powder and cornstarch are far from interchangeable. Each has a unique role, and using the wrong one can spell culinary disaster.

Can You Replace Baking Powder with Cornstarch?

When you find yourself out of baking powder but have cornstarch in your pantry, it might seem tempting to make a substitution.

However, these two ingredients serve vastly different purposes in cooking and baking, so replacing one with the other is not advisable.

Why not? Baking powder is a leavening agent, while cornstarch is a thickening agent.

Baking powder’s primary role is to make baked items rise by releasing carbon dioxide gas when exposed to moisture and heat.

Cornstarch, on the other hand, thickens liquids without any leavening properties.

The consequences: If you replace baking powder with cornstarch in a recipe, you’ll likely end up with dense, flat baked goods lacking the desired rise and texture.

So, it’s best to use the right ingredient for the job to achieve the desired culinary results.

Can You Replace Cornstarch With Baking Powder?

Conversely, can you use baking powder as a substitute for cornstarch when you’re in a pinch? Let’s explore this scenario.

Why not? Cornstarch’s primary function is as a thickening agent. It’s excellent at creating a glossy, translucent texture in sauces, chicken soups, and gravies without altering the flavor.

Baking powder, however, lacks the thickening properties needed for these applications.

The consequences: If you attempt to use baking powder as a replacement for cornstarch in a recipe that requires thickening, you won’t achieve the desired consistency.

Your dish may turn out watery and lacking the proper texture, which can be disappointing.

How To Use Cornstarch?

Now that we understand cornstarch’s primary role, let’s explore how to use it effectively in various culinary applications:

  • Fruit Pies

Cornstarch is a baker’s best friend when it comes to fruit pies. It thickens the fruit juices, preventing them from making the crust soggy and ensuring a luscious, well-set filling.

To use cornstarch in pies, mix it with sugar and your chosen fruit, then let it work its thickening magic as it bakes.

  • Pudding And Custard

Cornstarch is your secret ingredient when you’re craving the silky smoothness of puddings and custards. It prevents curdling and lends these classic desserts a luxurious, velvety texture.

To avoid lumps, dissolve cornstarch in a bit of cold milk or water before adding it to your hot mixture.

  • Cookies And Brownies

Want your cookies and brownies to maintain their soft, chewy texture? Cornstarch can help.

Adding a teaspoon or two to your dry ingredients will result in baked goods that stay tender and moist, even days after baking.

  • Ice Cream

Cornstarch is the key to achieving that dreamy, scoopable texture in your homemade ice cream.

It prevents ice crystals from forming, resulting in a creamy and indulgent treat.

  • Savory Dishes

Cornstarch isn’t just for sweets; it’s a game-changer in savory dishes.

Use it to thicken sauces, stews, and gravies, ensuring they have the perfect consistency to coat your favorite meats and vegetables.

  • Fried Foods

For a crispy coating that stays intact, consider adding cornstarch to your breading mix. It creates a light, delicate crunch that’s perfect for fried chicken, vegetables, and more.

cornstarch vs baking powder for wings

How To Use Baking Powder?

  • Cakes And Cupcakes

Baking powder is a must for baking cakes. It’s responsible for the characteristic rise that results in a soft, fluffy crumb.

Typically, use about 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder for each cup of flour in your cake recipe.

  • Quick Breads And Muffins

Quick breads, like banana or zucchini bread, rely on baking powder to create their airy texture.

Use 1 to 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder per cup of flour in these recipes.

  • Pancakes And Waffles

Pancakes and waffles owe their delightful fluffiness to baking powder. Around 1 teaspoon for each cup of flour will give you the perfect rise in your breakfast treats.

Substitutes For Baking Powder

Use Yogurt

Yogurt, a versatile dairy product, can be a reliable substitute for baking powder in a pinch.

The acidity in yogurt, often due to the presence of lactic acid bacteria, can help with leavening your baked goods.

How To Substitute With Yogurt?

  • For each teaspoon of baking powder needed, use ¼ cup of yogurt.
  • Reduce the liquid content in your recipe slightly to balance the added moisture from the yogurt.
  • Mix the yogurt into your wet ingredients before adding them to the dry ones.

Use Molasses

Molasses is a rich, viscous syrup derived from sugar cane or sugar beet processing.

Although it might not be the most common substitute, it can work effectively as a leavening agent due to its acidic nature.

How To Substitute With Molasses?

  • Replace one teaspoon of baking powder with ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Add ½ cup of molasses to your recipe, along with the other ingredients.
  • Be ready for a bit different flavor profile in your baked goods, as molasses has a distinct taste.

Use Cream Of Tartar

Cream of tartar is a byproduct of wine production and is an acidic substance that can be an excellent substitute for baking powder, especially when combined with baking soda.

How To Substitute With Cream Of Tartar?

  • For each teaspoon of baking powder required, utilize ¼ teaspoon of baking soda and ½ teaspoon of cream of tartar.
  • Mix these dry ingredients thoroughly and incorporate them into your recipe.
  • This combination will mimic the leavening effect of baking powder.

Use Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is a readily available natural acid that can work as a leavening agent when combined with baking soda. It also adds a refreshing citrusy flavor to your baked goods.

How To Substitute With Lemon Juice?

  • For each teaspoon of baking powder, use ½ teaspoon of lemon juice and ¼ teaspoon of baking soda.
  • Incorporate this mixture into your wet ingredients.
  • Enjoy the zesty twist it adds to your recipes.

Use Self-Rising Flour

If you have self-rising flour on hand, you’re in luck! It’s essentially a pre-mixed combination of flour, baking powder, and salt, making it a convenient substitute for recipes that call for baking powder.

How To Substitute With Self-Rising Flour?

  • Replace each cup of all-purpose flour with one cup of self-rising flour.
  • Adjust the salt content in your recipe, as self-rising flour already contains salt.
  • Proceed with your recipe as usual.

Use Buttermilk

Buttermilk is a versatile ingredient and a potent substitute for baking powder. Its acidic nature pairs well with baking soda for leavening.

How To Substitute With Buttermilk?

  • For each teaspoon of baking powder, use ½ cup of buttermilk.
  • Reduce the liquid content elsewhere in your recipe slightly to account for the added moisture.
  • Combine the buttermilk with your other wet ingredients before mixing with the dry ones.

What Can You Use As A Substitute For Cornstarch?

Sometimes, you might find yourself in the kitchen with no cornstarch on hand. In such cases, several substitutes can come to the rescue:

  • Potato Starch

Potato starch is an excellent substitute for cornstarch. It shares a similar texture and thickening power.

You can use it in sauces, gravies, and soups as a 1:1 replacement for cornstarch.

  • Rice Flour

Rice flour is another gluten-free option that works well as a thickening agent.

Mix it with cold water to generate a slurry, then incorporate it to your hot liquid to thicken it.

Rice flour has a neutral taste and is suitable for many recipes.

  • Arrowroot Flour

Arrowroot flour is a natural thickening agent extracted from tropical plants.

It has a more delicate flavor than cornstarch and is suitable for dishes where you want to maintain a neutral taste.

Use it in a 1:1 ratio as a cornstarch substitute.

  • Wheat Flour

If you don’t have any of the above options, all-purpose wheat flour can be used as a substitute for cornstarch.

However, you’ll need to use it in larger quantities, typically about 2 tablespoons of flour for every 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

Be aware that wheat flour can make your sauces or gravies slightly cloudy.

  • Tapioca Flour

Tapioca flour is a gluten-free thickening agent that functions well in both sweet and savory dishes.

It provides a glossy finish similar to cornstarch. Use it in a 1:1 ratio as a cornstarch substitute.

Now, you have various options to choose from if you ever run out of cornstarch in the middle of a recipe. These substitutes ensure you can still achieve the desired consistency in your dishes without compromising on quality.

What Happens if You Don’t Use Baking Powder?

If you omit baking powder from a recipe that calls for it, the consequences can be rather dramatic.

Baking powder plays a crucial role in creating the desired texture and rise in baked goods. Without it, here’s what you can expect:

  • Dense and Flat: Your baked goods will likely turn out dense, flat, and heavy, lacking the airy texture that baking powder provides.
  • Taste Alteration: The absence of baking powder can impact the flavor profile of your recipe. Baking powder can lend a slightly tangy taste to your baked goods, which you’ll miss.
  • Tough Texture: Baked goods might become tough and chewy instead of soft and tender.
  • Unsatisfactory Results: Overall, your baking endeavor is likely to result in unsatisfactory and less enjoyable treats.

Can You Make Your Own Baking Powder?

Yes, you can make your own baking powder right at home with just a few simple ingredients. It’s a handy skill to have when you find yourself out of store-bought baking powder.

Homemade baking powder typically consists of three main components: baking soda, cream of tartar, and starch, usually cornstarch.

  • Baking Soda: This serves as the base of your homemade baking powder. It’s the ingredient that creates the leavening effect in your baked goods.
  • Cream of Tartar: Cream of tartar acts as the acidic component. It combines with baking soda to create the necessary chemical reaction, resulting in the release of carbon dioxide gas and the leavening of your recipes.
  • Cornstarch: Cornstarch is used to prevent the other ingredients from clumping and to ensure that your homemade baking powder remains free-flowing.

Making Homemade Baking Powder

  • Measure out the required amounts of baking soda, cream of tartar, and cornstarch. Be sure to maintain the specified ratio.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.
  • Mix them thoroughly, ensuring an even distribution of the components.
  • Your DIY baking powder is ready to use! Simply incorporate it into your recipe as you would with store-bought baking powder.

This homemade version will work just as effectively as the commercial variety, making your baked goods rise to perfection.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder In Cookies

What Are The Different Types Of Cornstarch?

Cornstarch may seem like a straightforward kitchen staple, but there’s more to it than meets the eye.

In fact, several types of cornstarch are available, each with its unique characteristics. Let’s delve into some of the different cornstarch varieties:

  • Regular Cornstarch: This is the most common type of cornstarch you’ll find in your kitchen. It’s a pure starch extracted from corn and is primarily used as a thickening agent in cooking and baking.
  • Organic Cornstarch: Organic cornstarch is made from organically grown corn and is processed without synthetic chemicals or pesticides. It’s an excellent choice for those who prefer organic ingredients in their recipes.
  • Non-GMO Cornstarch: Non-GMO cornstarch is derived from genetically non-modified corn. It offers the same thickening properties as regular cornstarch but without any genetic modifications.
  • Waxy Cornstarch: Waxy cornstarch has a higher amylopectin content than regular cornstarch. This makes it particularly suitable for frozen food applications, like Chinese ice cream and frozen desserts, as it helps prevent ice crystal formation.
  • Modified Cornstarch: Modified cornstarch has undergone chemical or physical modifications to enhance its stability or performance in specific culinary applications. It’s often used in processed foods and can withstand higher temperatures without breaking down.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder: How To Use Them Together?

While cornstarch and baking powder serve distinct purposes in the culinary world, there are instances where they can be used together to achieve a culinary masterpiece. Let’s explore how to harmonize these two kitchen essentials:

  • Frying Batter

When making a crispy frying batter for chicken or vegetables, consider incorporating both cornstarch and baking powder.

The cornstarch provides crispiness, while the baking powder adds a touch of lightness and fluffiness to the coating.

  • Pancakes and Waffles

For those extra-fluffy pancakes or waffles, you can use a combination of flour (for structure), cornstarch (for tenderness), and a dash of baking powder (for lift).

This trifecta ensures your breakfast delights are both tender and airy.

  • Crispy Coatings

When preparing dishes that require a crispy crust, like tempura or fried calamari, combining cornstarch and a pinch of baking powder in the coating mixture can yield exceptional results.

The cornstarch provides the desired crispness, while the baking powder contributes to a delicate texture.

  • Thickening And Leavening

In some recipes, you may want the benefits of both thickening and leavening.

In such cases, using cornstarch for thickening and adding a small amount of baking powder for a gentle rise can give your dish a unique texture.

  • Biscuits

To achieve biscuits with a tender crumb and a bit of fluffiness, you can include a small portion of cornstarch in your biscuit recipe alongside baking powder. This combination strikes a balance between tenderness and rise.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder: Which Is Better For Rising Doughs?

When it comes to making dough rise, baking powder takes the crown. Baking powder is specifically designed as a leavening agent for dough, ensuring that your bread, pizza, or pastries achieve that coveted airy texture.

It contains both an acid and a base, allowing it to create a chemical reaction that releases carbon dioxide gas when exposed to moisture and heat.

This gas is what causes the dough to expand, resulting in the light and fluffy texture we associate with perfectly risen baked goods.

Cornstarch, on the other hand, is not a leavening agent. It lacks the acidic or basic components needed to produce gas and lift the dough.

Instead, cornstarch is primarily used as a thickening agent in recipes like sauces and gravies. Using cornstarch in dough would not provide the rise you’re looking for; in fact, it might lead to a denser end product.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder For Frying

When it comes to frying, the choice between cornstarch and baking powder can significantly impact the texture and crispiness of your dishes.

Cornstarch: Cornstarch is a fantastic choice for achieving that perfect crispy coating on fried foods. Its ability to create a delicate, crunchy crust makes it a favorite for recipes like sweet and sour chicken or tempura.

When you mix cornstarch with water to create a batter, it clings beautifully to your ingredients, resulting in a light and airy texture.

Baking Powder: Baking powder isn’t typically used as a coating for frying. Its leavening properties are better suited for baking, where it helps your creations rise.

However, if you want to experiment, a pinch of baking powder in a batter could add a subtle lift to your fried foods. Just remember, less is more when it comes to baking powder in frying.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder For Bread

Cornstarch: Cornstarch doesn’t play a prominent role in bread making.

It’s primarily a thickening agent and doesn’t have the leavening power needed to make bread rise. Therefore, you won’t find cornstarch in bread recipes.

Baking Powder: Baking powder, on the flip side, is a bread maker’s friend when crafting quick breads like biscuits, scones, or soda bread.

Its chemical reaction generates carbon dioxide gas, causing the dough to rise and yield those fluffy, tender results.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder For Baking

Cornstarch: Cornstarch in baking is a hidden gem. It’s often used in recipes to create a lighter, more delicate texture in cakes and cookies.

Replacing a portion of flour with cornstarch can result in a tender crumb. It’s also employed as a thickening agent for fruit fillings in pies, ensuring that your dessert holds together beautifully.

Baking Powder: Baking powder is a baking essential, used in recipes that require a rise, such as cakes, muffins, and pancakes. It provides the necessary lift and fluffiness, making it indispensable in the world of baking.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder In Cookies

Cornstarch: Cornstarch can work wonders in cookie recipes. It’s a secret weapon for achieving soft, melt-in-your-mouth cookies.

By incorporating cornstarch into your dough, you can create a delicate, tender texture that contrasts beautifully with any added chocolate chips or nuts.

Baking Powder: While baking powder isn’t commonly used in traditional cookie recipes, it can have a place in unique creations.

A pinch of it can add a slight lift to your cookies, resulting in a slightly cakier texture. However, its primary role is still in leavening baked goods like cakes and muffins.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder For Wings

Cornstarch: Cornstarch is a fantastic choice for making crispy chicken wings. Its light and airy coating creates that sought-after crunch when deep-frying.

Many wing recipes call for a combination of cornstarch and spices to achieve the perfect texture.

Baking Powder: While baking powder isn’t typically used for coating chicken wings, some creative cooks have experimented with it to achieve a different texture.

A pinch of baking powder in a wing marinade can lead to a drier surface, which can help create crispy skin when baking instead of frying.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder Nutrition

Cornstarch: From a nutritional standpoint, cornstarch is primarily a source of carbohydrates.

It’s a high-calorie ingredient with little to no vitamins or minerals. While it’s a useful cooking tool, it’s not a nutrient-rich food.

Baking Powder: Baking powder is a chemical leavening agent and is not a significant source of nutrition.

It contains minimal calories and negligible vitamins or minerals. Its role in baking is to create a desirable texture in recipes rather than to provide nutrition.

Cornstarch Vs Baking Powder: Advantages

Both cornstarch and baking powder offer unique advantages in the kitchen:

Advantages Of Cornstarch:

  • Thickening Power: Cornstarch excels at thickening liquids. It creates a smooth, glossy texture without altering the flavor, making it perfect for sauces, soups, and fruit fillings.
  • Gluten-Free: It’s an ideal thickening agent for those with gluten sensitivities or allergies.

Advantages Of Baking Powder:

  • Leavening: Baking powder is the go-to ingredient for achieving fluffy, risen baked goods like cakes, muffins, and biscuits.
  • Immediate Action: It works quickly, so you don’t have to wait for your dough or batter to rise naturally.
  • Adds Tanginess: Baking powder can impart a subtle tangy flavor to recipes, enhancing the taste of certain baked goods.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can You Use Cornstarch Instead Of Baking Powder Or Baking Soda?

No, cornstarch is not a suitable substitute for baking powder or baking soda. While they all appear as powders, they serve entirely different functions in cooking and baking. Baking powder and baking soda are leavening agents used to make baked goods rise, whereas cornstarch is a thickening agent. Substituting one for the other would lead to undesirable results in your recipes.

  • What Makes Chicken Crispy: Cornstarch Or Baking Powder? 

Cornstarch is the crucial ingredient that contributes to the crispiness of chicken when used in recipes like General Tso’s chicken or tempura. Its ability to form a crispy, golden exterior is due to its starch content, which forms a delicate and crunchy crust when fried. Baking powder, on the other hand, primarily acts as a leavening agent and does not provide the same crispy texture as cornstarch.

  • What Can I Use If I Don’t Have Cornstarch? 

If you find yourself without cornstarch, you can substitute it with other common kitchen ingredients like all-purpose flour, arrowroot powder, or tapioca starch. These alternatives work as effective thickeners in recipes and can be utilized in a 1:1 ratio to replace cornstarch.

  • What Is The Closest Ingredient To Cornstarch? 

The closest ingredients to cornstarch for thickening purposes are arrowroot powder and tapioca starch. These alternatives have similar properties to cornstarch and can be used interchangeably in recipes requiring a thickening agent.

  • Does Baking Powder Make Things Crispy? 

Baking powder is not known for making things crispy. Its primary function is to create a rise in baked items by releasing carbon dioxide gas when exposed to moisture and heat. While it may contribute to some browning, it does not provide the same crispiness as ingredients like cornstarch when used for frying.

  • Can You Use Cornstarch Instead Of Baking Powder To Fry Chicken? 

Yes, you can use cornstarch to achieve a crispy coating when frying chicken. Cornstarch is often used in recipes for dishes, such as sweet and sour chicken or orange chicken to create that coveted crispy texture. However, it’s important to note that cornstarch and baking powder serve different purposes in cooking and should not be used interchangeably for leavening agents in recipes.

  • Can Baking Powder Be Used Instead Of Cornstarch For Frying?

When it comes to frying, it’s best to stick with cornstarch rather than using baking powder as a substitute. Cornstarch creates a crisp and light coating on foods when fried while baking powder lacks the same thickening and crisping properties. Baking powder is primarily a leavening agent and doesn’t offer the desired texture for frying.

  • Can Baking Powder Be Substituted For Cornstarch In Baking?

Baking powder cannot be directly substituted for cornstarch in baking. While both contain starch, their functions are vastly different. Baking powder leavens and raises baked goods, while cornstarch thickens liquids and adds a glossy texture. If you’re out of cornstarch, consider alternatives like flour or arrowroot powder for thickening, but remember that they may alter the texture slightly.

  • What Can Be Used In Place Of Baking Powder?

You can make your own with a simple mixture if you’re in a pinch and need a baking powder substitute. Combine one part baking soda, two parts cream of tartar, and one part cornstarch. This homemade version can be used as a leavening agent in your recipes. However, remember that it may not provide the same exact results as commercial baking powder, so adjust accordingly for your baking needs.

Final Thoughts

In the cornstarch vs baking powder debate, there’s no clear winner. These kitchen essentials have their distinct purposes and are irreplaceable in their respective roles.

So, whether you’re whipping up a batch of fluffy pancakes or perfecting a silky gravy, understanding the difference between these two pantry staples is the key to culinary success.

Remember that while baking powder and cornstarch may seem similar in appearance, they play vastly different roles in the culinary world.

Knowing when and how to use them will elevate your cooking and baking to a whole new level of deliciousness.

Armed with this knowledge, you’re ready to conquer the kitchen and confidently create culinary masterpieces. Happy cooking!


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