How is corn starch produced industrially

Starch from domestic potatoes

Starch is a product in demand all over the world, not only in the food industry, but also, for example, in the textile or paper industry. It is obtained from various raw materials containing carbohydrates. 44 percent of world production comes from corn, five percent from potatoes. There is a starch factory in Austria that processes potatoes. It belongs to the AGRANA company and is located in Gmünd on the Czech border, near the large Austrian potato growing areas. A third of the entire Austrian potato harvest ends up here. 1500 farmers deliver to AGRANA. 4.5 kilos of potatoes turn into one kilo of starch. Potatoes that are very floury and contain a lot of starch are used.

Potatoes become starch

The potatoes are washed to remove foreign objects. Then they are ground to a pulp with the peel. The fibers are separated. The resulting potato pulp, a brown mass, is largely processed into potato fibers for the food industry. Then the amniotic fluid is separated. Potato protein is obtained from this, which is also sold as animal feed. The remaining liquid is a valuable fertilizer for conventional and organic agriculture. What is left is the main product, potato starch. It is used for food and other products.

Where there are potatoes everywhere

The range of foods that contain potato starch is wide. This can be found in ready meals, canned goods, baked goods, sweets, spreads, desserts, fish products, pies, ready-made salads, dressings and in meat substitute products. But potato starch is not only used for food production. They can also be found in cosmetics and pharmaceuticals, as well as in paper, adhesives, building materials and textiles.

Native strength

We Austrians consume 1.8 kilos of potato starch per capita per year. Pure, so-called “native” starch can be enjoyed without any problems and is also available as such for everyone. When used in the kitchen, it binds liquids. Both of these apply to modified starch. It is found as an ingredient or additive in processed foods and must be indicated on the list of ingredients. It is not necessary to specify which plant the starch was obtained from. According to the Allergen Ordinance, only starch from cereals containing gluten must be labeled.

Physically or chemically treated starch

So that the starch remains stable even after intensive processing such as high heat or the influence of acids and has many other practical properties, such as good stability during freezing and thawing, it is made more stable through physical and chemical processes. Chemically modified starch may not be used in organic food, but physically modified starch may. Modified starch is found in countless processed foods.

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It was also invented for use in this area. If the starch has been chemically modified and is approved for the food sector, it has an E number from E 1400 and is legally listed as an “additive”. It must be specified as “modified strength” or with the E number. If it was processed physically, for example only with heat, it is listed as strength. The approved modified food starches are digested by the body in the same way as native, untreated starches.

Some modified starches can be particularly freeze-thaw-stable. This means that some foods with modified starch taste and look the same after freezing and thawing as they did before freezing. If native starch is used, losses in consistency and taste can be expected. Food with modified starch can also be mixed more easily, for example a soup. When using native starch, liquid becomes watery when mixed.

Starch is harmless to health. It is heated and cooled when it is made, which has the same effect as heating and cooling potatoes. Resistant starch, which is valuable for health, is produced.

> Cooling them down can make potatoes even healthier

Is modified starch unhealthy?

According to the current state of knowledge, physically or chemically modified starch is not considered harmful to health. It is digested by the body in the same way as native starch. It is critical to question whether a natural product should only be treated with acids or enzymes because of its functionality. Like all additives, modified starches must be registered so that they can be used in food.

Saccharified starch maltodextrin in many foods

Processed starch can be used as a sweetener, for example maltodextrin, which can be found as a source of carbohydrates, thickeners or extenders in foods such as dry soups, spice mixes and confectionery, as well as in baby and sports foods. Maltodextrin is considered to be harmless to health and is even used as the main energy carrier in medical tube feedings. Since maltodextrin is a type of sugar, the same applies from a nutritional perspective as to sugar. It has the similar amount of calories and increases blood sugar very quickly. Therefore, it should be used sparingly.

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Whether a product contains maltodextrin can be seen from the list of ingredients. You can also buy maltodextrin in pharmacies. Maltodextrin is produced by breaking down the starch in a technical process with the help of enzymes or acids at high temperatures. This is done according to the same principles of human digestion, in that the starch is converted into single, double or multiple sugars in the form of syrups, depending on the degree of saccharification. These are filtered, cleaned and evaporated to create a clear, colorless syrup. Enzymes are also used. In Austria only those that are not genetically modified are used. The syrup is used in the food sector as a component of confectionery and ice cream. If the syrup is dried, a white, slightly sweet powder is created. This is sold as dried glucose syrup or as so-called maltodextrin.

Maltodextrin in sports nutrition

In endurance sports, maltodextrin is often a component of isotonic drinks or energy gels. It has a number of advantages over household or grape sugar. Maltodextrin binds less water to itself than other types of sugar. This prevents too much water from flowing into the small intestine and is therefore better tolerated. In addition, it is more tasteless than other types of sugar and therefore drinks sweetened with maltodextrin are often perceived as pleasant when there is a high fluid requirement in sports.