Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Clearly Cornstarch

The soft smooth texture of cornstarch gives me the chills. I'm not kidding. I can't stand the feel of cornstarch, flour, powdered sugar, or baby powder. I don't know what it is but it drives me crazy. This statement is coming from a person who can "feel" nail polish so I'm sure it's me. It's also the reason why I never wear it and perhaps one of the reasons why I don't bake. That said, cornstarch or cornflour (as the British call it) once went through quite an ordeal itself to be developed. The refining process used to separate corn starch from corn kernels is called the wet milling process. It was patented by Orlando Jones.

As is the case in such declarations, there seems to be a discrepancy in the actual patent date of Orlando Jones' invention. It appears that the English patent was granted on April 30, 1840 but, if you research on the internet, you are likely to find the patent date stated as March 12, 1841 or April 22, 1841. I believe I have discovered the tale of confusion. I think what may have happened is Orlando Jones may have gotten his original patent in England, he was from Middlesex, and then again received a patent in the US. The US patent number is, I believe, #2000. There's just one grain of the story that makes me wonder about the April 30th date. It seems to me, if the first patent for cornstarch was indeed in England, why can't I find it anywhere on an UK website? Below is what I did find at a website called The Story of London. It is actually quite an interesting website filled with historical anecdotes right off the streets of London.

"In 1841, the first U.S. patent for starch processing (No. 2000) was granted to Orlando Jones of City Road, Middlesex, England. Traditionally, corn was steeped in water for several weeks to separate the starch by a fermentation process, but this had a rather limited yield. Jones' patent described a process which extracted starch from rice and which shortened the production time, increased the yield, and left by-products in a condition suitable for further uses. A hundred pounds of rice were macerated for up to 24 hours in fifty gallons of a caustic alkali solution, which contained “about 200 grains of real soda or potash to the gallon. The rice was then washed, drained, milled, sieved, further macerated and settled, yielding a deposit of starch which was drained, washed and dried. The process was later applied to corn. (Corn starch is now used in deodorants, to heal nappy (diaper) rash, and to thicken gravy)." 

I was willing to accept the fact that I missed the March date until I came across this bit of information while researching another matter. It has been harvested from a book I found at google books titled Corporate Promotions and Reorganizations by Arthur Stone Dewing © 1914

On April 30, 1840, an Englishman by the Orlando Jones, patented an improved process whereby an alkali was employed in the recovery of the starch granules. This process shortened the period of manufacture, and enabled the starch maker to obtain a larger yield. The Orlando Jones invention was patented for the United States in 1841, and may be regarded as the basic patent for the present industry. In 1844, Colgate and Company, who had been manufacturing wheat starch in their Jersey City factory, began to apply the Orlando Jones process to corn. The experiment proved satisfactory, and was subsequently adopted by Julius J. Wood and Charles Colgate at their wheat factory in Columbus, Ohio. Subsequently, the Colgates ceased to manufacture corn starch at their Jersey City plant, so that, at the time of the formation of the National Starch Manufacturing Company in 1890, the Wood plant at Columbus was the oldest corn starch manufactory operating in the United States. In the employ of the Colgates at their New Jersey factory was an Englishman by the name of Thomas Kingsford. 

There is quite a bit of information about the entire cornstarch refining process with references such as "A very exhaustive description of the Orlando Jones alkali process is to be found in the Scientific American, March 4, 1854." Alas, I didn't find that article online. I also didn't find anything online that verifies that the patent included rice from starch also. According to what I did read, "starch is made by all green plants through the process of photosynthesis." Whatever the date, it certainly appears that Orlando Jones of Middlesex, England, introduced cornstarch to the world.

Cooking with Cornstarch

"The pudding's proof doth in the eating lie,
Success is yours, which ever rule you try."

Cornstarch, or cornflour, is the starch of the corn grain. It is ground from the white heart, of the corn kernel. Cornstarch is an inexpensive ingredient used for many recipes in cooking, but it's most common use is as a binder and thickening agent. It has about twice the thickening ability of flour. (1 tbs. is comparable to 2 tbs. of flour) Unlike flour, cornstarch becomes translucent when cooked to the right consistency (if overcooked, it will become too thin.) It's also used as an anti-caking agent in powdered sugar. If you want to avoid the raw cornstarch taste in a recipe, light cooking is often suggested. For thickening non-cooked recipes such as salad dressings use guar gum or xanthene gum. Cornstarch is one of the substitute ingredients used in gluten free recipes. To use corn starch as a thickening agent, it should be mixed with a cold liquid until smooth then slowly added to the other ingredients. If not done this way, you are sure to have lumps. If you have never used corn starch as a thickening agent before, it is best to experiment with it by beginning with lesser amounts, and adding as necessary until the desired consistency is reached but, remember to mix it in a cold liquid before adjusting. I have made that mistake more than once and it is not a pretty site. Cornstarch has many non-cooking benefits and many uses in the manufacturing of environmentally-friendly products. I have left a couple of links below for you to check out.

Cornstarch & Recipes

Finding recipes that include cornstarch is not difficult at all. It's used in so many ways in so many things. I was surprised to discover this claim made by the Sugar Association. "Cornstarch is by far the biggest source of the other carbohydrate sweeteners used by today’s food manufacturers."

Cornstarch is split into a variety of smaller fragments (called dextrins) with acid or enzymes. The smaller fragments are then converted into the various cornstarch sweeteners used by today’s food manufacturers.

Okay, that's enough of this "technical" stuff let's share some recipes. My goal was to find recipes that included cornstarch as the main ingredient. I did find Cornstarch Pudding at the Argo website but it really is just a vintage vanilla pudding recipe. I suppose I will have to hit the books. First, I found this recipe for Cornstarch Souffle in the book The Story of Crisco by Marion Harris Neil.

Cornstarch Souffle
Bring 1 quart milk and 1 tablespoon Crisco to boiling point; beat 4 tablespoons cornstarch with 1 cup sugar, yolks of 5 eggs together and add to hot milk. Stir and cook 8 minutes then add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Pour into a greased fireproof dish. Beat up whites of eggs to stiff froth, then beat in 4 tablespoons sugar, pour over top of pudding and brown lightly in oven.

I had to give up on the cornstarch based recipes when I "re-found" this little die-cut booklet pictured. Isn't it just so cute. It only measures about 3-1/2x2-1/2 inches. It's titled Harry Horne's Double Cream Brand Custard Powder Vanilla. I knew right away that the recipes in this booklet required custard powder but I just couldn't resist sharing it. What is custard powder you ask? Well, a quick trip over to wiki reminded me that I had a few notes in my other computer about custard powder. Custard Powder was invented by a man named Alfred Bird (because his wife was allergic to eggs.) His custard powder caught on and soon his company was producing custard powder for the whole of England. “Bird’s Custard Powder” is an English tradition as is Harry Horne's Custard Powder. Custard powder looks a lot like cornstarch or corn flour, and in fact, is made from cornflour. It also has annatto coloring, and sometimes other flavorings added to it such as sugar and/or salt. Custard powder is a common ingredient in British cooking and it is sometimes used to make the filling for the deliciously famous Canadian dessert, the Nanaimo Bar. It is difficult to find custard powder here in the US but, it is readily available on the internet. Custard powder is a good alternative to minimize the amount of cholesterol in a custard, and to ensure everyone at the table can eat it, even if someone who may be allergic to eggs. I thought it would be easier to scan the booklet so you could see the various recipes. (click to enlarge) I have one more recipe I would like to include. I missed Ella Fitzgerald's birthday on April 25th so I thought I would include this recipe for her Old Fashioned Corn Pudding harvested from Harmony In The Kitchen; Favorite Recipes of Musical Celebrities compiled by Maida Glancy and Ettore Stratta; copyright 1979. custard recipecustard recipe

Old Fashioned Corn Pudding, a la Ella Fitzgerald
2-1 lb. cans cream style corn
3 eggs
1 lg can evaporated milk
1-1/2 c. sugar
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cornstarch
Combine milk, eggs, sugar and butter in a bowl. Add cornstarch, vanilla, pinch of salt and mix well. Stir in creamed corn. Add the baking powder, mix well. Pour mixture into a pan that is at least 3 inches deep. Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
Bake pudding 45 minutes to an 1 hour, or until it is firm and golden brown. Serves 6-8.

1. Cornstarch @ wikipedia
2. Cooking with Cornstarch (includes recipes)
3. Gluten Free Recipes
4. Unusual uses for corn starch
5. Household Tips for Cornstarch
6. Recipes Using Cornstarch
7. Question: Pecans or Nanaimo Bars? (this is a previous post of mine with a recipe)
8. Custard Powder (includes recipes)


  1. I really like your use of images of old products.

    I am crazy about old patents, too - isn't Google Patents wonderful? I have a history site as well as Kitchen Retro and have written about patents a little bit there -


  2. Hi Lidian

    Thanks for visiting. Yes, Google patents works for me. I visited your site. It's quite inspiring. I will be back.

  3. nice alternative you have instead of using eggs.


Through this wide opened gate,
none came too early,
none returned too late.

Thanks for dropping in...Louise