Cornstarch and corn flour both come from corn but differ in their nutrient profiles, flavors, and uses.
In the United States, corn flour refers to finely ground powder from whole corn kernels. Meanwhile, cornstarch is a fine powder as well but made only from the starchy part of the corn.
Due to their distinct nutritional contents and processing methods, they have different culinary uses. What’s more, in some parts of the world, the names for each vary.
This article tells you everything you need to know about the differences between cornstarch and corn flour.
How they are processed
Both corn flour and cornstarch are made from corn.
Corn flour is the result of grinding entire corn kernels into a fine powder. Therefore, it contains protein, fiber, starch, and vitamins and minerals found in whole corn. It’s typically yellow.
On the other hand, cornstarch is more refined and made by removing the protein and fiber of the corn kernel, leaving only the starchy center called the endosperm. This is then processed into a white powder.
Here is a comparison of the nutrient contents of 1/4 cup (29 grams) of cornstarch and corn flour:
Nutrient facts of cornstarch
- Calories: 120
- Protein: 0 grams
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbs: 28 grams
- Fiber: 0 grams
Nutrient facts of corn flour
- Calories: 110
- Protein: 3 grams
- Fat: 1.5 grams
- Carbs: 22 grams
- Fiber: 2 grams
In addition to providing more fiber and protein, corn flour contains B vitamins, iron, potassium, magnesium, and several other nutrients.
Cornstarch offers no B vitamins and much smaller amounts of other nutrients, compared with corn flour.
Summary: Corn flour is made by finely grinding whole corn kernels, whereas cornstarch is made just from the starchy part of the corn. As a result, corn flour contains protein, fiber, starch, vitamins, and minerals, whereas cornstarch is mostly carbs.
Similar to corn, corn flour tastes earthy and sweet.
It can be used in addition to or in place of wheat flour in bread, pancakes, waffles, and pastries to add a corn-like taste.
Corn flour is sometimes confused with cornmeal, which in the United States refers to a more coarsely ground flour that’s also made from corn kernels. Cornmeal has a more distinct corn taste compared with corn flour.
In contrast, cornstarch is mostly flavorless, and thus adds texture rather than taste. It’s a bland powder that’s usually used to thicken dishes.
Summary: Corn flour has an earthy, sweet taste similar to whole corn, whereas cornstarch is flavorless.
Confusing naming practices of cornstarch and corn flour
In the United Kingdom, Israel, Ireland, and some other countries, most people refer to cornstarch as corn flour.
Meanwhile, they may refer to corn flour as cornmeal.
Therefore, recipes and cooking instructions originating outside of the United States may call for corn flour cornstarch, or cornmeal when they mean corn flour.
If you’re unsure which product you should use in a recipe, try to figure out the recipe’s country of origin.
Alternatively, see how the corn product is used in the recipe. If it’s intended to be used in a manner similar to that of wheat flour, corn flour is probably your best option.
If the recipe is using the product to thicken a soup or gravy, cornstarch is the better choice.
Summary: Countries outside of the United States, including the United Kingdom, Israel, and Ireland, refer to cornstarch as corn flour and corn flour as cornmeal. If you’re confused about which product is meant for your recipe, see how it’s used to help you decide.
Cornstarch and corn flour are not interchangeable in recipes
Due to their differing nutritional compositions, cornstarch and corn flour cannot be used in the same way in recipes.
Corn flour can be used to make bread, pancakes, biscuits, waffles, and pastries, in addition to or as a substitute for wheat flour. It adds a distinct corn taste and yellow color.
Suggested read: 6 smart tapioca starch substitutes
However, since corn flour does not contain gluten — the main protein in wheat that adds elasticity and strength to bread and baked goods — it may result in a more dense and crumbly product.
Cornstarch is primarily used to thicken soups, stews, sauces, and gravies. To avoid lumps, it should be mixed with a cold liquid before being added to a hot dish.
Since cornstarch is mostly starch and doesn’t contain protein or fat, it cannot be used in the same way as corn flour in baking.
Fried or breaded foods may also contain cornstarch, as it can help provide a crispy finish. Finally, cornstarch is often added to the confectioner’s sugar to prevent clumping.
Summary: Corn flour can be used to make bread and pastries, whereas cornstarch is used as a thickening agent.
Corn flour is a yellow powder made from finely ground, dried corn, while cornstarch is a fine, white powder made from the starchy part of a corn kernel.
Both may go by different names depending on where you live.
Corn flour is used similarly to other flours, whereas cornstarch is mainly used as a thickener.