What is Pre-gel Starch?
Pre-gelatinized starch is a cooked and dried form of the carbohydrate found in most plants. Originally extracted from corn, potatoes or wheat, the powder that results from the cooking process swells immediately in cold water.
Also known as pre-gelled starch or cold-water swelling starch, this product is commonly used in one or two step mixing bakery methods, useful for its quick-thickening properties without the need for heat, while increasing viscosity. Pre-gel can also help with moisture retention and freeze-thaw stability.1
Starch has been used for thousands of years, although it’s first uses were not food related. The ancient Egyptians used a starch glue to stick papyrus together and the Romans extracted it from grain around 170 B.C. The first recorded discovery was in 1804, by French chemist Bouillon Lagrange. A few years later, Russian chemist Gottlieb Kirchhoff found potato starch could produce sugar by an acid hydrolysis, the beginning of modified starches.
Wheat was the main source of starch through the 18th century, before potatoes and maize became more widespread. When dry and processed foods began to take off in the 1940s, the demand for starch increased. It also created a greater need for modified starch to meet specific needs across the food industry.2
Wheat starch is produced by a series of washing steps, based on the gluten matrix that is form when wheat flour is hydrated.
To make pregel wheat starch the starch is cooked, as an example on a drum dryer. No alcohol is used.
Maize, potato, tapioca, wheat, rice and arrowroot are the most common sources of starch. The carbohydrate is separated by a grinding and sifting process, and finally dried into a powder form.
Wheat starch is produced by a series of washing steps.
To manufacture pre-gel starch, the starch powder is heated in an alcohol-water solution. Depending on the desired outcomes of the modified starch, different levels of alcohol and heating temperatures or times are used. This causes the starch crystals to melt. The solution is then drained and the pre-gel is dried into powder. The process allows the starch granules to swell when mixed with cold water.2
Pre-gel starches are sold in powder form and can be added to any temperature of liquid during mixing. However, they work best in cold water. Much like an instant starch, pre-gels are ideal for one or two step mixing methods because of their quick gelatinization point. Pre-gels are also designed to gel without the need of high temperatures.3
Adding pre-gel starch to a product will increase its viscosity, and can help included ingredients like raisins stay suspended during the baking step. It will also add moisture and help with the tenderness of the product. Pre-gel starch can be used to build structure and hold water in baked goods, helping with crumb structure and dough strengthener.4
Pre-gel is certified as GRAS by the FDA. There are limits on the amount that can be used in food and it must be labeled as “food starch-modified” on products. The FDA regulates any modified starch under the Food Additives Amendment. Click here for a full list of requirements and specifications.
- Wang, Guanqing, Yan Hong, and Zhengbiao Gu. “Effect of NaCl Addition on the Freeze-thaw Stability of Tapioca Starch Gels.” Starch – Stärke 67.7-8 (2015): 604-11.
- BeMiller, James N., and Roy Lester. Whistler. Starch: Chemistry and Technology. London: Academic, 2009.
- Majzoobi, Mahsa, Zahra Kaveh, and Asgar Farahnaky. “Effect of Acetic Acid on Physical Properties of Pregelatinized Wheat and Corn Starch Gels.”Food Chemistry 196 (2016): 720-25.
- Witczak, Mariusz, Lesław Juszczak, Rafał Ziobro, and Jarosław Korus. “Influence of Modified Starches on Properties of Gluten-free Dough and Bread. Part I: Rheological and Thermal Properties of Gluten-free Dough.” Food Hydrocolloids 28.2 (2012): 353-60.