Is Modified Food Starch Gluten-Free?

If you have decided to follow a gluten-free diet, figuring out which products contain gluten and which don't can be very challenging. One of the most confusing ingredients to decipher is starch, which can be derived from a variety of plant sources, including rice, corn, and the forbidden wheat. With a few simple tips, however, you can successfully navigate starches to remain gluten free.

What is Food Starch?

Starch is the name given to long repeating chains of glucose found in many plants, such as corn, rice, potato, wheat and arrowroot. Starch is collected from these plant sources and used in a variety of foods to improve texture. The plant source of starch on an ingredients list is not always clear, and this can cause a lot of confusion when you are trying to follow a gluten free diet.

What Is Starch on a Food Label?

When it comes to food labels, the Food and Drug Administration has guidelines to help consumers figure out what kind of starch is in a product. According to the FDA compliance policy guide 578.100, the word "starch" on a food label is cornstarch by default. Any other starch source must be clearly indicated by describing the source, for instance "potato starch" or "arrowroot starch."

Exceptions to the Rule

While the FDA regulates most food and drug items, there are some common items that are not subject to this handy FDA starch convention. Meat and poultry products are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA, and the rules are not exactly the same. The USDA states that most of their starches are labeled with the specific starch type -- corn starch, for instance. However, if the ingredient is listed only as starch it is not guaranteed to be a corn source.

What About Modified Food Starch?

Modified food starch is starch that has been treated with an acid or another chemical to change the protein structure of the starch. This process should alter the structure of the starch molecules, making even wheat sources unlikely to cause a reaction in those with gluten sensitivity. Moreover, The Food Allergen Act of 2006 requires wheat sources to be indicated in food labels, so wheat-sourced modified food starch should be clearly listed, similar to regular food starch.

Guidelines for Sticking to Gluten Free Starch

Staying gluten-free can be straightforward when it comes to food starch. For products regulated by the FDA, starch either means cornstarch or the source is clearly indicated. For other items, it is probably safest to stick to those items where the starch is clearly defined, because there is still a small chance that "starch" means wheat starch.