What is starch?

Starch is a carbohydrate extracted from agricultural raw materials which is widely present in literally thousands of everyday food and non-food applications. It is the most important carbohydrate in the human diet. Because it is renewable and biodegradable it is also a perfect raw material as a substitute for fossil-fuel components in numerous chemical applications such as plastics, detergents, glues etc. For more on the food, feed and industrial uses click here. The starch molecule consists of a large number of glucose units joined by glycosidic bonds. It is produced by all vegetables as an energy store. In Europe it is extracted almost exclusively from potatoes, wheat and maize.

To learn more about starch, take a look at our product factsheet on Starch by clicking on the image below:

The starch-based ingredient categories

Once extracted, pure starch (native starch) is a white tasteless and odourless powder that is insoluble in cold water or alcohol, which is used widely in the food and paper industry primarily for binding and thickening purposes

Pure starch can then be modified by a chemical, physical or enzymatic process to create ‘modified starches’, each offering  differing characteristics and used widely in the food, paper, textile, oil, adhesives, fermentation and pharmaceutical industries. More on modified starches

Through a light hydrolisation, starch is made soluble, and becomes maltodextrins. Maltodextrins are commonly used in sports nutrition, both in the preparation and recovery phases, and is a valuable ingredient in many sports drinks. Moreover, maltodextrins are well suited for infant nutrition as their solubility ensures a lump-free formula for bottle-feeding and gives infant food milk a perfect consistency, while adding almost no sweetness. More on Maltodextrins.

Through a process called hydrolysis, starch is also frequently converted into starch-based sugars. Starch-based sugars are mainly used in the food, beverage and confectionery industries as well as the pharmaceutical and fermentation industries.
More on starch-based sugars

During the starch extraction process, the European starch industry valorises all components of the raw materials, extracting also fibres and plant-based proteins.
More on fibres and plant-based proteins

Starch in 3 minutes

Extraction and processing

From plant to powder

Starch is the glucide reserve of plants. In Europe it is found in maize, wheat and potato from which it is extracted, as well as in many other plants: rice, barley, vegetables, manioc, sweet potato.
The formation of starch in plants is through the process of photosynthesis. This physiological mechanism makes it possible for the plants to produce and store the glucose (elementary sugar) which is necessary for their growth and reproduction.

Initially, the plant assimilates the carbon from the atmosphere and transforms it into glucose, the basic molecule. This is then used for the synthesis of the starch polymers associated with pure glucose.

Like the image of a “pearl necklace”, each plant organises and structures its macromolecules of glucose in a different way, the number of glucose units which can vary from 100 to 20,000 in each polymer. In plants, starch appears as small granules, insoluble in cold water, the size (between 3 and 100 microns) and form vary according to the origin.

The starch industry separates the components of the plant: starch, protein, cellulose envelope, soluble fractions and in the case of maize, the germ from which oil will be extracted. This first phase utilises a series of simple stages of physical separation of the components: crushing, sifting, centrifuging, etc… However the methods of manufacture are specific to each plant and the industrial tools are normally dedicated to a raw material (maize, wheat or potato in Europe). In the second stage, the starch which has been extracted in its purest form, will be used as it is after drying (this is called “native starch”) or it will be further processed, undergoing various transformations aiming either at modifying its performance (“modified starch”) or to obtain sweeteners through the process of hydrolisis.

At the end of the process the starch and derived products are delivered to customer industries in the form of powder (with an appearance similar to that of flour) or of syrups.

The extraction process

Modified Starches

Solving to suit

The properties of starches are well-known, however knowledge continues to progress in the understanding of the physicochemical bases of their application.To bind, thicken, texture, stabilise and gel are some of the traditional functions of starch. Native starches are perfectly suited to a wide variety of applications, food or non-food, where their properties remain irreplaceable. Very early however, it appeared necessary, in some cases, to improve the performance of the starch and to respond to the needs of customers, giving other improved functionality or behaviour: solubility with cold water, more stable viscosity with the variations of temperature, hot fluidity, better stability… The first modified starch dates from the 19th century and other modified starches were since then developed, often in partnership with customer industries, which sought to make starches compatible with their industrial processes. In the food area, the principal modifications aim at adapting the starch to the technological constraints resulting for example from cooking, freezing/thawing, canning or sterilisation and to make them compatible with a modern food (microwavable, instant preparations, ultra high temperatures and so on). One of the objectives common to the majority of these transformations is to limit the natural tendency of starch to be retrogress. During the cooking of soup for example, the native starch is hydrated in contact with water. The starch granules expand and the “viscosity” of the solution increases giving it a particular texture.

The various modifications of starch make it possible to obtain:

  • easier food preparation
  • better conservation of food
  • better stability of food even when heated under severe conditions (preserves for example, to ensure their sterility)

Main technical modifications:

  • Cross Linking is the creation of bridges between the starch chains with specific connections. This process makes it possible to maintain inflated granules and to decrease the loss of viscosity.
  • Substitution gives stabilisation property to starch, mainly during cycles of freezing and thawing. This is thanks to molecules which ensure the repulsion between the starch chains, these cannot recombine. The minimisation of the starch retrogradation is thus ensured.


Supporting specialised nutrition

Maltodextrins are plant-based ingredients used in food, obtained from cereals (maize and wheat) and potatoes. They belong to the Carbohydrates family.

Maltodextrins are white powders, neutral in taste with very little or no sweetness. They have a calorific value of 4 kcal/g (similar to all other carbohydrates)..

Maltodextrins are widely used in food formulations and have been for almost half a century.

Maltodextrins are obtained from starch, through a process that uses water to break down carbohydrates into shorter chains of molecules. In essence, enzymes are added to slightly break down the starch molecules – long chains of bound glucose molecules – into shorter chains of glucose molecules, which are then dried. The reaction is similar to the digestion mechanism in the human body when one eats food containing starch (e.g. in pasta or potatoes) but less complete.

To learn more about maltodextrins, take a look at our product factsheet by clicking on the image below:


Starch-based Sugars and Polyols

A sweet choice of possibilities

The starch molecule consists of a large number of glucose units. Glucose has been essential in the food industry since the 19th century, when Europeans sought to substitute products for cane sugar which was in short supply. The industrial process of starch hydrolysis first appeared in 1811 when German scientist KIRCHOFF discovered that it was possible to give a sweetened character to starch by heating with water and sulphuric acid. Later during the 1960’s enzymatic technologies began to be used in the industry for starch hydrolysis: this interest in enzymes for use in the starch industry has increased significantly. Starch-based sugars meet the demand of sweetening mixtures and bring additional functionality to many sectors (beverages, confectionery, dairy products…), contributing to the texture, colour stability and flavour of the final product, while also remaining economic. For example, glucose syrups are used in confectionery mainly for their anti-crystallizing role, while in brewing they are especially used for their sweetening power. Glucose syrups can adapt, as with the starch from which they result, into a considerable variety of products, each developing specific properties. The hydrolysis -by the important choice of the enzymatic transformation- allows the production of very broad ranges of products with a wide spread of sweetening capacity, texture and taste.

Sugars produced by the starch industry include:

Glucose syrup (term used as a legal designation for labelling purposes)* is a refined, concentrated aqueous solution of glucose, maltose and oligomers of glucose obtained by controlled partial hydrolysis of edible starch. It may contain small amounts of fructose obtained either by conversion of glucose or by hydrolysis of edible inulin.

To learn more about glucose syrup, take a look at our product factsheet on Starch by clicking on the image below:

Glucose-Fructose syrup (term used as a legal designation for labelling purposes)* is a glucose syrup which contains between 5 and 50% fructose on dry matter basis obtained either by conversion of glucose or by hydrolysis of edible inulin.

Glucose-Fructose Syrups was referred to as Isoglucose under the EU sugar regime deriving this name from its production process. It is a fructose produced by isomerisation with enzymes which convert glucose into fructose. Isoglucose is produced from glucose and contains at least 10% fructose. From a labelling perspective, they are either Glucose-Fructose syrups or Fructose-Glucose syrups.

Furthemore, the term High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is used in the US and certain other parts of the world, to refer to Glucose-Fructose syrups of Fructose-Glucose syrups.

To learn more about glucose-fructose syrup, take a look at our product factsheet on Starch by clicking on the image below:

Fructose-glucose syrup (term used as a legal designation for labelling purposes)* is a glucose syrup which contains more than 50% fructose on dry matter basis. The most common type contains 55% fructose, although production within Europe is minimal.

To learn more about fructose-glucose syrup, take a look at our product factsheet on Starch by clicking on the image below:

Dextrose (term used as a legal designation for labelling purposes)* is a purified and crystallised glucose.

Fructose (term used as a legal designation for labelling purposes)* is a purified and crystallised fructose.

*For the terms mentioned above as being used as legal designation, the so-called EU “sugars directive” (Directive 2001/111/EC) provides a definition and specifications.


Benefits to your intestinal health

Polyols are low caloric alternative sweeteners. A number of these are produced using starch as a raw material, including:

  • Sorbitol is purified sorbitol obtained by reduction (hydrogenation) of glucose. Sorbitol is found in fruits such as apples or pears. Sorbitol syrup is formed by reduction of glucose syrup and composed of sorbitol, mannitol and hydrogenated saccharides.
  • Maltitol and maltitol syrup. Likewise, while maltitol is purified amtitol (reduced matose), maltitol syrup is mainly composed of maltitol with sorbitol and hydrogenated oligo- and polysaccharides.
  • Polyglycitol syrup consists mainly of maltitol and sorbitol and lesser amounts of hydrogenated oligo- and polysaccharides and maltrotriitol. It is manufactured by the hydrogenation of a mixture of starch hydrolysates consisting of glucose, maltose and higher glucose oligomers. Similar to the catalytic hydrogenation process used for the manfufacture of maltitol syrup.
  • Mannitol is purified mannitol (reduced mannose) produced by hydrogenation of sugar solutions containing glucose and/or fructose.
  • Erythritol is purified (reduced erythrose, a 4-carbon sugar). It is obtained by fermentation starting from glucose. It is found in fruits such as pears, melons and grapes, as well as foods such as mushrooms and fermentation-derived foods such as wine, soy sauce and cheese.

Plant-based Proteins & Fibres

The Sustainable Future

The European starch industry processes primarily EU-grown maize, wheat and starch potatoes as well as peas, rice and barley, and valorises all the components of the raw materials, to produce a broad range of innovative and traditional products and ingredients, but also fibres and plant-based proteins with a wide scope of functionalities and uses.

In the food market, innovative applications include bakery and specialised nutrition for example in sport nutrition, food for the elderly, plant-based drinks, meat alternatives, hospitals’ clinical diets.

In the specialised feed markets, proteins from the starch industry are used for example in salmon rations, but also in pet foods and calf milk replacements.

Other outlets include animal feed for cattle, pig and poultry feed, for the production of milk, meat, or eggs.

Depending on the raw materials, proteins have specific qualities and uses:

Maize proteins are developed in animal nutrition in 2 forms:

  • purified maize protein or maize gluten

  • with draffs as maize gluten feed

wheat gluten (wheat protein purified) is used:

  • or approximately 20% in animal nutrition
  • and for 80% in human nutrition

proteins of potato are developed in animal nutrition in 2 forms:

  • purified proteins
  • pulps enriched in proteins

Wheat gluten and human consumption:

Rehydrated gently, vital wheat gluten has the capacity to form a continuous extensible and airtight elastic network. It is the only protein with this property, which is called visco-elasticity.

If a flour does not contain enough gluten, the bread breaks down, has little volume, and its crumb is irregular. Millers use either wheat, rich in proteins, or directly gluten in order to improve the quality of baking of flour.

Thanks to its properties of visco-elasticity and binding, gluten also improves resistance in puff and frozen pastries. It ensures good handling, and also cohesion of meat preparations . Wheat proteins offer high nutritional value , and can be used either as a basic ingredient, or combined with other vegetable proteins. A pure and concentrated source of proteins, they form a perfect substrate for hydrolysis in the preparation of soya sauces and vegetable protein hydrolysates.

90% of gluten is used in applications which traditionally employed wheat flour.

Proteins and animal nutrition:

The proteins coming from the starch industry are purified and standardised proteins. They are vegetable proteins with each one having particular characteristics. Thus they are useful, in addition to their nutritional properties, for particular applications within animal nutrition.

Thanks to their good nutritional balance resulting from an excellent distribution of the amino acids, potato proteins are part of the composition of high added value food, intended for calves ( milk substitute), or for piglets.

The specific richness of maize proteins in yellow pigments makes them highly interesting in certain food products (influence on the colour of eggs). They are also increasingly used in dry food for dogs and cats.

Wheat gluten is used both for its nutritional properties (higher digestibility) and as a binder, for the cohesion which it gives particularly in aquatic feed or in meat analogues for pets food.

Hydrolysed protein is used as the first choice source of protein in food for calves and piglets.

To learn more about the plant-based proteins from the European starch industry, take a look at our dedicated product factsheet by clicking on the image below:

The uses of starch