The culinary world has produced so many duos of ingredients: heavy cream and half-and-half, butter and shortening, breadcrumbs and crackers. But today, we are breaking down the differences and ways to use flour (starch made from wheat) and cornstarch (starch made from corn). Both are commonly used in thickening sauces, frying foods, and in baking, but what are the differences between them?


soup, tomato
Adeena Zeldin

Both flour and cornstarch are bomb ingredients for thickening sauces. Cornstarch lacks a taste and, when added to a sauce, it'll create a glossy appearance while thickening. You also need less of the ingredient; when using cornstarch, use half of the amount you would use for flour. For example, for 2 tablespoons of flour, you'd use 1 tablespoon of cornstarch.

If, by chance, your sauce has an acidic or vinegar taste, it's best to use flour to tone down the acid. Flour also works best if your sauce is based with a fat; if your recipe calls for butter to start with, use flour to thicken.


meat, chicken, fried calamari, onion rings
Caroline Liu

Both flour and cornstarch will fry foods, but they do have slight differences. Flour will do just fine as a breading, but it won't get as golden and it doesn't quite achieve that coveted crispiness. Many recipes—e.g., fried chicken—will call for a 50-50 amount of flour and cornstarch to achieve ultimate crisp.

Using cornstarch to fry foods, however, will get you the golden color and extreme crunchiness. This is because cornstarch is almost completely starch whereas flour has a lower starch content because it also has gluten. Some recipes might even use only cornstarch to ensure the food gets ultimate crisp status.


pie, pastry, sweet, apple pie, bread, cake, cookie
Jocelyn Hsu

Flour and cornstarch are both common ingredients in baking. Both can thicken pie fillings, but they can also be used to adjust the texture of baked goods. Primarily, cornstarch is often used along with flour to "soften" the flour, resulting in nice crumbs without the goods totally falling apart.

Another differences in their uses—flour tends to be the go-to dry ingredient in most baking. Cornstarch, however, can be substituted to make a baked good gluten-free! Just be sure to use less, as the two ingredients absorb liquid in different amounts.

dumpling, gyoza, ravioli, dough, pork, meat
Naomi Hoffner

Flour and cornstarch are the brother and sister in thickening, frying, and baking, but they each have their little differences and tricks. They are super easy to substitute when need be, or if you want the dish to be more crispy or tender. Depending on how you want the dish to turn out, try using one or the other. Don't be afraid to experiment!