Starch Through The Ages

isa

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The Greeks knew who discovered how to separate starch for cooking -- they did. Or to be more specific, the people of the Greek island of Khios, off the coast of present-day Turkey. That formula was followed with scarcely any change throughout the Middle Ages: Cover whole wheat with water for a week and a half, changing it regularly, and when it has softened, crush it, strain it and dry the starch for later use.

What impressed the Greeks about starch was that it didn't need grinding the way flour does; the Greek word for it is "amylon," which literally means "not milled." They probably thought of starch as a sort of pudding, because a related word, "amylos," means wheat slowly simmered until the hulls soften. (Amylos might sound like a simple-minded dish, but it was honored in the Middle Ages under the name "frumenty," and clear into the 19th century frumenty was a regular side dish at European banquets.)

The Romans had a more modern attitude toward starch. They used amulum for thickening sauces, as medieval European cooks continued to do. Cooks also have thickened pie fillings with starch since the Renaissance.

In the Middle East, there was a quite different approach. The Persians had devised a way of separating starch from flour, rather than from whole wheat. You kneaded dough, then kneaded it again under water until the starch washed out and there was nothing left but the chewy gluten, which you threw away. Middle Eastern cooks used the starch either in this liquid form ("malban") or dried ("nishasta": literally, "what settles"). They valued it for making puddings and sweetmeats similar to Turkish delight.

The Chinese prefer New World sources of starch such as corn, manioc and arrowroot for thickening sauces, but earlier they probably used wheat starch made by the Persian method. They know all about kneading dough under water, only they don't throw away the gluten. They call it "mianjin" ("the muscles of the wheat") and make vegetarian "pork" and "chicken" products out of it.




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What impressed the Greeks about starch was that it didn't need grinding the way flour does; the Greek word for it is "amylon," which literally means "not milled." They probably thought of starch as a sort of pudding, because a related word, "amylos," means wheat slowly simmered until the hulls soften.
That's interesting, I was just reading about amylose... "Two basic types of polymers are present in most starches—amylose and amylopectin".

"Starch is made of about 70% amylopectin by weight, though it varies depending on the source..."

"Since high amylose starch [with more than 50% amylose] is very resistant to swelling, temperatures of 320°F are necessary in cooking confections in which it is an ingredient".

So then, what does amylopectin have in common with pectin? They are both hydrocolloids, and in combination they can be synergistic in thickening fluid...

Also, according to The Cambridge World History of Food, palm starch may have been around since the stone age: "Sago is an edible starch derived from the pith of a variety of sago palms... Neolithic and Mesolithic artifacts found in insular Southeast Asia included tools used in sago praparation".


A Popular cyclopedia of modern domestic medicine (1849...) refers to making Sago into a farinaceous mucilage for the sick (which was thinner than the Papeda, pictured, although to this day fluids that thick may be made with starch for people who have difficulty swallowing, and the water in thickened fluids remains mostly bioavailable for hydration, although it may not quench the thirst, because the physical response to that is related to consuming thin fluids, not to being hydrated artificially; therefore, treatment with thickened fluids is typically done with the thinnest mixture that will work, especially since thickened fluids can also interfere with oral medications). By the way, Farinaceous means "made from, or rich in, starch or flour". Another f-word, fecula, is a "starchy sediment extracted from plants, especially those which are used as food".
 
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