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Starches as Thickening Agents
The great French chef and teacher August Escoffier claimed that sauces were responsible for the preeminence of French cuisine. Escoffier was usually right, but here he failed to lay all the credit where it belonged. The great French sauces of which Escoffier spoke are inconceivable without different types of starches to thicken them. Starches such as corn starch and flour are obtained from the seeds of a plant. Other starches, such as potato starch and arrowroot, are obtained from the roots of a plant.
Chemically, starches are little more than chains of sugar molecules strung together. This is a convenient way for a plant to store energy. It is no accident that these are stored in seeds and roots, because these are where energy is most needed. Starches in seeds supply the energy for germination; they continue supplying energy until the first leaves emerge and photosynthesis begins. Likewise, energy is needed in the roots for the roots to grow and transport fluids. Plants generally have a mixture of two different types of starches. Amylose is a straight chain of sugar molecules. Amylose pectin is a branched chain of sugar molecules. When you look at a starch, you are really seeing millions of these molecules packed together in discrete granules. The proportion of these different molecules in a plant differs in different species.
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