What does cornstarch do in taffy?

Taffy is a type of chewy candy made by boiling sugar syrup to the soft ball stage and then pulling and stretching it until it becomes an aerated confection with a smooth, pliable texture. One of the key ingredients used in making taffy is cornstarch. Cornstarch plays several important roles in taffy recipes:

It acts as a thickener. When cornstarch is added to the boiling sugar syrup, it helps increase the viscosity and makes the syrup thicker. This helps prevent the taffy from becoming too thin and sticky.

It creates a smooth texture. As the taffy is pulled and stretched, the cornstarch particles get dispersed throughout the candy. This results in a smooth, silky mouthfeel. Without cornstarch, the taffy would have a stickier, gluey texture.

It stabilizes the proteins. Taffy recipes often call for the addition of milk, cream or butter. Cornstarch binds with the dairy proteins and prevents them from coagulating or clumping during cooking. This results in a smooth, uniform taffy.

It prevents crystallization. Boiled sugar syrup has a tendency to recrystallize as it cools. Adding cornstarch interferes with the formation of sugar crystals and ensures the taffy remains smooth and glassy.

It absorbs moisture. Cornstarch has moisture-wicking properties. As taffy rests, any weeping or moisture on the surface gets absorbed by the cornstarch, preventing the taffy from getting sticky.

It aids stretching. The smooth texture provided by cornstarch enables the taffy to be pulled and stretched repeatedly without breaking apart. This is essential for creating the classic chewy, aerated texture of taffy.

So in summary, cornstarch is a versatile ingredient that allows taffy to be boiled to the correct temperature and moisture levels, creates the signature smooth and silky mouthfeel, and facilitates stretching the hot candy into an airy confection with a long shelf life. Taffy made without cornstarch would lack the correct texture and quality.

The Science Behind How Cornstarch Thickens Taffy

To understand how cornstarch thickens taffy, we need to look at its chemical composition. Cornstarch is made from the starchy endosperm of corn kernels. It consists mostly of carbohydrates:

  • Amylose – 20-30%: A linear polymer made of glucose molecules bonded together.
  • Amylopectin – 70-80%: A branched polymer made of clustered glucose molecules.

When cornstarch is mixed with water and heated, the amylose and amylopectin absorb water and swell up. The swollen starch granules leach out into the surrounding liquid and increase the viscosity of the mixture.

This process is called gelatinization. During gelatinization, the intermolecular forces between adjacent glucose chains are disrupted by the water molecules. This allows the starch polymers to unwind, hydrate and disperse more freely throughout the liquid.

In taffy recipes, cornstarch is added to the boiling sugar syrup. As the starch granules swell up, they increase the thickness and density of the syrup. This prevents the taffy from spreading too thin.

The thickened syrup is then cooled and pulled. The mechanical action of pulling continues to disrupt the starch granules, further enhancing thickening. Pulling also aligns the unravelled amylose polymers, allowing them to form a network that adds body to the taffy.

Additionally, amylopectin has a higher molecular weight than amylose and forms even more extensive polymer networks. This significantly increases the viscosity of any liquid.

So in taffy, the combination of amylose and amylopectin interactions allows cornstarch to thicken the syrup while hot and continue modifying texture during cooling and pulling. This results in taffy with just the right chewy, supple consistency.

Ideal Cornstarch Concentration for Taffy Recipes

When formulating taffy recipes, the cornstarch concentration should be optimized to provide the desired texture without compromising quality:

Too little cornstarch – The taffy will be excessively sticky and difficult to handle. It can also crystalize faster.

Too much cornstarch – The taffy will be dry and brittle. It can also have a chalky taste.

Most taffy recipes use 1-2 tablespoons of cornstarch per 1 cup of sugar. The exact amount can vary based on:

  • Sugar concentration in the syrup – Higher sugar levels require more cornstarch to achieve the correct thickness.
  • Presence of other thickeners – Recipes with glucose syrup may need less cornstarch.
  • Added fats or dairy – Fats like butter or cream can impact thickening power.
  • Cooking process – Higher heat for longer time hydrates more starch and increases thickness.

The concentration also needs to be balanced with the amount of pulling the taffy will undergo. Insufficient pulling can result in a dense, chewy taffy even with the right cornstarch levels.

Comparing various taffy recipes reveals a cornstarch range of about 0.5-2% by weight relative to the sugar. The exact amount can be tweaked based on the factors above to achieve ideal taffy consistency.

Step-by-Step Use of Cornstarch in Basic Taffy Recipe

To see how cornstarch helps achieve the perfect taffy texture, let’s go through a step-by-step basic taffy recipe:


  • 2 cups white sugar
  • 1⁄2 cup light corn syrup
  • 1⁄4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • Few drops food coloring (optional)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract


  1. Grease a baking pan and set aside.
  2. In a heavy saucepan, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, water and cornstarch. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture comes to a boil.
  3. Once boiling, stop stirring and cook until temperature reaches 250°F on a candy thermometer. This is the firm ball stage.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in butter and food coloring until combined.
  5. Cool slightly and add vanilla. Stir vigorously for 1-2 minutes to cool down further.
  6. Grease hands and start pulling and folding the taffy until it becomes opaque, lighter in color and difficult to pull. This takes 10-15 minutes. The cornstarch will get fully hydrated during pulling.
  7. Pull the taffy into a long rope and use scissors to cut into 1-inch pieces. Wrap each piece in wax paper.
  8. Let taffy pieces rest unwrapped at room temperature overnight to allow any moisture to evaporate.
  9. Wrap again in wax paper and store in an airtight container.

In this recipe, the cornstarch thickens the boiling syrup to the right consistency that can then be pulled into taffy. The added butter and vanilla are evenly incorporated due to the viscosity provided by the cornstarch. Pulling aerates the taffy and distributes the hydrated cornstarch throughout giving a smooth texture. Letting the pieces rest allows excess moisture to evaporate so the taffy doesn’t get sticky.

How Cornstarch Differs from Flour in Taffy

Both cornstarch and wheat flour are used as thickening agents in cooking. But when it comes to taffy, cornstarch has some advantages:

  • Texture – Cornstarch gives taffy a smooth, short bite. Flour can lend a gluey or gummy texture.
  • Flavor – Cornstarch has a neutral taste that doesn’t alter taffy flavor. Flour can impart a wheaty off-note.
  • Protein content – Flour contains gluten protein that can make taffy tough. Cornstarch has negligible protein.
  • Gelatinization temperature – Cornstarch thickens at lower temperatures and during pulling. Flour needs more heat to thicken.
  • Moisture absorption – Cornstarch has superior ability to absorb moisture on the surface of cooled taffy.

Additionally, the fine particle size of cornstarch disperses more seamlessly compared to flour. Overall, cornstarch results in a smoother, shorter, more glassy taffy with a less detectable flavor. Flour works better in baked goods where its protein contributes structure. In taffy, cornstarch is the preferred thickener.

Variations in Ingredients to Alter Taffy Texture

The ingredients used in taffy can be tweaked to create different textural effects:

Sugar – The type of sugar affects clarity, crispness and crystallization speed. White sugar gives clear, glassy taffy. Brown sugar creates opaque taffy with a softer bite. Granulated white sugar makes a crisper taffy compared to powdered sugar.

Corn syrup – This inhibits crystallization and makes taffy softer and chewier. More corn syrup = taffier taffy. Dark corn syrup also contributes caramelized flavor.

Fats – Butter, oil or marshmallows result in a softer, fluffier taffy. Margarine retains more moisture for a taffier chew. Too much fat can prevent taffy from setting up.

Flavors – Cream, citrus oils, fruits, nuts, chocolate, honey, maple and extracts can be added for flavor. More liquidy add-ins make taffy softer.

Acids – A bit of lemon juice or vinegar lowers pH, delays crystallization and enhances chewiness. Too much makes taffy oily.

Salt – A pinch of salt balances sweetness and flavor. It can also enhance mouthfeel.

Thickeners – More cornstarch makes taffy firmer and resistant to sticking. Gelatin, gum arabic or glycerin can make taffy more elastic.

So the possibilities are endless for customizing texture! Just keep the sugar-to-corn ratio balanced and remember – too many add-ins can prevent proper thickening.

Making Taffy Without Cornstarch

Although not ideal, it is possible to make taffy without using cornstarch:

  • Use flour – Replace cornstarch with 2-3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour per cup of sugar. May impart wheaty flavor.
  • Increase cooking time – Boil the syrup for longer to evaporate more moisture and concentrate sugars.
  • Add marshmallows – Melted marshmallows act as a thickener and stabilizer.
  • Increase cream or butter – Higher fat content improves chewiness.
  • Add gelatin – About 1 teaspoon of gelatin bloomed in water per batch helps bind taffy.
  • Cool completely before pulling – This allows sugars to crystallize and set the taffy.
  • Pull vigorously – The extra mechanical action develops chewiness with less cornstarch.
  • Use vinegar – A tablespoon of white vinegar lowers pH and enhances texture.

However, the result will not have the same smooth, glassy quality as cornstarch-thickened taffy. It may also crystallize faster during storage without cornstarch to stabilize it.

For best texture and stability, cornstarch cannot really be replaced in taffy recipes. But in a pinch, these tweaks can help compensate for the lack of cornstarch.

Troubleshooting Taffy Texture

Here are some common problems that can arise with taffy texture and how to fix them:

Problem: Taffy is too soft and sticky


– Cook to higher temperature
– Increase cornstarch amount
– Cool taffy before pulling
– Pull taffy longer to oxidize it
– Let it rest uncovered to dry out excess moisture

Problem: Taffy is too hard and brittle


– Add more corn syrup to recipe
– Lower cooking temperature
– Reduce cornstarch amount
– Add butter, oil or cream to soften
– Increase pulling time to warm and soften taffy

Problem: Taffy pulls into thin strands rather than a cohesive mass


– Cook to higher temperature
– Add more cornstarch to thicken further
– Pull taffy less to avoid over-aerating
– Fold in extra cornstarch after cooking if taffy won’t come together

Problem: Taffy crystallizes and sugars start to separate


– Add corn syrup to prevent crystallization
– Cook to higher temperature
– Use powdered sugar instead of granulated
– Add a teaspoon of lemon juice or vinegar

With some trial and error, you can learn how to tweak the recipe and process to get perfect taffy texture every time!


Cornstarch is clearly an indispensable ingredient in taffy making. It acts as a thickener and moisture stabilizer to achieve the distinctive chewy-but-not-sticky taffy texture. While it is possible to make taffy without cornstarch, the resulting confection will lack the smooth, supple and glassy quality that well-made taffy is known for. Mastering the ideal cornstarch concentration and cooking steps allows candy makers to craft the perfect bite. Whether enjoyed plain or flavored, proper use of cornstarch elevates humble taffy into a delightful and nuanced candy experience.

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