We get a lot of questions in to the Cornaby’s Kitchens about the products that we sell. I try not to harp on that too much here, mostly just showing great recipes some of which feature our products, but I did want to address the Ultra Gel versus Thick Gel question, especially as canning season is upon us.
Soo…we’ll talk a little about family trees. Many people, especially canners, have heard of a product called Clear Jel or Clear Jel A, this is also sometimes sold as Sure Gel or other instant mixes. Here at Cornaby’s when we started working with starches, almost 20 years ago, we started with these two products. We found that they had distinct benefits over traditional corn starch, tapioca and flour, but there were still things we found frustrating. Clear Jel lumps at the drop of a hat and for many people there is an odd flavor and odd coloring that goes with these products. Given our frustrations we went back to the drawing board and entered a development phase working with starch suppliers and manufacturers to come up with a new pair of starch products: Thick Gel and Ultra Gel.
These two starches are basically twins. They are made from the same corn, a non GMO waxie maize, but like all families they have very different personalities.
Thick Gel is the traditionalist sibling, working in similar ways to standard corn starch. It requires heat to thicken and working best if mixed with liquid or other dry ingredients before being added. However, Thick Gel is the superstar of heated starches as it can take high acid or low acid applications and can be safely canned (USDA approved) or frozen without loss of quality. When you put a Thick Gel gravy in the fridge it sets at a gentle gel which doesn’t dry out or separate, and Thick Gel salsa only has to be brought up to about 180 to be hot enough to activate the thickening in the starch so the vegetables are not boiled to mush.
Ultra Gel is the rebel child, who went and got a fancy car…or at least a fancy mode of disbursement. Ultra Gel is an instant starch which can be added directly to any liquid, hot or cold, and will thicken as it’s stirred in. Like Thick Gel Ultra Gel handles high and low acids, canning, freezing and refrigeration without loss of quality or change of flavor. It measures a little differently however because Ultra Gel is very fluffy. If you are measuring by weight, then Ultra Gel to corn starch or flour is the same, by volume you’ll need 1.5-2 times as much Ultra Gel to get the same thickening.
So both starches provide amazing quality, hold, safety and convenience. They are also both completely gluten-free, and vegan friendly as they contain nothing besides corn. They are diet friendly for everyone as being able to use a better starch can help to remove high calorie thickening options and lower carb and calorie counts.
Oh? Why would you choose one twin over the other? To be honest it comes down to price. Thick Gel costs about five bucks a pound and Ultra Gel costs around seven bucks a pound (if purchased in standard containers. We have bulk options that drop prices for either starch, but even in bulk one is cheaper than the other. 🙂 ) Sooo…in my kitchen if I’m going to cook a product anyway, or if I’m cooking in bulk like I do for pie fillings, salsas and other canning products I use Thick Gel. For my every day, I need thickening power now Captain, moments I pull out my Ultra Gel and go to town.
Soo…does this mean there is no place in my kitchen for using other thickeners? Well…almost… I admit I’ll use flour in a roux for some meals, but I always finish these dishes off with Ultra Gel, so I get the holding power of Ultra Gel and the flavor of the flour. If I want a VERY stiff hold on something and I’m going to serve immediately I’ll use a little geletin or traditional cornstarch, but this happens once in a blue moon.
My husband calls these products ‘kitchen crack’… I just call them a path to making things yummy, convenient and making them last.