There are several recommended thickeners for pie filling. There are recipes that use corn starch or flour. We have not seen these recipes recommended by the USDA Extension Services either for issues of quality or safety. The thickener in the USDA pie filling recipes, which have been developed by professionals for the home canner is Clearjel, a cook-up modified food starch made from waxy maize. Thickgel is a similar starch, and over twenty-five years of experience has indicated that it provides a product that is more stable than Clearjel over longterm storage. It is also more tolerant of cold conditions, making it the clear choice for frozen fruit pies. But either will produce a lovely glossy pie filling with a clear color.
If you only want to own one type of modified food starch, though, Ultra Gel is the clear choice for versatility. Pie fillings made with Ultra Gel have the same qualities as those made with the cook-up thickeners and store well. The only issue is that because Ultra Gel is an “instant” starch, it thickens before the cooked mixture gets to the boiling point, making stirring a chore and increasing the chance of scorching.
Whichever thickener you choose to use, be sure to use the recipe and method developed specifically for it—instant thickeners and cook-up thickeners use different proportions in products!
UltraGel and ThickGel are produced from corn and are naturally gluten free. Many of our customers with Celiac's disease or gluten intolerance appreciate UltraGel's ability to replace flour or other gluten-based thickeners in favorite dishes.
Ultra Gel is made from a special type of corn called waxy maize. This special type of corn is hydrated and then dehydrated to form fluffy granules which rehydrate quickly and easily. Hence, it is called an instant thickener because it does not require cooking to thicken. Thick Gel is also made only from a special type of corn but it must be cooked to thicken. Neither thickener has any other ingredients.
Neither Ultra Gel nor Thick Gel will add any discernable taste to the foods you use it in. They will dissolve into the food colorless and clear. It should be remembered that if a thickener is used in place of flour, the flavor may be different as a consequence of removing the flour (flour does add a flavor).
Ultra Gel and Thick Gel are both modified food starches; however, there are a few key differences. The most important difference is that Thick Gel will not begin to thicken until it reaches a boiling temperature. Ultra Gel, however, will begin thickening as soon as it's added.
Thick Gel will thicken more solidly than Ultra Gel. Ultra Gel thickened foods will remain pourable.
Thickgel looks like traditional cornstarch. Ultra Gel is granular and looks a little like a very fine instant dry milk. While Ultra Gel can be compared to something slightly finer than powdered milk, Thick Gel's consistency is more similar to standard corn starch.
Since both Ultra Gel and Thick Gel are powders, they have a very long shelf life. They are both prone to absorbing moisture from the air, so it is important to keep them in sealed containers. So long as they are kept dry, they will last for at least two years.
If added too quickly to a food, Ultra Gel may form clumps. Ultra Gel disperses best in a cool liquid. For best results, sprinkle Ultra Gel into your liquid while stirring with a wire whisk before the liquid is boiling.
If lumps do form, just keep stirring, and the lumps will usually stir out. Next time add it a little slower.
Ultra Gel is highly flexible. If something isn't thick enough, just sprinkle a little more in. If something is too thick, simply add more liquid. Start with 2 tablespoons or Ultra Gel per cup of liquid for a gravy-like consistency.
Thick Gel can be used in equal proportions to cornstarch. For example, if a recipe calls for one tablespoon of cornstarch, simply substitute one tablespoon of Thick Gel.
Some thickeners need to be mixed with sugar or another dry ingredient in order to mix in smoothly. Ultra Gel can be added directly to a cold or hot liquid. Just sprinkle it in gradually while stirring with a wire whisk. Don't add it too quickly!
Starches such as Ultra Gel are very sensitive to an enzyme in saliva. Tasting from a spoon and returning it to the food will contaminate the food with this enzyme. In time (usually an hour or two), this enzyme will break down the starch causing the food to become runny. After this has happened, no amount of starch will cause the food to thicken again. Instant puddings and baby foods containing starches exhibit similar behavior.
Learn to taste by spooning your food onto a tasting utensil. Don't put this tasting utensil in the food. This will keep the enzymes out of the food. It's a lot more sanitary, too.