History of Research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Agricultural Research Service
Starch That Slurps
Starch is the main constituent of grain flours, and the most plentiful starch is cornstarch. Although most of the products from corn milling go into food and feed, 4.5 billion pounds of starch are annually produced, largely for nonfood purposes. Of this amount, 3.5 billion pounds are used in the paperboard, paper, and related industries, where starch serves both as an adhesive and a coating.
And new uses for cornstarch continue to surprise us. For example, when ARS scientists married starch to a synthetic chemical, they managed to create a product so thirsty, it could absorb hundreds of times its own weight in water. Someone called it SuperSlurper, and the name stuck.
After patents were secured in 1976, SuperSlurper started popping up all over the marketplace. The absorbent compound, which can slurp up to 2,000 times its weight in water, is used as an electrical conductor in batteries. You can find it in fuel filters, baby powders, and wound dressings. Compounds very much like it are now used in disposable diapers and sanitary napkins.
"Starch That Slurps" was published in Science in Your Shopping Cart.
Send comments or questions about this historical timeline to Sean Adams.