A collection of experiments that demonstrate chemical concepts and processes.
In partnership with

Detecting starch in food

Class practical

A microscale experiment for qualitatively testing different foodstuffs for the presence of starch.  Iodine is produced in situ, and forms a blue-black coloured complex with any starch present.

Lesson organisation

A quick and easy class experiment. It should be possible to test a range of foodstuffs in about 10 minutes.


Sodium chlorate(I) solution, 5% w/v of available chlorine (IRRITANT), 10 cm3

Potassium iodide crystals, allow 5-10 small crystals per group

A range of foodstuffs, broken into small pieces, to include both starchy and non-starch containing foods 

Refer to Health & Safety and Technical notes section below for additional information.


Eye protection

Each working group needs:

Clear plastic film (e.g. acetate sheet as used for an overhead projector)

Forceps (for handling foodstuffs)

Paper towels

Health & Safety and Technical notes

Read our standard health & safety guidance

Wear eye protection. 

Sodium chlorate(I) solution (sodium hypochlorite), NaOCl(aq), (IRRITANT at concentration used) - see CLEAPSS Hazcard. Note this is NOT sodium chlorate(V), NaClO3. Sodium chlorate(I) solution can be purchased as such from chemical suppliers. However domestic chlorine-containing bleach solution is quite adequate for this experiment, preferably a cheap brand containing no added detergent or perfumes. Household ‘bleaches’ based on peroxide are becoming more widely available and do not contain chlorine; they should therefore not be used. The sodium chlorate(I) solution should be provided in such a way that students can add a single drop using a plastic dropping pipette. Plastic dropper bottles of capacity 30 cm3 - 60 cm3would be suitable for this purpose.

Potassium iodide crystals, KI(s) -  see CLEAPSS Hazcard.

Suggestions for foodstuffs for testing:

Strachy foods non-starchy foods
pasta mushrooms
bread apple
cereal, e.g. porridge oats cooked chicken
potato cheese


It is worth pre-testing the foodstuffs to check that they test correctly – that is, the starchy foods contain enough free starch to give a clear positive test, and the non-starchy foods have not been contaminated by starch-containing material. Note that the amount of free starch present in some uncooked foods may be small, and the test may work more reliably on cooked food.

a Place a small piece of each of the foods to be tested on the plastic sheet.

b Place a small potassium iodide crystal on top of the piece of food.

c Add one drop of bleach solution (sodium chlorate(I) solution) and allow it to run over both crystal and food.

d If an intense blue-black colour is seen, the food contains starch.

e Clean the plastic sheet with a moistened paper towel.


Teaching notes

The chlorine available from the bleach solution reacts with potassium iodide to form potassium chloride and iodine. The iodine then forms an intense blue-black coloured complex with any starch present. If starch is not present, only the brown colour of iodine in the presence of iodide ions will be seen. The nature of the coloured complex is beyond the level of the students, but note that it is an unstable substance from which the iodine can be easily removed by, for example, sodium thiosulfate.

Each group can be allocated a selection from the range of available foodstuffs, perhaps two starchy foods, and two non-starchy. The class results can then be pooled.

Health & Safety checked April 2008



University of Regensburg (with English language version available) performs the test on a much larger scale, and with a different procedure. However it does explain the nature of the blue-black complex, and also shows a short video of their procedure.


Page last updated on 23 July 2012