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Difference Between Starch and Cellulose

Last updated date: 17th Apr 2024
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How do Starch and Cellulose Differ?

In a quaint cafe, I found myself engrossed in a conversation with a friend over a steaming cup of coffee. As we delved into the realm of nutrition, a question arose: why can't humans digest the cellulose found in plant-based foods? This intriguing inquiry led us to explore the fascinating world of starch and cellulose. Starch, the energy reservoir of plants, and cellulose, the sturdy building block of plant cell walls, hold secrets that shape our understanding of carbohydrates. In this brief journey, we will unravel the disparity between these two polysaccharides, study the difference between starch and cellulose and shed light on their roles in our daily lives.

Explain Starch and Cellulose


Starch:  Starch is a complex carbohydrate made up of glucose units linked together in long chains. It serves as a primary energy storage molecule in plants, providing a readily available source of fuel. Plants synthesise and store starch in various parts, including seeds, roots, and tubers. Starch can be found in a wide range of plant-based foods, such as grains (like wheat, rice, and corn), potatoes, legumes (such as beans and lentils), and starchy vegetables. In the process of digestion, enzymes break down starch into individual glucose molecules, which can be absorbed and utilised as an energy source by animals and humans.

Cellulose: Cellulose is a polysaccharide composed of glucose units. However, unlike starch, cellulose forms a long, linear chain with each glucose unit linked together through β-1,4-glycosidic bonds. This structural arrangement results in cellulose molecules being tightly packed and insoluble in water. Cellulose is the main component of plant cell walls and provides strength, rigidity, and support to plant cells. It is crucial for maintaining the overall structure and shape of plant tissues. Due to its abundance and resistance to digestion by most animals, cellulose is commonly referred to as dietary fibre, which aids in maintaining a healthy digestive system and promoting bowel regularity.

What are Starch and Cellulose? 

Interesting facts:

Starch: Starch can be classified into two forms - amylose and amylopectin. Amylose is a linear chain of glucose units, while amylopectin is highly branched. Starch is the primary source of energy for humans and animals.

Cellulose: Humans lack the enzyme necessary to digest cellulose, so it passes through the digestive system as dietary fibre. However, some animals like cows and termites can digest cellulose with the help of specialised microorganisms.

Difference between Starch and Cellulose:







Helical arrangement of glucose units.

The linear arrangement of glucose units with hydrogen bonds between chains.



Energy storage in plants.

Structural support in plant cells.



Easily digested by humans and animals.

Indigestible in humans.



Soluble in hot water, forms a gel-like substance.

Insoluble in water.



Food, paper, and textile industries.

Paper, textile, and biofuel industries.

Characteristics of Starch and Cellulose 


Branched Structure: Starch molecules have a branched structure, with both linear chains (amylose) and highly branched structures (amylopectin). This branching allows for easier digestion and quick release of glucose for energy. 

Granular Form: Starch is commonly found in a granular form within plant cells, appearing as distinct granules under a microscope. These granules vary in size and shape depending on the source of starch.

Gelatinisation: Starch exhibits the unique property of gelatinisation, where starch granules absorb water and swell, forming a viscous gel-like substance. This property is essential in cooking and food processing, as it helps thicken sauces, soups, and other culinary preparations.


Linear Structure: Unlike starch, cellulose has a linear structure, consisting of glucose units linked together in long, straight chains. This linear arrangement provides cellulose with high tensile strength and rigidity.

Microfibrils: Cellulose molecules further combine to form microfibrils, which are long, parallel chains held together by hydrogen bonds. These microfibrils contribute to the structural support and strength of plant cell walls.

Fibre Formation: Cellulose fibres are known for their high strength and resilience, making them suitable for various applications. These fibres are extensively used in industries such as textiles, where cellulose-based fibres are processed into fabrics with properties like breathability and moisture absorption.


Starch and cellulose are both polysaccharides but have different structures, functions, digestibility, and solubility. Starch acts as an energy storage molecule in plants and is easily digested, while cellulose provides structural support to plant cells and is indigestible in humans. Both have important applications in various industries. There are many Starch and Cellulose differences but we tried to explore a few in this article.

FAQs on Difference Between Starch and Cellulose

1. Can humans digest cellulose?

No, humans lack the enzyme cellulase required to break down cellulose, making it indigestible. However, cellulose is still important for our diet as dietary fibre. Fibre adds bulk to our stool, promotes regular bowel movements, and helps maintain a healthy digestive system. The characteristics of starch and cellulose guide us to understand how helpful they are. Cellulose also aids in weight management, reduces the risk of certain diseases like colon cancer, and helps control blood sugar levels. While cellulose itself is not digested, it plays a crucial role in our overall digestive health.

2. What are some examples of foods rich in starch?

Foods rich in starch are abundant and include staples like potatoes, rice, wheat, corn, oats, and various grains. Legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils are also high in starch. These foods serve as important sources of carbohydrates and provide energy for our bodies. Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and yams, as well as products like pasta, bread, and cereals, are also common sources of dietary starch. It's important to balance starch intake with other essential nutrients for a well-rounded diet.

3. How are starch and cellulose used in different industries?

Starch and cellulose have significant industrial applications due to their unique properties. Starch, with its solubility in water and ability to form gels, is widely used in the food industry as a thickening, stabilising, and binding agent. It enhances the texture and viscosity of sauces, soups, dressings, and desserts. In addition, starch finds applications in paper production as a binder for coatings and adhesives, and in the textile industry as a sizing agent to strengthen fabrics and improve their appearance. They might look similar but there are differences between starch and cellulose.