Interestingly, custard powder was invented in 1837 by Alfred Bird because his wife was allergic to eggs and couldn’t tolerate real custard. Till today, Bird’s brand is one of the most popular brands of custard powder, and probably the only brand you’ll find in Singapore supermarkets.
As I noted here, commercial custard powder is basically full of nasty additives you’re better off avoiding. In this recipe which called for custard powder, I simply substituted some cornflour instead. Interestingly, many dim sum recipes call for custard powder — the British colonial influence on Hong Kong food, perhaps?
Recently, in Brown Rice Paradise, I saw a natural foods version of custard powder, which contained cornflour, yellow colourings (annatto and a turmeric-derivative) plus vanilla. However, while annatto is naturally-derived, it is the only natural food colouring “found to cause as many adverse intolerance reactions as artificial colours and to affect more consumers that artificial colour” (read here).
Anyway, this natural-foods version of custard powder shows that aside from the yellow colour (which isn’t all that important), you can pretty much duplicate the function of custard powder with some cornflour and vanilla essence. Yay (^_^).