Abstract Viscoelastic properties of α-zein dispersed in aqueous ethanol were studied using oscillatory strain rheometry. In 55–80% v/v aqueous ethanol, zein was only partially soluble, forming a gel at a sufficiently high zein concentration. The strain dependence of the storage modulus and the loss modulus of gelled systems exhibited features characteristic to closely-packed swollen particles. Close-packing was found to occur at a lower zein concentration with increasing ethanol concentration as the threshold for gelation decreased from a zein concentration of ca. 29 to 20% w/v with increasing ethanol concentration from 55 to 80% v/v. A contrasting trend in the effect of the solvent quality was revealed at a constant zein concentration of 30% w/v, at which the storage modulus decreased from ca. 12,000–700 Pa with increasing ethanol concentration from 55 to 80% v/v. The two major factors determining viscoelastic properties of the partially solvated zein systems were identified to be: (1) the degree of dissolution of zein into the continuous phase that was negatively correlated with the volume fraction of the dispersed phase and positively correlated with the osmotic pressure of the continuous phase; and (2) the degree of swelling of partially solvated zein particles that was positively and negatively correlated with the volume fraction and the storage modulus of the dispersed phase, respectively.