• February 26, 2024

What Is Cornmeal and Which Type Should You Buy at the Store?

It’s a confusing cornmeal world out there. If a recipe calls for cornmeal, you might find yourself in the grain aisle staring at a bag of grits, polenta, coarse cornmeal, fine cornmeal, blue cornmeal, cornmeal, and a familiar box of Jiffy. Who do you contact? All corn flours have a purpose and we are here to help you find the right corn flour for the job.

What is cornmeal?

Simply put, cornmeal is dried and field corn is ground (not the same type of Sweet corn we eat from the piston), the texture of which ranges from fine to medium to coarse, all of which relate to the size of the bits. The size of the grist indicates how quickly the cornmeal absorbs water (smaller grist = faster absorption). This is why coarsely ground grains take so long to get creamy.

If you are able to find local cornmeal in your market, give it a try, because like wine, honey, and pubs, cornmeal has terroir, the chic word for distinctive local flavor. “The aromas range from vegetable notes to carrots and floral apricots. And just the slightest hint of citrus. ” Roxana Jullapat, Baker and author of Mother grainstold us recently. “Corn has a nice basic taste.” If you can’t find local cornmeal in your market, there are many great online mills like Anson Mills that sell heirloom varieties in a range of eye-catching colors and unique flavors. You can find all of our favorite grinders here. Now back to the grind.

Types of corn meal:

Cornmeal is the smallest, silkyest grind of cornmeal. Use it to melt in your mouth Shortbread Cookies or light Tempura Dough.

Fine and medium cornmeal are your everyday corn meals. Use them for Grain bread, Ricotta Pound Cake, Strawberry Snack Cake, Corn muffins, or pancakes. And honestly, don’t be afraid to experiment with this in recipes that only use all-purpose flour: replace a quarter of the AP flour with corn flour and see how it affects the texture and taste of the baked goods. (Cornmeal is gluten-free so you don’t want to 100% substitute it or your cake may leak.)

You can use fine or medium cornmeal in these extra cheesy ones muffins.

Photo by Chelsie Craig, food styling by Molly Baz, prop styling by Emily Eisen

Coarse cornmeal will make your cakes gritty and gritty, so save that for Breadcrumbsdo Southern-style corn bread (where you want that toothy texture!), and to create crispy Blueberry crispy topping or creamy, cheesy polenta. Unless a recipe specifically calls for coarse cornmeal, you should generally stay away. Coarse cornmeal cooks long before it loses its grainy bite. If it is incorporated into a dish that is cooked relatively quickly (e.g. cake), the result will be rocky.

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