Corn meal, corn grits, polenta, sweet corn, field corn — who would’ve thought a single crop could make us so corn-fused, right?
Our preferred BBQ vegetable, sweet corn, is something that most of us are very familiar with, but field corn is something very different.
To begin with, we can’t simply cook it and eat it as-is. But what we can do is grind it up and make corn grits, cornmeal, and polenta.
In this article, we explore the world of cornmeal and corn grits, two products made from crushed corn. These corny goods turn into porridge when boiled with milk, water, or stock and have been used for millennia to satisfy people’s appetites.
What distinguishes cornmeal from corn grits, then? Is there any difference whatsoever? What about polenta? Let’s get into it.
The fundamental distinction between cornmeal and corn grits is texture: cornmeal is significantly finer but still granular, whereas corn grits are rougher to the touch.
Corn grits are just a sub-type of cornmeal. Both are made from field corn, also known as dent corn. To the casual observer, field corn could resemble sweet corn almost identically.
We are all familiar with the sweet and juicy flavor of sweet corn that we put in salads, salsa, or next to our barbecued meat. Field corn, however, doesn’t come near as juicy and flavorful as its sweet counterpart. In fact, it’s much starchier, so instead of eating the kernels, people harvest them once dry to create various corn products like cornmeal and corn grits.
Now that we are aware of the corn they originate from, let’s corn-centrate on their differences.
To make cornmeal, all you need is to mill dried field corn. Corn grits, on the other hand, undergo a further step known as nixtamalization. The corn is treated with lye, commonly known as sodium hydroxide, which makes hominy and removes the husk. The hominy is then dried and crushed into grits.
The texture of cornmeal is somewhat grainy but powdery. Corn grits are often ground more coarsely.
Cornmeal comes in yellow, white, and blue/purple-ish colors. Corn grits are sold in only white and yellow color varieties.
Cornmeal comes in a variety of forms, including corn flour, fine, medium, and coarse ground cornmeal, polenta, corn grits, blue, white, and yellow cornmeal, and cornbread mix.
There are four different types of corn grits: quick (fine grind), regular (medium grind), stone ground (coarse grind), and instant (dehydrated & pre-cooked).
Cornmeal is used to make bread and pizza, mainly to improve texture and prevent the batter from sticking to the baking trays. Cornmeal is used for deep-frying fish sticks or chicken fingers and thickening chili or mashed potatoes.
Corn grits, on the other hand, are used to make cornbread and corn muffins, and this is perhaps one of its most popular applications. The majority of people prefer their grits boiled into a porridge with water or milk, gobs of butter, and cheese. Others like to make grits casserole or construct a dessert, such as cookies, pudding, or pie.
Cornmeal and Corn Grits Comparison Table
|Mill dried corn
|Corn grits are treated with lye to make hominy. The husk is removed and the corn is dried and crushed into grits
|Grainy & powdery
|White, yellow, and blue/purple
|White and yellow
|Corn flour, fine, medium, and coarse ground cornmeal, polenta, corn grits, blue, white, and yellow cornmeal, and jiffy cornbread mix
|Quick, regular, stone ground, and instant
|Baking bread and pizza, deep-frying, thicken sauces and mashed potatoes
|Porridge, grits casserole, and desserts like pie, cookies, and pudding
The nutritional data below shows that cornmeal and corn grits are quite comparable.
Cornmeal is richer in potassium, protein, fiber, calcium, iron, vitamins A, B6, E, and K, as well as magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, copper, manganese, choline, and betaine. On the other hand, corn grits are lower in calories and fat and have greater amounts of folate, niacin, riboflavin, and selenium.
While cornmeal is super richer in vitamins and minerals, corn grits are not only lower in calories and fat, but they are also low in sodium and sugar.
Nonetheless, the nutritional differences are minor and barely visible. If you want something more calorie-friendly, go with corn grits, but if you want something more nutrient-dense, go with cornmeal.
|Category (100 grams)
|Vitamins & Minerals
Yes, of course, you can totally substitute cornmeal for grits and vice versa. Both are manufactured from field corn — the only difference — corn grits don’t have as fine a texture as cornmeal.
If you’re looking for a substitute for white cornmeal, white corn grits are the best choice. However, yellow grits are the way to go if you desire an orange or yellow color.
Because the grain size is slightly larger, we advise using a lesser amount of grits. There is no universal ratio, although 3/4 of the amount of the actual cornmeal is a decent beginning point.
If you want a texture comparable to cornmeal, crush the corn grits in a food processor or blender a few times to create a finer texture.
As long as you keep your cornmeal and corn grits in a sealed container and store them in the pantry, refrigerator, or freezer, you won’t even remember when you got them! For instance, a package of normal cornmeal will typically maintain its optimal quality in the pantry for roughly 12 months.
Once the packet has been opened, move the ordinary cornmeal to an airtight container or freezer bag to extend its shelf life. Cornmeal will stay in top condition in the refrigerator for 18 months and for around two years in the freezer.
Instant grits stay fresh for a very long time, but stone-ground grits expire much faster. Instant grits last for about 2 years in the pantry and up to 5 years in the fridge or freezer. Grits made of stone remain edible in the pantry for up to a year and in the freezer for around 2 years.
Because they spoil quickly, cooked grits and cornmeal must be kept in the refrigerator. They can, however, only keep in the refrigerator for a week at most. We don’t think that anyone would like to eat a week-old cornmeal or grits, but it’s good to know you can!
Also, if you do opt to store your corn products for a longer time, always check for mold, strange smells, or different coloring before consuming!
Polenta is a type of dish, not an ingredient. Unless you’re purchasing it from an actual Italian shop, medium-grind cornmeal is often what is marketed as polenta in supermarket stores.
If we’re talking about authentic Italian polenta prepared with cornmeal, the cornmeal comes from flint, which has a distinct granular texture and corny flavor after cooking. Therefore, if you purchase it from an established Italian manufacturer, you will receive polenta prepared with flint corn. Anywhere else is likely to have dent corn.
Polenta can be sliced while still warm or once cooled. Before serving, sliced polenta is sometimes fried or sautéed to provide texture.
Herbs, cheese, or other seasonings may be added to polenta as it cooks, and stock may be used in place of water for greater taste.
That’s all on today’s topic about corn products!
Every sort of dry corn product you purchase, including cornmeal and grits, is most likely prepared from a group of corn known as dent corn — with the exception of polenta, which is produced from flint corn!
To sum up, cornmeal is crushed, dried, and grained maize that might be fine or coarse. Cornmeal can be either yellow, white, or blue. Grits derived from dent corn are always more coarse than cornmeal and can be yellow or white.
Both are good alternatives and have a very long shelf life. When talking about nutrition, cornmeal is richer in minerals and nutrients, whereas corn grits are lower in calories and fat.