If a recipe calls for cornmeal, you might find yourself in the grain aisle, staring down bags of grits, polenta, coarse cornmeal, fine cornmeal, blue cornmeal, corn flour, and a familiar box of Jiffy. Which do you turn to? All cornmeals have a purpose, and we’re here to help you find the right one for the job.
What is cornmeal, though?
Cornmeal is dried, ground field corn (not the same type of sweet corn we eat off the cob) that ranges in texture from fine to medium to coarse. The size of the grind indicates how fast the cornmeal will absorb water (smaller grind = faster absorption), which is why coarsely ground grits take so long to stew into creamy goodness.
Like wine and honey, cornmeal has terroir, a fancy word for distinct local flavor. “Flavors range from vegetable-y, carroty notes to floral apricots. And just the tiniest hint of citrus,” says Roxana Jullapat, baker and author of. “Corn has a beautiful grounding flavor.” If you can find local cornmeal at your grocery store, swoop it up. Plenty of great online mills, such as , also sell heirloom varieties in a range of eye-catching colors and unique flavors—find our favorite mills here. Now, back to the grind.
Types of cornmeal:
Cornmeal can be categorized primarily by two factors: color and grind size. Yellow cornmeal has the most prominent corn flavor, while white cornmeal has a more subtle, delicate flavor (it’s especially nice in a ricotta cornmeal cake). Blue cornmeal is usually an heirloom variety with indigenous roots across the American South. It has a sweet, unique flavor and striking lavender-blue color. Learn more about it and.
Now for the grind size. Corn flour is the smallest, silkiest grind of cornmeal. (Don’t confuse it with cornflour, the British term for cornstarch.) Dried corn is ground to a near-powder, giving it the soft texture of all-purpose flour—but most corn flour is completely gluten-free. Look for brands made with just one ingredient: organic, whole-grain corn, like the one from. Use it to make melt-in-your-mouth sablé cookies, light tempura batter, or crispy Cachapas.
Fine and medium cornmeal are your every day, do-it-all cornmeals. Fine-grind cornmeal is best for baking projects where you want a tender crumb, like pound cake, strawberry snacking cake, and corn muffins. It’s also ideal for hushpuppy batter and crusting sweet potato wedges. As for the best cornmeal for cornbread, either fine- or medium-grind cornmeal is a great choice. Medium-grind cornmeal will bring slightly more texture and grittiness to the batter, which you may or may not want (it’s up to you!).