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Feb 16, 2001 05:32 AM

is cornmeal the same thing as polenta?

  • m

Call me corny, but I'm obsessed with polenta. Is cornmeal synonymous?

For example, in the comprehensive Cookie Report, there are links to a couple of recipes from Confessions of a Cookie eater that call for yellow cornmeal. This must be polenta.

How about in Mexican dishes...?

And what are cornflour and cornstarch?

Any insight about the national/international variations on 'you call it corn/we call it maize' (i.e. are grits cornmeal too? they seem to be a different color but the consistency's the same) would be most


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  1. I believe that polenta is usually a coarser grind than cornmeal, although if you have some good coarse stone-ground cornmeal, that should work for making polenta. In some parts of the South there is a ground yellow corn product that can be used either to make grits or cornmeal (not a whole lot of difference in this case). When we moved to New Orleans we found that practically nobody knows what polenta is, but the yellow grits product works fine. Actually, in Louisiana most grits is (are?) white, but you find yellow grits around southern Alabama.

    A cookie or other dessert recipe that calls for cornmeal requires just that, cornmeal. You would want the more finely ground product for that use, in most cases. In a cookie the cornmeal will not soak up a whole lot of liquid (as it would if it were being cooked for polenta) and you don't want to bite into a lot of hard bits of corn.

    Cornflour and cornstarch are much more finely ground. Cornstarch is the consistency of powdered sugar and is used as a thickening agent.

    In Mexican dishes you would normally expect to use masa harina, which is ground from corn that has been treated with lye.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Sarah C

      I thought cornflour was cornstarch. And aren't grits hominy?

      1. re: bryan

        I understand that in England "cornflour" refers to the refined starch we call "cornstarch" here in the USA. I've rarely seen anything called "cornflour" here at home, and when I did, it really was a flour ground from corn.

        The whole grain type of cornmeal sold in natural food stores in bulk here is very irregular but not sifted. There are too many fines to boil into polenta, but when you sift it you may take out 1/4" chunks and large hull pieces, that will not cook properly.

        American-style cornmeal is too fine to boil into polenta, the effect will be smoother. It is traditionally boiled into a similar breakfast dish called "cornmeal mush". (very old-fashioned)

        Hominy is the whole corn grains which have been hulled. It is available canned, for use in Southwestern dishes. Hominy broken into 1/4" pieces is called samp, and ground coarsely is hominy grits.

        Corn products are available in white or yellow, which has more vitamin A.

        A lot of these are only regionally available.

        1. re: ironmom

          I am half Italian, half Romanian Jewish. My mother used to make mamaliga for me, as a hot breakfast cereal. The way she made it was cornmeal mush, soft and served in a bowl with butter and cheese. She used Quaker yellow cornmeal, because this was before most people had heard of polenta. I have made it using polenta, which is coarser than cornmeal. The late, lamented Lekvar By The Barrel used to sell bulk cornmeal, in three grades (fine, medium, and coarse). They called it cornmeal, and the sign on the barrels said it was for mamaliga.

          Since I am not from the South, I never could get into grits. When I have bacon and eggs for breakfast, I want them with homefries. However, I recently realized I would probably enjoy grits as a cereal, the way my mother made mamaliga. I tried it, and it worked for me.

          1. re: ruth arcone

            When did Lekvar by the Barrel close? I remember visiting it in the early 1980s.

    2. If you are interested in wonderful, creamy, polenta without all of the stirring, try the recipe on the attached web site. Heard about it on Minnesota Public Radio, Splendid Table show. Tried it out last week. Good stuff. I'll never stir for 40 minutes again. Enjoy


      1 Reply
      1. re: Joe Fedorka

        Thanks for that - but there are several credible (and edible!) three to five minute polentas - so anything that requires more than that seems like over-stir to me...!

      2. b
        Brandon Nelson


        Great question. This is one of those subjects that can lead to some confusion once you mix in the ethnic and regional terms. It boils down to the size of the grind, and what layers of a corn kernel are used.

        Hominy- Whole corn that has been stripped of the hull/bran and the germ.

        Polenta/Grits- Today these two terms mean the same thing. Polenta has a Roman/italian origin. It was originally made with chestnuts. Corn gradually became a part of that regional diet in the 16th and 17th century after it was imported from the Americas. It has long been a staple of peasants. Grits is the Southern Soul food term for cracked hominy. It is the same as corn polenta. You can probably substitute polenta for cornmeal in your cookie recipe, but the results may tend to be "toothy" (think slightly undercooked pasta). I have used both in waffle batter with good results.

        Cornmeal- A medium sized grind. Finer than polenta, but coarser than corn flour. Cornmeal is often stoneground. It is the most common of the products that we have mentioned here in the U.S.

        Cornflour- A fine sized grind. It is far less common in retail grocery stores than cornmeal, both not a difficult find. Cornflour may be packaged as a blend with different grain, like wheat or rye. If your grocer doesn't have it try your local health food store.

        Cornstarch- A fine sized grind of the endosperm of a kernel. This is the innnermost layer of the grain. It is commonly used as a thickener.

        I hope some of this rambling is interesting or useful. I know I have parroted some of the other entries on this thread.


        4 Replies
        1. re: Brandon Nelson

          But one more thing.

          Grits is cracked hominy, as Brandon Nelson says, but these days you'll see two kinds of grits: the cracked hominy kind, which you see in most supermarkets, and produces a very smooth, creamy textured product, and whole grain grits, which are used with ever greater frequency and produces a more flavorful, but less creamy result, due to the bran and germ being present. There are many mills that will ship whole grain grits, and the results are quite different.

          1. re: Brandon Nelson

            hi! i live in asia and i don't have access to corn meal but i do have access to corn flour. My question is , can corn flour be used to replace cornmeal? . I really want to make some corn bread but the recipes i've found online all require cornmeal! help!

            1. re: Katie Lewis
              caitlin wheeler

              No. Cornflour is the same as corn starch, and will yield a gummy, nasty cornbread. (Had a friend try it once when we lived in London --yuck)

            2. re: Brandon Nelson
              Kara Rinnewilder

              hi! i live in asia and i don't have access to corn meal but i do have access to corn flour. My question is , can corn flour be used to replace cornmeal? . I really want to make some corn bread but the recipes i've found online all require cornmeal! help!