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Cornmeal, Grits, Polenta, Masa: What's the difference?

rdabke Feb 27, 2007 04:18 PM

Cornmeal, Grits, Polenta, Masa: What's the difference?

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  1. Sam Fujisaka RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 04:37 PM

    Sardine, smelt, whitebait, sprat, herring: what's the difference?

    1 Reply
    1. re: Sam Fujisaka
      tjhBoB RE: Sam Fujisaka Nov 13, 2010 12:08 PM

      Black, White, Red, Blue, Yellow, Magenta, Green, Gray, Pink. What's the difference>?

    2. r
      rds246 RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 04:43 PM

      in my limited understanding: both grits and polenta are both coarsely ground cornmeal, one has its roots in the U.S. South and the other in Italy but they are basically the same thing. Cornmeal comes in different varieties, from very finely ground to very coarse, as well as several different colors. I believe that masa is a mash made from hominy, which is corn that has been treated with lye.

      1. Sam Fujisaka RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 05:07 PM

        Exactly, exactly...you add ugali and I'll add buckling! Spot on. Same but a bit different.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka
          smartie RE: Sam Fujisaka May 14, 2009 05:08 AM

          Sam, now you got me craving buckling pate, it's years since I had that

        2. Quine RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 05:16 PM

          Masa is different than just cornmeal. Masa is used for tortillas and as a thickening agent, like flour in Southwestern cooking. Slightly different taste, texture and method.

          It is from a treated corn, as rds states, lye-treated. Than changes things.

          1. z
            zebcook RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 05:17 PM

            For cornmeal, grits and polenta, the major difference is the coarseness of the grind. Cornmeal tends to be finer ground than polenta for example which makes for a very different texture and cooking time. Polenta is poor choice for cornbread because of this. Corn flour (which you didn't ask about) is even finer than cornmeal.

            Hominy grits (as opposed to grits) is hominy meal. Masa harina is nixtamalized (i.e. lye-soaked, hulled and rinsed) corn ground into a flour that you can then use to make masa, the wet dough (or you can in some places get freshly ground masa dough by the pound). In the Southwest you can often find bags of nixtamal (unground corn) in the cooler case at local groceries. This is usually ground for tamale dough because it is difficult to grind fine enough at home for tortillas.

            1 Reply
            1. re: zebcook
              pikawicca RE: zebcook Feb 28, 2007 02:57 PM

              In my pantry right now are three different grinds of imported (Italian) polenta: coarse, medium, and fine.

            2. Sam Fujisaka RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 05:28 PM

              Here we go, a discussion between "lumpers" and "splitters." rdabke obviously (I hope) knows the difference among the different corn/maize products. The interesting artifact from this post will be the insistance of some on differences, the support of similarity by others.

              1. Quine RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 06:01 PM

                Sam, if it bores you and you disagree, why post? And, actually, the difference is not obvious to many folks. One hope that any serious question can be asked here, hounds are born, but they msut be educated and ask questions.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Quine
                  Sam Fujisaka RE: Quine Feb 27, 2007 06:07 PM

                  Sorry. We mis-commuicated completely. As a scientist (and I know how presumptuous that sounds), I really enjoy/have to deal with the natural division between the lumpers and splitters. Not bored at all. My point was that I thought rdabke was provoking people in a very (to me) interesting way.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka
                    Quine RE: Sam Fujisaka Feb 27, 2007 06:31 PM

                    OK Sam I am with you on that. I like to play there myself. And I so totally enjoy your posts in any topic.

                    1. re: Quine
                      Sam Fujisaka RE: Quine Feb 27, 2007 06:51 PM

                      Yours too!

                2. Will Owen RE: rdabke Feb 27, 2007 07:50 PM

                  My fear is that the mass producers of the various products have blurred the line; "grits" are supposed to be HOMINY grits, and yet the product on the market is merely just another kind of cornmeal, if their own advertising is to be believed. I have no objection to cornmeal, either germless or whole-grain, but I want to know what it is I'm buying, and if it really is just cornmeal instead of proper grits I want them to say so. Am I being persnickety here? I don't think so.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Will Owen
                    carmar RE: Will Owen Apr 16, 2009 10:00 PM

                    HI, Will. Be assured that grits cannot be made using ground corn!. The outer portion of the Kernel is never included in grits. Now, there are several versions of grits ranging from instant to quick to "old fashioned". The only difference in these is the moisture content of the quick or instant which has been precooked.

                    1. re: carmar
                      Will Owen RE: carmar May 14, 2009 02:31 PM

                      Tell that to the Red Mule folks, or several other mills producing whole-grain products they're selling as grits. First item in the instructions: immerse in water, skim off chaff. And what do you suppose THAT is? Those people are just throwing dried field corn in there. They are NOT using nixtamalized corn at all.

                  2. c
                    carmar RE: rdabke Apr 16, 2009 09:56 PM

                    This is one area where a lot of TV "chefs" get it wrong. There are several different grinds of cornmeal. The italian grind is a little finer. Polenta is a dish made from cornmeal. It can be made using fine, medium or coarse grinds!
                    Grits is an entirely different process. It is not cornmeal. It is in fact Hominy Grits and is made by dissolving the outer portion of the corn kernel in a lye bath to get Hominy. The Hominy is rinsed, dried and ground to make Hominy Grits.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: carmar
                      ohmygulay RE: carmar May 14, 2009 02:10 AM

                      That certainly was enlightening. I'd always been confused whether or not I could use the same grind for making tortilla and polenta.

                      1. re: carmar
                        Will Owen RE: carmar May 14, 2009 02:34 PM

                        See my post above, please. Those high-end grits everyone is babbling about, such as Anson Mills, are not (to repeat) being made from nixtamalized corn, otherwise known as hominy, but from plain dried whole-kernel corn. I would call this polenta, not grits, but the mills didn't ask me. Looky here:


                      2. Naco RE: rdabke Nov 30, 2010 05:10 AM

                        Since both masa and grits are nixtamalized, could you make tortillas out of grits?

                        22 Replies
                        1. re: Naco
                          paulj RE: Naco Nov 30, 2010 07:57 AM

                          Not all grits are nixtamalized, just hominy grits.

                          Tortillas are made from either freshly ground nixtamalized corn, or from a flour (masa harina) made from that corn. Masa harina is a fine as white wheat flour. Masa harina for tamales is a bit coarser, but still nothing like the coarseness of grits.

                          1. re: paulj
                            Naco RE: paulj Nov 30, 2010 08:07 AM

                            So probably too coarse, then.

                            I'll admit I don't get the distinction people are making between "grits" and "hominy grits". Grits are made from hominy, and nixtamalization just involves getting rid of the hulls. I've never had grits with hulls in them, and don't see how you could have grits with hulls in them.

                            1. re: Naco
                              paulj RE: Naco Nov 30, 2010 08:50 AM

                              It may be more accurate to say that nixtamalization is used (primarily) to loosen the hulls so they can be removed, but it does more than that to the corn. It changes the amino acid mix and the availability of niacin (not that Indians and pioneers were aware of this). I suspect it also changes how the corn behaves in a dough, though I haven't done a side by side comparison. I suppose I could do some tests comparing corn flour (fine corn meal) with masa harina.

                              1. re: paulj
                                Naco RE: paulj Nov 30, 2010 08:59 AM

                                Exactly- the purpose of nixtamalization was to get rid of the hulls. But more to the point, as far as I'm aware, if you have no hulls, you're dealing with nixtamalized corn. Un-nixtamalized grits would seem to be near inedible to me. Do we have an example of them?

                                1. re: Naco
                                  paulj RE: Naco Nov 30, 2010 09:35 AM

                                  A lot of grits are just coarsely ground corn meal.
                                  Even what Anson Mills calls 'Hominy Corn' is not nixtamalized. Rather (if I read their page correctly) it is just a type of corn that has been used to make hominy.

                                  Note that Anson yellow grits are yellow and white - yellow from hull, white from the starch (at least that's my guess).

                                  1. re: paulj
                                    Naco RE: paulj Nov 30, 2010 09:54 AM

                                    What I was calling the hull, Anson Mills calls "pericarp"- the cellophane-ish stuff on the individual kernels. How do you get that off without nixtamalizing the corn?

                                    1. re: Naco
                                      paulj RE: Naco Nov 30, 2010 12:02 PM

                                      My guess is that they don't try to remove that when making cornmeal (whether ground fine or coarse).

                                      1. re: paulj
                                        Naco RE: paulj Nov 30, 2010 12:30 PM

                                        Have you ever had grits with that stuff in it, though? I haven't.

                                    2. re: paulj
                                      Will Owen RE: paulj Dec 2, 2010 11:25 AM

                                      Anson Mills now has hominy grits as well as corn grits. The yellow and the white grits are ground from yellow or white corn. White is generally preferred by Southerners; my favorite is yellow, but I'll cheerfully use and eat either.

                                      Answering Naco's question: when the corn is ground, the hull fragments are lightweight chaff, and fairly easy to blow away.

                                      1. re: Will Owen
                                        paulj RE: Will Owen Dec 2, 2010 12:43 PM

                                        but the description of their hominy grits is a bit confusing.

                                  2. re: paulj
                                    djsull RE: paulj Jun 20, 2012 12:56 PM

                                    The best explanation I've ever seen re: the process & benefits of nixtamalization is found here
                                    It's very long, but completely fascinating. I hope it answers some questions.

                                    1. re: djsull
                                      paulj RE: djsull Jun 20, 2012 01:40 PM

                                      Nice, though it doesn't answer the question of whether hominy grits are made from hominy. 'grits' doesn't appear on that page.

                                      1. re: paulj
                                        Will Owen RE: paulj Jun 20, 2012 02:31 PM

                                        Some hominy grits are made from dried nixtamalized corn; both Quaker and Alber's boxed hominy grits are. Unfortunately, I've found that all of the "artisanal" mills are simply grinding a hard white corn that is used to make hominy and calling that "hominy grits". It's all delicious, and mostly cheaper than imported polenta, but I do wish I could get REAL hominy grits without having to patronize some industrial conglomerate.

                                        Back in December of 2010 (see above) I was as confused as anyone - okay, more confused, simply because I thought I had it all figured out. It simply never occurred to me that an outfit such as Anson Mills would feel justified in labelling a product with the accepted name of a somewhat different product and not consider it misleading. I had to read the description on their website very carefully to figure that out.

                                        1. re: Will Owen
                                          paulj RE: Will Owen Jun 20, 2012 02:39 PM

                                          I suspect the practice goes back quite some time. I don't have the sources at hand, but apparently there is a difference (in regional usage) between 'hominy' and 'hominy corn'.

                                          Also treating the corn made it easier to grind when using small hand mills. It does not help when using a commercial mill. In fact treating it just adds another step, 2 actually, since it has to be dried again before grinding. For Mexican tortillas, the treated corn is ground while still wet.

                                          1. re: paulj
                                            Will Owen RE: paulj Jun 21, 2012 03:32 PM

                                            But dried hominy - posole - is readily available IF you're a giant cereal company and probably have access to a supply both plentiful and cheap. If you're a small mill, you could possibly buy enough posole, but you'd not have control over the corn (organic? Non-GMO? Variety?) or the process. I think between us we've just figured out why Alber's and Quaker have real hominy grits and Anson Mills doesn't.

                                  3. re: Naco
                                    deglazer RE: Naco Feb 26, 2011 12:38 PM

                                    Most grits are not made from hominy. I've encountered a lot of confusion on this subject, including in Southern cookbooks and with Southern chefs. The Lee Bros. have a good way of clearing things up. They say (more or less) that to avoid confusion they call hominy hominy and grits grits.

                                    1. re: deglazer
                                      jmckee RE: deglazer Jun 26, 2012 12:08 PM

                                      That simply isn't true. Most grits in the south is made from hominy. My grandmother's generation would distinguish between "big hominy" (hominy) and "small hominy" (hominy ground to make grits). The Lee Brothers are good in their place, but their place is as an interpreter of Southern food for people who aren't from the South. Look at the source materials for Southern cooking (Marion Brown, Mrs. Dull, etc.) and you won't find grits that aren't hominy.

                                      1. re: jmckee
                                        paulj RE: jmckee Jun 26, 2012 12:29 PM

                                        I found, on Google books, a sample of what Marion Brown wrote about grits,

                                        Marion Brown's Southern Cook Book, p267

                                        "The most served is grits, the delicate, finely ground white small hominy made from the inner white corn. Yellow grits, while tasty, is not considered so elegant, for it is ground from the husk of the grain. Large hominy is the whole dried grain with the husk removed either by the old method of threshing, or by being soaked in lye. The latter process gives to the grain the well-known title of Lye Hominy, or Samp...."


                                        Note that she does not say that 'small hominy' is ground from 'large hominy'. And even with the large hominy, lye soaking is optional.

                                        So what we need to look for is 'lye hominy grits'. If lye isn't part of the name, it probably is not part of the process.

                                        1. re: paulj
                                          kengk RE: paulj Jun 26, 2012 01:23 PM

                                          I would love to know if the major brands sold in grocery stores are made of nixtamalized corn.

                                          An acquaintance owns a water powered grist mill and I've watched him grind grits. They are made out of plain old field corn with no processing before going in the mill. The same mill grinds corn meal or grits depending on how it is adjusted.

                                          1. re: kengk
                                            paulj RE: kengk Jun 26, 2012 01:50 PM

                                            We've debated whether the 'hominy grits' label on Quaker and Albers packages means anything or not. All I see from Albers is reference to a 'special milling process'. I can't find any other indication of what makers of 'degerminated enriched' grits do.

                                            1. re: paulj
                                              kengk RE: paulj Jun 26, 2012 02:19 PM

                                              Looking at our box of "Laura Lynn" Enriched White Hominy Grits, the ingredients list is Corn, nicacin, iron and several B vitamins.

                                              If it were made from nixtamalized corn why would they add niacin I wonder? I can't imagine too many first world residents being in danger of pellagra anyways.

                                              1. re: kengk
                                                paulj RE: kengk Jun 26, 2012 10:13 PM

                                                Those are just the standard vitamins and minerals. Same list on white flour.

                              2. n
                                nmharleyrider RE: rdabke Dec 27, 2010 08:15 AM

                                The main thing we use masa for in New Mexico is tamales, or course.

                                16 Replies
                                1. re: nmharleyrider
                                  kdawson RE: nmharleyrider Jan 29, 2011 08:13 AM

                                  Hi folks, new to board;

                                  My question is about the differences between the materials in terms of quality of the carb. For me, quality = low glycemic index. In general, the less processing, the better for me. So it sounds like ground corn with husk not removed is better, no?

                                  Organic is important too, so I am wondering if the processing that involves lye compromises one's health?

                                  1. re: kdawson
                                    paulj RE: kdawson Jan 29, 2011 09:35 AM

                                    I haven't focused on glycemic index, but my impression is that it largely depends on the relative proportions of glucose (the high glycemic index simple sugar), and other simple sugars, particularly fructose. Since corn is largely starch, glycemic index will depend on how that starch is converted into simple sugars. I doubt if there is much difference among the types of corn discussed in this thread.

                                    The husk is largely fiber, which is basically filler. View it like wheat bran.

                                    When various cultures adopted a diet that was very high in corn, but without the lye processing, many experienced a niacin deficiency. Examples where north Italy and the American South, mainly among people who were too poor to eat much else. Turns out that this lye treatment frees niacin present in the corn. It also alters the amino acid mix, making it more balanced. So overall this processed corn is more nutritious.

                                    However, with a diverse diet niacin deficiency is not a problem, nor is the protein balance.

                                    1. re: paulj
                                      kdawson RE: paulj Jan 29, 2011 10:11 AM

                                      So lye in itself is not bad for us? or is it thought that there is no residue after processing?

                                      Glycemic index has to do with how quickly and how much the material elevates blood sugar. With wheat, whole wheat is better than wheat. Stone ground better still because it doesn't involve heat in the grinding. So I am thinking that whatever the corn product is that uses the whole grain will be best; sounds like that will be called something like whole grain corn meal. Yesterday I lucked out in a discount store and found a bag of Organic Blue Corn Meal which is whole grain, and it's not even past date code. Put out by Arrowhead Mills.

                                      My Mom used to use wheat bran in her cooking to add back the nutrition that refining took away. I'm still not sure if she was accomplishing much by using wheat bran, except adding fiber.

                                      I wonder if there is a good chart online that will show the relative differences in glycemic index between different types of corn.

                                      Soon I will be searching for tortilla recipes, because I would like to be making my own.


                                      1. re: kdawson
                                        paulj RE: kdawson Jan 29, 2011 11:21 AM

                                        I don't think you'll find much difference in tortilla recipes, at least not the traditional corn kind. The basic recipe is process the corn with lye (or similar alkali), grind it into a moist dough (masa), flatten balls, and cook quickly on the griddle. Short cuts include buying the preground masa from a store, or making it from masa harina, which is a flour made from the ground treated corn.

                                        People have been making thin corn cakes from forms of ground corn, but none quite match the Mexican tortilla.

                                        1. re: kdawson
                                          paulj RE: kdawson Jan 29, 2011 12:02 PM

                                          Probably the most comprehensive database on Glycemic index is from place with that name
                                          but it tends to focus on final prepared products, not raw ingredients. Type in corn and you get a half dozen entries that contain 'sweet corn'.
                                          Type in 'tortilla' and you get a few more.

                                          1. re: kdawson
                                            cheesemaestro RE: kdawson Jan 29, 2011 12:54 PM

                                            "So lye in itself is not bad for us?"

                                            Well, I wouldn't eat it straight out of the jar! You might be surprised, though, that lye is used in processing several foods. Besides nixtamalizing corn, lye can be used to cure olives. Pretzels are dipped in a lye solution to finish them. It gives them their appealing sheen and surface texture. And then there is the (in)famous Scandinavian lutefisk--fish cured in lye.

                                            1. re: cheesemaestro
                                              nmharleyrider RE: cheesemaestro Jan 29, 2011 02:55 PM

                                              Lye is also used to treat corn for a dish we New Mexicans make on Christmas Eve called posole. We buy the corn kernels treated and then boil then with chili and pork until they expand and soften.

                                              1. re: nmharleyrider
                                                paulj RE: nmharleyrider Jan 29, 2011 03:00 PM

                                                which is also called hominy

                                                1. re: paulj
                                                  nmharleyrider RE: paulj Jan 29, 2011 03:06 PM

                                                  exactly. In fact some people cheat and buy a can of hominy and add the pork and chili to it

                                                  1. re: nmharleyrider
                                                    paulj RE: nmharleyrider Jan 29, 2011 03:14 PM

                                                    Are you familiar with canned Indian corn? Some of the same brands that sell hominy (Teasdale, Juanitas) also can this. It has purple hulls. Similar size and texture as hominy, but probably not treated.

                                                    1. re: paulj
                                                      nmharleyrider RE: paulj Jan 29, 2011 03:18 PM

                                                      Have never seen Indian canned corn here but we do get the blue corn masa as well as blue corn tortillas here and blue corn chips.

                                                      1. re: nmharleyrider
                                                        paulj RE: nmharleyrider Jan 29, 2011 03:50 PM

                                                        It's the Maiz Morado on this page
                                                        I was thinking of the SW blue corn, but this apparently is a southern Mexico style.


                                                        1. re: nmharleyrider
                                                          kdawson RE: nmharleyrider Jan 29, 2011 03:55 PM

                                                          I am finishing off a package of "Inka Corn." It is roasted corn, chile picante, the kernals quite large, about 3/4" across, and extremely crunchy. It was from the same discount store where I found the blue corn meal. Wish I'd bought several packages, as it is the best snack I've had in a while. .50 for 4 oz pkg.

                                                          1. re: kdawson
                                                            rokzane RE: kdawson Feb 9, 2011 05:27 AM

                                                            You don’t need to use lye to treat corn posole. Most processors today use calcium hydroxide, also known as pickling lime. Using pickling lime makes it easy and very safe to treat corn posole at home. I love red corn posole, but you can’t buy it treated, so I’ll often buy it bulk and treat it myself. Treated, it can be frozen for a long time. You can also make your own masa dough for tortillas by grinding the treated corn in a meat grinder first, and then finishing it a food processor.

                                                            1. re: kdawson
                                                              paulj RE: kdawson Feb 9, 2011 07:45 AM

                                                              If the kernels look like they've been puffed slightly (but not blown inside out like popcorn) this what in Ecuador is called tostada, and Peru cancha. It isn't nixtamalized, rather just a type of corn that puffs when toasted. Shops that carry Peruvian items sell 'maiz para canacha' that you can toast yourself.

                                                        2. re: nmharleyrider
                                                          Bacardi1 RE: nmharleyrider Jun 22, 2012 04:32 PM

                                                          Cheating or not, I have to admit that I LOVE canned hominy. Serve it for breakfast alongside eggs & breakfast meats, & also love it mixed in with steamed fresh green beans. Lovely stuff.

                                          2. 2
                                            2rubyredshoes RE: rdabke Feb 26, 2011 08:43 AM

                                            Ok, I read all of these posts about the chemistry of cornmeal, grits, and polenta.....now will someone just tell me (the below-average cook), which do I use for cornmeal pancakes? I know that sounds rhetorical but I'm serious. I like the dense, granular taste of some that you get in restaurants but can't seem to reproduce those at home. I have tried many recipes. Please advise.

                                            13 Replies
                                            1. re: 2rubyredshoes
                                              paulj RE: 2rubyredshoes Feb 26, 2011 08:54 AM

                                              Older Joy of Cooking editions have 2 cornmeal recipes. One makes thin lacy cakes, the other regular thickness. One uses the cornmeal straight, the other calls for soaking it in boiling water for 10 minutes first. Which ever you use, the grind will make a big difference. FIine corn flour will add the corn flavor, but not affect texture much. A coarse grind (what Bobs Red Mill labels polenta/grits) won't have time to cook or hydrate in a pancake, leaving you with gritty bits of corn to pick out of your teeth.

                                              I haven't had many restaurant cornmeal pancakes so don't know what you are aiming at. I've been happiest, though, with the boiling water soak using a medium grind corn meal - the regular yellow Quaker or Abers would be fine.

                                              1. re: paulj
                                                2rubyredshoes RE: paulj Feb 26, 2011 08:59 AM

                                                Thank you!

                                                1. re: 2rubyredshoes
                                                  kdawson RE: 2rubyredshoes Feb 26, 2011 11:33 AM

                                                  I haven't really used a recipe, but loving my gritty pancakes. I am using a "polenta" grind, at about equal amount with another flour; last time, oat flour. I make them pretty eggy, and also add either milk or a greek strained yogurt. and of course season to taste (vanilla, chile seasoning, cinnamon, salt pepper whtever) and they are so yummy! also, I eat them with peanut butter instead of syrup, since I can't really do sweets.

                                                  1. re: kdawson
                                                    2rubyredshoes RE: kdawson Feb 27, 2011 03:47 PM

                                                    Thanks for the suggestions. I love this web-site and all the helpful feedback :) Paula

                                                2. re: paulj
                                                  Will Owen RE: paulj Feb 26, 2011 12:13 PM

                                                  The corn cakes that are typically served with barbecue in a lot of Southern restaurants are usually made from a commercial cornbread mix, such as those made by Martha White, simply by making the batter thin enough to pour onto a griddle or skillet. Therefore following a good cornbread recipe in the same manner should give you the corn cakes you want.

                                                  Although Southerners generally prefer white cornmeal, I like the "corniness" of yellow better. The tastiest ones I've ever made were done with blue cornmeal, which in my experience for some reason is milled so fine as to be almost flour. Delightful flavor, though.

                                                  1. re: Will Owen
                                                    paulj RE: Will Owen Feb 26, 2011 12:34 PM

                                                    The southern cornbread mixes that I've sampled used a rather fine cornmeal. In the PNW regular groceries don't carry MW or WL, but occasionally I've found them at Grocery Outlet. They aren't as sweet as Jiffy, but there isn't the gritty corn character that I associate with cornbread (using half Quaker and half flour).

                                                    1. re: paulj
                                                      Will Owen RE: paulj Feb 26, 2011 08:46 PM

                                                      For that reason I would advise anyone who wants that to find a good cornbread recipe he likes, and a cornmeal he likes, and proceed from thence accordingly.

                                                      FWIW the Martha White etcetera cornmeal mixes "aren't as sweet as Jiffy" because Jiffy has sugar and they don't. I grew up thinking cornbread was what Mom made from Jiffy mix. When I moved to Nashville I found out different.

                                                      I just cooked some medium-grind polenta tonight and found myself wondering what sort of corn cakes I could make from it …

                                                3. re: 2rubyredshoes
                                                  annomy RE: 2rubyredshoes Feb 24, 2012 12:18 PM

                                                  Ruby, I'm with you. Much as I enjoy the chemical discussion, I'm looking for a practical answer to the question: Can I make polenta/mush from the same cornmeal I use for cornbread? Which, BTW, is the unsweetened southern style and mostly used for dressing at Thanksgiving. And if so, would I basically do it like risotto? (Simmer, adding water slowly and stirring frequently.) I'm a NYer, married to a Mississipian, but neither of us are a big fan of anything in the whole cornmeal mush/grits/polenta family. I'm curious to experiment though, mostly due to my plan to make Maxie's Shrimp & Grits (http://www.chow.com/recipes/29503-max...) , which was a recent Chow recipe of the day. It calls for non-instant yellow grits, but I was thinking of just buying some prepared polenta and maybe grilling it? But it would be fabulous if I could use the cornmeal I already have! (Indian Head brand)

                                                  1. re: annomy
                                                    SWISSAIRE RE: annomy Mar 3, 2012 09:54 PM

                                                    The original method for Polenta flour in Europe uses dried corn kernels, that are stone ground 2-3 times, using a finer grind each time, and then sifted. It is sometimes ground very fine, or mixed with semi-refined, more coarse bits of corn flour. Tradition has it that waterwheel grinding stones produce the best Polenta flour.

                                                    Original Polenta flour can takes 3 hours of slow cooking, but 20 minutes of constant stirring is the usual. It is traditionaly cooked using a high-wall copper pot or Paiolo, and a large wooden spoon or stick. When finished, the mass is poured or dropped out, let to cool, and cut into servings later with a string.

                                                    Instant is just that: Quick on the cooktop, in any type and material of pot, and out on the table fast. Most restaurants serve it in this manner for practical reasons, but there are the slow cooking exceptions for the gourmand.

                                                    What goes into to it or is served with it, is up to the chef's imagination. Served hard or soft as substitution for pasta, beans, potatoes or rice, it goes well with just about anything, A-Z.

                                                    If making it the first time I would caution to avoid the hot spurts bubbling up in the pot, and soak the finished pot immediately in cold water. Waiting until the end of the meal may necessitate the use of a jackhammer.

                                                    1. re: SWISSAIRE
                                                      SWISSAIRE RE: SWISSAIRE Mar 4, 2012 03:30 PM

                                                      The classic alpine Paiolo pot for Polenta. Manufactured years ago in the Ticino region of Switzerland.

                                                      A very heavy combination of copper and wrought iron, traditionally cooked hanging over the fire. No longer practical to cook with, but enjoyable to admire in the kitchen or by the fireplace.

                                                      Unless you had to clean it after each meal.

                                                      1. re: SWISSAIRE
                                                        paulj RE: SWISSAIRE Mar 4, 2012 05:04 PM

                                                        If you invest in this pot, do you also have to get a wood platter to serve the polenta on? And cut it with a string?

                                                        Polenta is one of my main uses of a 3qt copper sauce pan. It's nice for the extended low temperature stage.

                                                        1. re: paulj
                                                          SWISSAIRE RE: paulj Mar 4, 2012 07:17 PM

                                                          Good Morning.

                                                          What a very interesting website !

                                                          I think if you wish to make Polenta in the traditional manner, then why not. It is afterall what you enjoy and how you make it that in the end is your reward.

                                                          Our method with the family is to make it for Sunday supper in winter. I use a large 24 cm Rösle stainless pot and slow cook it soft, and pour it into a large serving platter. Steamed vegetables to one side, with lake fish, or meat on the other. Nothing elaborate, and as we have an open kitchen design, everyone can see what we are doing with a glass of hot tea, apple juice, or wine in hand.

                                                  2. re: 2rubyredshoes
                                                    pikawicca RE: 2rubyredshoes Mar 4, 2012 08:04 PM

                                                    Buy Bob's Red Mill Cornmeal -- widely available, and is great in pancakes.

                                                  3. e
                                                    escondido123 RE: rdabke Mar 4, 2012 08:12 PM

                                                    I use whatever brand of corn meal that my local grocery store carries. For 1/2 cup of cornmeal, I bring 2 cups liquid--could be chicken stock, water, or milk-I usually use 2 c. skim milk--to a boil and then pour in the cornmeal over the whisk that is already frothing the liquid. Turn down immediately and then whisk for about 10 minutes. At this point, for me, this is soft polenta, which I season with salt, pepper and cheese--Parmgiano, cheddar and gruyere are all candidates to be whisked in. Pour it onto the plates along with whatever is your accompaniment--my favorite is Italian sausage, rapini with garlic and a tomato sauce.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: escondido123
                                                      paulj RE: escondido123 Mar 4, 2012 08:38 PM

                                                      I've backed off on using dairy with my cornmeal mush. Too much milk, mascarpone and cheese seems to deaden the flavor, almost like putting a muffler on it. Tonight I prepared bangers and mush, with just some butter in the cornmush. Though I did stir in bits of taleggio cheese at the table.

                                                    2. t
                                                      TimeIsASong RE: rdabke May 21, 2012 11:47 AM

                                                      I enjoyed the more in depth conversation comparing the differences, however have a simple question. I want to make grits. Shrimp n grits specifically. Living in Connecticut, we typically have cornmeal only at the market. What should I look for to make grits? What should the package or ideally bulk label say? Thank you all in advance...

                                                      14 Replies
                                                      1. re: TimeIsASong
                                                        acgold7 RE: TimeIsASong May 21, 2012 12:15 PM

                                                        Last week I made Shrimp & Grits using Bob's Red Mill Polenta and it came out great. You can use anything... whatever you can find. Just follow the package directions and you'll be fine. No stress.

                                                        Authentic? Maybe not. Delicious? You betcha.

                                                        1. re: TimeIsASong
                                                          paulj RE: TimeIsASong May 21, 2012 12:15 PM

                                                          In ordinary groceries in the Midwest and West I've seen:
                                                          cornmeal (most likely Quaker) in the baking section
                                                          quick grits (Quaker or Albers) in the breakfast section

                                                          Quick grits call for 5 minutes of cooking, but I suggest 20 minutes. They are certainly workable for this purpose.

                                                          Cornmeal, yellow or white, will also make a 'corn mush'. It is usually finer than grits, but can be used the same way. If you find a 'coarse cornmeal', or stone ground cornmeal, try that.

                                                          BobsRedMill is an Oregon distributor that seems to be widely available. They may be in the 'organic' section of the market. They have several grinds of corn, a fine flour, medium, and coarse (labeled as polenta/grits). Trader Joes just started to sell white stoneground grits.

                                                          You might also find polenta, especially it there some upscale or Italian influence in the area. It can be cooked up in the same way as grits. Whether there is a real difference (other than color, yellow v white) is the subject of debate in this thread.

                                                          My opinion is that shrimp and grits is more about the seasoning, than about the color, grind, or nationality of the corn.

                                                          1. re: TimeIsASong
                                                            escondido123 RE: TimeIsASong May 21, 2012 12:22 PM

                                                            The true Southern Shrimp and Grits I have had used Hominy Grits rather than Cornmeal Grits. That said, I might like it with cornmeal grits since I hated the hominy grits.

                                                            1. re: escondido123
                                                              paulj RE: escondido123 May 21, 2012 12:51 PM

                                                              My research indicates that almost no one grinds grits from hominy - though there is a type of corn that is called hominy corn.

                                                              1. re: paulj
                                                                escondido123 RE: paulj May 21, 2012 01:05 PM

                                                                Well, when I go to my grocery store and pick up a box of grits, it says HOMINY right on the front. Hominy is a treating of the corn with lye and is not a different veg, but the taste is quite different. When I traveled in the South, all the grits I had were Hominy Grits. Guess we "travel" in different circles.

                                                                1. re: escondido123
                                                                  paulj RE: escondido123 Jun 20, 2012 01:48 PM

                                                                  My bag of Quaker quick has, on the front, 'Enriched white hominy', but ingredients are 'white hominy corn made from corn, [vitamines]'. No hint of using lye or nixtamalization. There's still an outside chance that this corn is nixtamalized. I'm more certain that 'stone ground grits' do not use the process.

                                                                  Another way to put it - are these grits a coarse version of corn meal or masa harina?

                                                                  1. re: paulj
                                                                    Will Owen RE: paulj Jun 20, 2012 02:40 PM

                                                                    All the stone-ground ones I've found are either "corn grits" or, if called "hominy grits", are simply ground from hominy corn. Albers and Quaker hominy grits ARE ground from dried hominy - you can taste the difference easily. I prefer those for breakfast, and the stone-ground for use as polenta. My evolving shrimp & grits recipe uses garlic/cheese grits made with stone-ground grits.

                                                                    1. re: Will Owen
                                                                      paulj RE: Will Owen Jun 21, 2012 01:16 PM

                                                                      Gourmet Grits from Food & Wine 2003

                                                                      I keep meaning to setup a taste test, to see if I can really detect a difference in the different types - a difference that goes beyond texture (grit size) and color.

                                                                      My latest preparation is scraple, made with scraps and stock from a mix of pork bones, heart, and tail.

                                                                      1. re: paulj
                                                                        Will Owen RE: paulj Jun 21, 2012 03:39 PM

                                                                        Since half of this household has stopped consuming dead animals, I have no good way to accumulate enough pork scraps to make this from scratch. The cheap Food 4 Less market up the street, however, usually has a very old-fashioned looking kind of head cheese. When scrapple weather re-appears, maybe four months or so from now, I intend to experiment with melting that into my mush. Oughtta work.

                                                                        1. re: Will Owen
                                                                          paulj RE: Will Owen Jun 22, 2012 02:11 PM

                                                                          I got my pork, including a 2 lb bag of pork bones with scraps, from 99Ranch. There's probably a store like that near you in Southern Cal.

                                                                          1. re: paulj
                                                                            agent99712 RE: paulj Jun 24, 2012 03:03 PM

                                                                            can i sub cracker meal for corn meal in a muffin recipe?

                                                                            1. re: agent99712
                                                                              paulj RE: agent99712 Jun 24, 2012 03:07 PM

                                                                              You mean crackers that have been ground in the food processor? They might substitute as a breading, but in muffins they'd just disappear, blending with the flour that they are made from.

                                                                              1. re: agent99712
                                                                                Bacardi1 RE: agent99712 Jun 25, 2012 08:26 AM

                                                                                Unfortunately, no. Think about the difference. If you drop a cracker into water, it almost immediately disintegrates. That doesn't happen if you drop in some dried corn. There's an entirely different reaction to moisture that would most likely produce havoc in your muffins.

                                                                                Definitely pop out & pick up some cornmeal. :)

                                                                              2. re: paulj
                                                                                agent99712 RE: paulj Jun 24, 2012 03:34 PM

                                                                                it's store bought cracker meal, packaged like bread crumbs. muffin recipe calls for 1/4 c corn meal and 1/4 c ground flax seeds and no flour. i think i better get off my 'bleep' and get some corn meal.

                                                              2. k
                                                                kvsmm1945 RE: rdabke Oct 19, 2012 01:12 PM

                                                                I like cornbread, but I LOVE polenta. I have made packaged cornbread with a little polenta added and it's really great, but you have to like the coarseness of it. I eat it made into mush, cooled, sliced with chili, or with marinara sauce, with just olive oil and garlic, in tamale pie, and fried with syrup or with melted cheese. Years ago I read that the Roman Legions marched on Polenta and Olive Oil, and I can see why. It's cheap, filling, tasty, and can be used in many ways. It also freezes well. I slice it and put it into individual wrappers for a quick meal.

                                                                3 Replies
                                                                1. re: kvsmm1945
                                                                  paulj RE: kvsmm1945 Oct 19, 2012 01:30 PM

                                                                  Polenta is an old Italian/Latin term for poridge, and can be made with various grains and flour. In some places a chestnut polenta is still made. Buckwheat is also used, though now a mix of corn and buckwheat is more common. The corn version is new, within the past 4-500 years, but has become the default version. For a while it was such as staple with some Italian peasants (or poor tenants) that health problems blamed on a lack of niacin arose.

                                                                  1. re: paulj
                                                                    Will Owen RE: paulj Oct 19, 2012 01:51 PM

                                                                    I've got a couple of bags of yellow polenta, a medium-grind Italian one and a finer-grind French, but the tastiest I've made was using stone-ground Red Mule corn grits. That was the cheapest, too. Although there's a website it just gives their address and phone number; call and the miller's wife answers and takes your order. Nice folks.

                                                                  2. re: kvsmm1945
                                                                    SWISSAIRE RE: kvsmm1945 Dec 3, 2012 11:54 AM

                                                                    The legions did indeed. It was then known as PULMENTUM.

                                                                    However it was ground from Farro, the staple of the legions, and sometimes included other local or wild grains. Farro is available everywhere today, and has become quite fashionable again in restaurants.

                                                                    Corn, or Maize was a product of the New World, and didn't arrive in Europe until the 16th Century.

                                                                  3. t
                                                                    thai food lover RE: rdabke Dec 3, 2012 09:27 AM

                                                                    I am looking for a course ground cornmeal for a traditional polenta. One that holds it shape on the Christmas table so that it can be cut in slices. I've tried buying cornmeal at Italian stores, but it seems to be finely ground - and mushes when you turn it out. I bought Bob's Red Mill and tried it - but it was too thick and too "chunky." My polenta needs to be smooth - no big pieces in it - and hold its shape. Thanks everyone!

                                                                    9 Replies
                                                                    1. re: thai food lover
                                                                      Bacardi1 RE: thai food lover Dec 3, 2012 09:32 AM

                                                                      Are you sure the problem is the cornmeal & not the way you're cooking it?

                                                                      I only ask because I cook up regular supermarket cornmeal, let it set overnight in the fridge, & am fully able to slice it easily the following morning for reheating for breakfast.

                                                                      1. re: Bacardi1
                                                                        thai food lover RE: Bacardi1 Dec 3, 2012 09:55 AM

                                                                        Yes, thanks. We are able to slice Bob's Red Mill. The problem is in the texture of the Red Mill product. i need another brand that comes out smooth, not chunky, that holds up.

                                                                        1. re: thai food lover
                                                                          paulj RE: thai food lover Dec 3, 2012 10:06 AM

                                                                          Holding its shape when turned out on a board has more to do with the water to cornmeal ratio than the grind. In other words, it needs to be stiff and difficult to stir in the pot. Either start with less water, or let it cook longer.

                                                                          Yes, the BobsRedMill grits/polenta is coarse. It needs longer cooking to reduce that grittiness (2 hrs or more). A finer grind will cook faster, but still benefits from longer cooking time than that listed on the package.

                                                                          1. re: paulj
                                                                            thai food lover RE: paulj Dec 3, 2012 10:15 AM

                                                                            Thanks - my error last night was not giving it enough time to cook. I'll take your counsel! Do you you use Bob's exclusively when you make polenta? I thought I would try another brand, just to compare.

                                                                            1. re: thai food lover
                                                                              SWISSAIRE RE: thai food lover Dec 3, 2012 12:07 PM

                                                                              Here in the Alps it is cooked for an hour or more, and stirred constantly. Your wrists will tell you how well your polenta is coming along, as it can be pretty energetic to work the polenta grains stirring for an hour or so.

                                                                              I believe one of the CH members here (Caroline 1) has purchased an electric mixer for polenta in Europe, with good results.

                                                                              I would suggest you try a mix of coarse and fine for best tasting results. We buy ours just across the frontier at a small farm mill above Lago di Como. It is really excellent with the small lake fish and a little wine.

                                                                              1. re: SWISSAIRE
                                                                                thai food lover RE: SWISSAIRE Dec 3, 2012 12:11 PM

                                                                                Swissaire, will the small mill ship to Michigan? This is MOST helpful! Anita

                                                                                1. re: thai food lover
                                                                                  SWISSAIRE RE: thai food lover Dec 3, 2012 05:08 PM

                                                                                  I don't see why not.

                                                                                  I used to ship an endless number of cartons of Rösle cookware to my son in California via EBAY.DE (Germany). He now buys and ships most of those items to his home directly with various EBAY sites here in Europe.

                                                                                  EBAY. IT ( Italia ) sells such items:


                                                                                  If this link does not open for you, go to EBAY, then the international sites, then Italia, and then search under POLENTA.

                                                                                  I recall seeing one demonstrated on Youtube. Perhaps it is Caroline's. You might search there to see if it is a kitchen tool you would like or not. ( Hopefully Caroline 1 will see this and chime in with her experiences.


                                                                                  Please note that these machines are 220-240v, so you would need an inexpensive up/down voltage converter.

                                                                                  Some sites are not accustomed to selling and shipping to North America, but it never hurts to ask. The shipping cost might equal the device itself. Just be polite but persistent if you really would like to purchase the item: Google translate always helps too.

                                                                                  1. re: SWISSAIRE
                                                                                    thai food lover RE: SWISSAIRE Dec 4, 2012 04:13 AM

                                                                                    Thank you for your thoughtful response. How may I order the polenta from the farm? Do they sell on eBay? I didn't see it there from the link you provided. Thanks, again!

                                                                                    1. re: thai food lover
                                                                                      SWISSAIRE RE: thai food lover Dec 4, 2012 02:04 PM

                                                                                      The EBAY reference was primarily for the mechanized polenta cooker/blenders.
                                                                                      And here is a Youtube video from one of the manufacturers, which you may find interesting:


                                                                                      The end product looks a bit dry. It should be slightly creamier, even if coarse grain is used.

                                                                                      The method of dumping the finished polenta upside down on the wooden plate to rest, firm up, and then be cut into portions, as shown in the video is traditionally correct. These days people here add cooked onions and vegetables on top, or mixed with the polenta. Cooked meat can accompany polenta, or just a simple sauce.

                                                                                      COPPER: Kaleo, if you see this, do not despair over the appearance of the copper paiolo from the gaz cooktop. It can be cleaned off ( Glad you received the DVD-Try watching it in a PC ).

                                                                                      THAI: You will note that there are vendors on EBAY.IT page selling books, equipment, and polenta grains in various textures. Polenta di Castagna for example is that ground from Chestnut, rather than maize or corn. This in earlier hard times, was a matter of necessity. More sweet and tasty, and in the case of the author of the book, nostalgic.

                                                                                      YES, you could order from those EBAY.IT sellers for coarse-ground polenta, but I believe you might have equal or better results with EBAY sellers (or even markets) in North America. Up to you of course, but it certainly would be authentic.

                                                                                      The mill-farm mentioned is more of what is considered a Agro-Rustica in the Lombardia region. We have them on this side of the frontier, but my wife and I like the Como lake views, and have friends in the region. It thus becomes a week-end or 3 day excursion, with a good wash of the SUV, the tires, and all the mud, twigs, and rocks off under the chassis.

                                                                                      This is a seasonal operation about 8 months out of each year, which many are in the region. I do not think they have a webpage. We drive there if and when the weather permits, and the last 10-15 Km are 4-wheel drive in the Summer and Fall. In Winter many agro-turismo businesses in the Lario region usually shut down and head south into the lower Po valley ( Lago di Como in Winter can become one big icy toboggan run, outside of Como and the major cities: If you hire a rental car or SUV, ensure you have chains ). The Autostrada not withstanding, roads on that side are not as well maintained as roads and highways are here.

                                                                                      Conversely, the ski businesses and the hotels from Sondrio and on up into the Valtellina region are open for skiing. Polenta, Fondue and other hot tasty meals there are always available.

                                                                    2. charles_sills RE: rdabke Dec 4, 2012 01:50 PM

                                                                      and dont forget the northern appalachian/pennsylvanian breakfast "much". its the same thing as non hominy grits (not all grits are hominy grits, if they were, then they wouldnt lable some corn meal as "grits") and polenta.

                                                                      3 Replies
                                                                      1. re: charles_sills
                                                                        paulj RE: charles_sills Dec 5, 2012 11:19 AM

                                                                        After digging around quite a bit, I've come to the conclusion that grits, not even 'hominy grits', are rarely ground from hominy. For a subsistence farmer, treating to the corn to remove the hull made it easier to grind by hand. Stone mills and modern roller mills don't need that. For the most part, 'hominy' is part of the common name, not an indication of how it was made.

                                                                        1. re: paulj
                                                                          charles_sills RE: paulj Dec 5, 2012 11:59 AM

                                                                          sounds legit.
                                                                          and is there an edit button? i misspelled "mush". haha

                                                                          1. re: charles_sills
                                                                            paulj RE: charles_sills Dec 6, 2012 10:13 AM

                                                                            Your posts can be edited for only a couple of hours after you write them. Then the edit button disappears.

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