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Why is White Cornmeal a Southern Thing?

Aside from its use in (Northern)Johnnycakes, it seems that white cornmeal is used almost exclusively in ' the South' and also that the South uses almost exclusively white cornmeal.(BIG area, I know.....). So I'm guessing that white cornmeal is made from white corn ? and white corn was the norm in the South, which was settled before the Midwest (maybe yellow corn was a later development/popularity?)
Plse educate me on this if you can! Thank you.

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  1. Sorry, I don't know the answer, but I have a question for you. Does that mean your cornbread is made w/white cornmeal? I have never seen white cornbread and find that interesting. We do eat grits here in the West and that is made with white cornmeal, so I know that we do have and use both here.

    1. You are correct about white cornmeal being made from white corn, and yellow cornmeal being made from yellow corn. Yellow cornmeal also has a stronger taste.

      1. I'm from the South and I generally use white cornmeal as I was taught but I also keep yellow cornmeal on hand. The older folks taught us that white cornmeal was for people and yellow cornmeal was feed for the chickens, hogs and other livestock. I think white cornmeal is more prevalent in the Deep South because it's primarily what was used in Africa.

        2 Replies
        1. re: SoulFoodie

          soulfoodie,
          i'm a little confused. i believe corn is indigenous to the americas, and was therefore taken over to africa , like peanuts and so many things, so white cornmeal would have originated here in north america.

          1. re: opinionatedchef

            I didn't say that cornmeal originated in Africa. My point is that white cornmeal is traditionally used in Africa. My apologies for the confusion. Since the OP's original question is "Why is White Cornmeal a Southern Thing?', I thought that there may be a connection to Africa via the slaves that used it and maybe that may account for some of the preference for it in the South.

        2. I am a transplanted southerner and I don't like yellow cornmeal. There may not be any difference in flavor except what is affected by my eyes but I prefer white cornmeal. It's impossible to find in my area of Indiana. My family always used white cornmeal. In fact, for years my dad grew white field corn and dried it on the stalks. Then we would shell it off the cobs and take it over to a man who ground it into cornmeal for us. I have never seen such a fine textured cornmeal since then and really miss it! We even ate the field corn as corn on the cob or creamed corn instead of the typical yellow sweet corn. I prefer it that way to this day but can't get it.

          1. is this what martha white's country cotton cornbread mix is?? Is it sweeter? I noticed on the package directions, it requires only water, but so does one of the other yellow cornbread mixes. I imagine it doesnt rise as high as those that require egg and milk.

            1. Where I grew up, cornbread wasn't supposed to be sweet. I guess to some it would be considered quite bland. Just cornmeal, salt and water for hoecakes.....a really thin batter makes the best lacy, crunchy cakes. To bake in the oven, you would have to add baking powder. I don't care for the thick, ovenbaked cornbread.

              22 Replies
              1. re: alliedawn_98

                Are you referring to "lacy cornbread"? Like a thin pancake, but very crisp with lots of "lacy" holes? My Mother-in-law, from San Antonio used to make it with white corn meal. I seldom come across anyone familiar with it! So good!

                1. re: meatn3

                  Oh yeah, that is the stuff! My aunt makes the absolute best. I've been trying to perfect it for years! I'm getting close just using a little all-purpose flour, cornmeal, salt, and water on a hot griddle!

                  1. re: alliedawn_98

                    IIRC my Mother in law just used corn meal & water to make a loose slurry. I'm out of town, but will see if I have her recipe once I'm home. Unfortunately, she died sometime ago so I can't double check that way. She used a cast iron skillet and probably corn oil. Her recipes were about as simple as can be but always full of the purest flavor. That woman could cook!

                    1. re: meatn3

                      Interesting. The hoecakes I grew up with (and still make) have white corn meal & sweet milk. Fried on a cast iron griddle or in a cast iron skillet in hot grease. Great stuff.

                      My family also has what we call flitters which were made with flour & water and fried. My father remembers his Grandmother making them for him too.

                      Oh, and I agree...cornbread shouldn't be sweet!

                      1. re: Boudleaux

                        I'd love to include your recipe for the flour & water flitter cakes in a family cookbook I'm working on. My father's grandmother made them for him as a child and we don't have a recipe.

                        1. re: itsmepam28

                          Sure. Thanks! But there's not really a recipe. :) It is according to how many you want, of course. You put in flour and enough water to make a batter the consistency of, well, like a pancake batter. Then fry in hot grease. That's pretty much it. We've always used cast iron skillets for this. Hope that helps. It is really easy.

                          1. re: itsmepam28

                            Boudleaux,
                            I'm sorry for taking so long to reply, I was so excited to make the flitters..I used self-rising flour, and my Dad says he thinks this is exactly what he remembers...Thank you again

                          2. re: Boudleaux

                            Are we allowed to say "loose" "slurry" and "hoecake" in such close proximity? How about if we add "bourbon"?

                          3. re: meatn3

                            my dear aunt martha used to make hoecakes alongside fresh field peas with snaps. she lived in sneads, florida. (eastern panhandle, near georgia/alabama border). her cornmeal for this was a finely ground white meal. i believe she used corn oil to fry it in the little cast iron skillet. it was not lacy, but did get nice and crispy along the thinner perimeter. i can see her standing at the stove in her small kitchen, waiting to ask if i wanted another hoecake. she ate country food, and lived into her 90's. she always had lots of peas "put up" in the freezer, and would buy her eggs from "the egg lady" about a mile away. good food memories. a fine lady.

                            her cornmeal for making cornbread was yellow, though. also a fine grind. there are lots of variations, but i grew up in south florida with yellow for the cornbread, but white for fish frying and hush puppies.

                            thus, i wouldn't generalize about white cornmeal as the only meal in the south. so sorry if you can't get good white meal where you are living. maybe you can order this brand, hoover's, which is what aunt martha used: https://www.westfoodsinc.com/specials...

                            these companies have also been recommended on chow threads re grits (and also have meal):
                            http://www.ansonmills.com/products-pa...

                            http://www.bobsredmill.com/catalog/in...

                            1. re: alkapal

                              The only distinction I can see is that grits = white cornmeal and polenta = yellow cornmeal.

                              I make cornbread with both, in fact have mixed them at times.

                              1. re: dolores

                                well, there are yellow grits and white grits, white being more common.

                                grits do not equal meal. there are some old threads that discuss the issues of polenta vs. meal vs. grits. i'll find them when i have more time.

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Yep, grits and cornmeal are definately not the same thing. Cornmeal is ground corn, while grits are ground hominy.

                                  1. re: Kilgore

                                    Thanks alkapal and Kilgore, my mistake.

                                    1. re: dolores

                                      not to stir the pot ;-) but when i searched title:grits, i got so many more threads than i ever recalled! http://www.chow.com/search?search%5Bq...

                                      dolores, i am far from a grits scholar, just a grits lover! rereading one of those threads, i recalled that the discussions can become a tad esoteric and involved. the in-depth grits threads are probably only surpassed by the bbq thread discussions by aficianados!

                                      i guess i am always learning from other hounds, and am always being spurred into greater research into all sorts of topics. that is why i love chowhound.com! bottom line: happy eating to all!

                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        Same here, alkapal. I grew up with polenta, both solidified and soupy and never touched the stuff. Now, I could live on it.

                                        I have also discovered grits and love it too.

                                    2. re: Kilgore

                                      Unless they are stone ground grits...not hominy grits...

                                      Either way...they are not corn meal!!!

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          The way they put it, the only difference between grits and corn meal is whether they pass through a given size sieve or not - that is, the size of the grain. Grids probably are a bit richer in the harder parts of the corn kernel, the part that resists grinding.

                                          1. re: paulj

                                            right. that's the case for their "corn" (stone ground) grits. i've had both hominy grits and the stone-ground. i like more texture, and have found that the stone-ground is better, in my experience. believe it or not, a few years ago, the waffle house had great grits. i tried to buy some in bulk once, but the manager would not sell them to me!

                            2. re: meatn3

                              Lace cornbread is how everyone in my family(eastern NC) does it, as well.

                              1. re: Naco

                                Hmmm, perhaps my MIL's recipe was through her husbands family then! My ex-FIL's people were from Craven County. WWII opened up the big wide world to the boys through military service and an entire generation moved! The baby went to New Bern and the rest scattered throughout the South.

                          4. I did not know it was a "southern thing". Being from North Texas, we always had yellow cornbread. A few restaurants served white. I virtually can't say that I've ever made white cornbread, so I can only say that when I've had white cornbread in a restaurant, it was also usually sweet, (or way too sweet for my taste).
                            BTW, I am about to make cornbread with stone ground Hopi blue corn. I won't be adding any sugar!

                            9 Replies
                            1. re: Scargod

                              It's not the whiter meal that causes the sweetness in the restaurant bread you mention...it's the sugar that was added to the batter...but you already knew this.....

                              1. re: Uncle Bob

                                You betcha! I make seriously good cornbread. I make mine with half the usuallly called-for flour. I use buttermilk and I sometimes seperate the whites, whip them and fold them in last. There are two key elements to making light and tasty cornbread: 1. heat the cast iron skillet on the stove top till the bacon grease is almost smoking or just beginning to.
                                2. Once you mix liquids into the dry ingredients do not delay any longer than you must to get it into the skillet and then into the oven. You want all those gaseous chemical reactions to occur in the oven as it's cooking.
                                I frequently add fresh, cut from the cob, corn and finely diced jalapenos. Make it just a little thicker than normal, if you add corn or peppers, as they will add moisture as it cooks. Man, that's some fine eatin' with a bowl of porky pintos!

                                1. re: Scargod

                                  Yeah, adding corn is a GREAT idea. Decades ago I plopped a can of creamed corn into a cornbread mix as an experiment and it ended up being the best cornbread I'd ever had. That approach but with fresh ingredients - has to be amazing.

                                  1. re: Cinnamon

                                    creamed corn plus some flour, egg, and baking powder is quick route to corn fritters.

                              2. re: Scargod

                                I live in SE Texas and use only yellow for frying fish and cornbread, no sugar. My grandmother was from Gonzales not too far from San Antonio and I use her fish recipe and my mother's cornbread. By the way, I do not consider Texas to be part of the south, we're just Texas.

                                1. re: James Cristinian

                                  yes, texas is texas, but not part of the south. the south is east of texas.

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    I'm from Montréal so reading this out of curiosity - food anthropology but also friends from the Southern US. Alkapal's post brings up the question I had coming to the thread - where is the EAST/WEST border for yellow vs white corn? Louisiana-Texas? Or something more precise?

                                    I believe grits can be among the nixtamalized corn preparations, which make more nutrients available then the polenta I knew growing up.

                                    1. re: lagatta

                                      I have not found a clear evidence that any modern grits are produced from nixtamalized corn. I'm pretty sure 'stone ground grits' are ground from untreated corn, and sieved to select the grit size. I'm beginning doubt whether 'hominy grits' are produced from hominy either. Whole hominy and masa for tortillas and tameles are the only clear cases where the corn is treated.

                                      White and yellow are only 2 of the possible corn colors. A more important distinction is between flint and dent corn, though modern biological distinctions are more refined than that. Historically (e.g. precolonial times), flint types were better adapted to northern climates, while dent is starchier and did better in the American southeast. Apparently Italians prefer flint, possibly because that is what they first got, or because it grows best, or because it suits their notion of cooking things 'a dent'.

                                      There are both yellow and white flint and dent varieties. However a couple of the most popular dent varieties in the late 19th century were white (e.g. Boone County Dent).
                                      http://www.mnh.si.edu/archives/garden...

                                      1. re: lagatta

                                        A fairly typical Southern (from my area at least) joking response is that the Sweet Tea Line goes through Little Rock Arakansas. This often denotes the "South Proper" as opposed to associated environs.

                                2. My mom was from North Carolina and whenever we would go visit her mom(my grandma) one of the staples at lunch and dinner was white cornbread made in a cast iron skillet and it was more like a pancake or hoecake....i believe it was cornmeal, maybe a little flour and water.....we loved it.

                                  1. I am Southern Alabama born and bred and none of my family, mom, nana, grandma, aunts, etc., ever used white cornmeal. We eat cornbread as a staple, and its always yellow and never sweet. I bought white cornmeal by accident once and it was like the world was ending. Interesting.

                                    1. my grama called something that is like a heavy pancake flitters. we'd mix syrup and butter together on the plate and dip the flitters into it instead of the normal pancake thing. anyone have the recipe?

                                      1. White Cornbread is from white corn, and makes a wonderfully moist corn bread. We never use yellow.

                                        White Cornbread
                                        “A wonderfully moist corn bread”
                                        Preheat oven to 425ºF.

                                        Mix together:
                                        1 cup WHITE cornmeal
                                        ½ teaspoon baking soda
                                        1 ½ teaspoons double acting baking powder
                                        1 to 2 Tablespoons sugar
                                        1 teaspoon salt
                                        ¾ cup all purpose flour
                                        Set aside

                                        Combine and beat:
                                        1½ cups buttermilk** (if you don’t have buttermilk see below)
                                        2 eggs
                                        3 to 4 Tablespoons melted butter

                                        Directions:
                                        Mix in dry ingredients and stir until smooth.
                                        Pour into heated greased baking pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.
                                        Serve hot with butter.

                                        ** Buttermilk Equivalents and Measures
                                        • 1 cup buttermilk = 1 cup milk PLUS 1 Tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice (let stand for 10 minutes before using in recipe)
                                        • 1 cup buttermilk = 1 cup milk PLUS 1-3/4 teaspoons cream of tartar

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: MarilynInMiamiFL

                                          I'm so glad you posted the recipe! Thanks for the buttermilk tip as we never have any. Have you ever made it using ALL corn meal?

                                          1. re: weski

                                            No I have always followed the recipe because it is so perfect :)

                                        2. On the yellow/white thing, I have always read that the coastal South preferred white cornbread, giving way to yellow as you moved inland.

                                          4 Replies
                                          1. re: Naco

                                            i've never heard that; looking through the above posts, i 'm not sure that bears out with them.

                                            my mom was from tiny towns in rural mid Va. -Richmond area. She had been raised with, and cooked for us, only 2 cornmeal dishes, both prepared with white Indian Chief cornmeal:

                                            Fried Cornbread (white cornmeal with minced onion, lots of S, and boilng water to make dense and heavy 4" diam x 1-1 1/2 "H cakes which were fried in bacon fat a very long time- to dark brown, split and slathered with butter; one of my fav things in the whole wide world
                                            and
                                            Batter Bread- a cornmeal souffle with separated eggs, eaten for hearty breakfast w/ fried apples(more bacon fat), scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, biscuits

                                            Hushpuppies, cornbread, grits- were never in the picture. don't know about the first two but mom said she never had grits growing up. i never had hushpuppies til i visited new Orleans.

                                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                                              "looking through the above posts, i 'm not sure that bears out with them."

                                              How do you figure? The only posts where people get specific about their region are one from southern Alabama, and yours.

                                              1. re: Naco

                                                naco,wanting to be sure, i thought i read them carefully before responding to you . didn't people self i.d. as fla and texas and n.c.?

                                                1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                  But not with enough specificity to tag them as coastal or inland. I'm not picking this as my hill to die on, as it's just an unsubstantiated assertion that I've read in a couple of books, but I thought it was worth noting. Especially since people are tossing around essentially useless distinctions like "Deep South" or working off political boundaries that will also produce false distinctions. I will note that you and I are coming from roughly the same sphere- eastern NC for me and Richmond/Southside Virginia for you. And we are expressing the same preference.

                                          2. It depends on who you ask. My best friend is from coastal Georgia and swears that white cornbread is the creation of the devil himself. According to her, yellow cornbread is the ONLY cornbread worthy of the name. Her cornbread is NOT sweet, by the way. (I'm a coastal Florida transplant)

                                            I like white cornbread, although yellow tends to be my standby - the texture is much finer than yellow -- and while I add sugar, it's only a tiny amount, so my cornbread isn't sweet like cake at all. And yes, baked in a preheated cast iron skillet so it sizzles when you pour the batter in.

                                            7 Replies
                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              sunshine, what an interesting exploration of this question we are all having! one thing i will add re your post, white and yellow cornmeal do not have specific grinds associated with them. perhaps certain brands that you purchase have certain grinds that they provide for each given product, but there is no consistent grind for yellow or white cornmeal.

                                              naco, love that expression. it's interesting how may expressions that are related to it , even loosely, in meaning- come from male activities- i.e. sports, war........ Naco, i didn't address cornbread, but other foods. are you saying that your family made cornbread w/ white cornmeal? or that you ate the same foods my mom's family did- batter bread, fried cornbread, but not hushpuppies or baked cornbread?

                                              Let's hope more people weigh in so we can be a sample group for the thesis that naco read.

                                              1. re: opinionatedchef

                                                The grind of various brands may be more significant than the color. Around Seattle I don't have access to many varieties. The common grocery store brand is yellow, medium grind Quaker (or the equivalent Albers). I have bought, for Grocery Outlet, some Whlte Lilly or Martha White cornbread mixes, which use a fine white cornmeal.

                                                I can also get Bob's Red mill, with a variety of grinds, from grits to flour, but all yellow.

                                                For a cornbread that uses a mix of flour and cornmeal, I prefer a medium grind. With a fine grind there's none of the grittiness that I associate with cornbread. But when I've tried an all-cornmeal version, I thought a fine grind was better. The crust from a hot skillet was also more important when using all-cornmeal.

                                                It would nice, when people express a preference for white or yellow, if they'd also mention the grind, and how they make cornbread. For cornbread, I think the flour/cornmeal ratio is much more important than whether sugar is used or not.

                                                1. re: paulj

                                                  I have lived in the south all of my life and cook both yellow and white cornbread. I never use sugar when making cornbread. I usually use white cornmeal. I usually buy stoneground cornmeal and grits from Anson Mills.

                                                  1. re: paulj

                                                    I buy Hodgson Mill whole grain, stone ground, yellow corn meal for cornbread. I use no other flours--just pure cornmeal. It’s just cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Baked in a very hot oven in a hot cast-iron skillet, sometimes with bacon grease if I’ve got some around. The corn flavor is divine! I grew up in the Mid-west, where sweetened cornbread is king, but I prefer the unsweetened version.

                                                    1. re: rokzane

                                                      You forgot the 'organic' part for the Hodgson Mill cornmeal :)

                                                      But what's the grind? fine, medium ? What's the texture of the cornbread? Crunchy on the bottom, but inside? crumbly, gritty or smooth?

                                                      1. re: paulj

                                                        The cornbread from the recipe I posted is very moist and smooth :) I always look for the fine or medium grind. I am from Massachusetts now living in Miami FL. The recipe comes from a friend in Arkansas. Until 2003 I never heard of white corn bread, now I wouldn't buy anything else :)

                                                        1. re: paulj

                                                          I used to use Hodgson Mill whole grain stone ground yellow cornmeal quite a lot. Unless it has changed, I consider it quite coarse, much coarser than Bob's Red Mill, or the meal I get from time to time in Spring Mill State Park, IN. Hodgson Mill produces both white and yellow cornmeal. The white is only what I see in my grocer these days.

                                                2. Previously I posted a great recipe for White Corn Bread...please check it out, but in case you don't know about White Corn Meal, check out the following web sites.

                                                  There are several brands of white corn meal. You can check each out on line.

                                                  http://www.marthawhite.com/products/d...

                                                  http://www.whitelily.com/Products/Cat...

                                                  http://www.hodgsonmill.com/featured-p...

                                                  http://www.peasandcornco.com/cornmeal...

                                                  http://www.noramill.com/store/index.p...

                                                  http://www.alberscorn.com/history.aspx

                                                  http://www.ansonmills.com/cornmeal.htm

                                                  1. My Mom's family is from Louisiana, and my Dad's is from east Texas. I was raised on yellow cornmeal. Even the Louisiana group would never put sugar in cornbread! And we use yellow for frying catfish (or any other fish). Maybe Louisiana still isn't deep south enough for the white cornmeal.

                                                    1. My mother used to make cornbread with white cornmeal because it was what was cheapest in our area. However, I use primarily yellow but have used both & cornbread made with either is equally as good if you ask me lol

                                                      1. here is a really good recipe for white cornmeal cornbread: http://www.chow.com/recipes/30165-law...

                                                        1. This is a seriously old thread, but I'm going to reply anyway.
                                                          I grew up in East Texas, halfway between Dallas and Shreveport, LA.
                                                          The overwhelming majority of the people I knew, most importantly, my Mother, made white cornbread, in an iron skillet, with no sugar. People did make yellow cornbread, but it wasn't as common.
                                                          I asked my mom why she didn't use yellow cornmeal once and she said only trashy people used yellow. It was a joke, (obviously), but only partially, as people take their cornbread seriously.
                                                          I love sweet yellow cornmeal muffins and such, but cornbread, for me, is how my mom made it.

                                                          1. When I was a kid in Illinois, cornbread was made from a box of Jiffy mix and was sweet and cake-like. Then I moved to Nashville in the '70s and learned better fast.

                                                            I use the Skillet Cornbread recipe from "Miss Mary's Down-Home Cooking" (Diana Dalsass, New American Library 1984), a small collection of recipes from Miss Mary Bobo's famous Lynchburg, TN boarding-house. 2 Tbs lard (or shortening), 2 C cornmeal, 1 tsp soda, half tsp salt, 2 eggs and 1 C buttermilk is all that's in it; my one concession to my upbringing is that I use yellow meal, though I've taken to replacing about 1/3 cup of that with the white corn grits I use for polenta, for a nice bit of crunch. I don't like the toughness wheat flour adds, so this is a bit crumbly, though it's versatile enough to allow for the addition of cheese, green chiles, cream-style corn or what have you. An extra egg is enough to bind it all together if it's gotten a bit more fluid than normal. The lard goes in the skillet, that sits in the oven until it's up to 350º, then the fat is beaten into the batter, batter goes in the pan, back in the oven for 25 minutes or so.