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What is the difference between polenta and grits?

These seem to be almost the same to me. Can someone explain what makes them different? I made Cheese grits the other night and after they cooled down they seemed to be exactly like polenta.

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  1. no difference except in name (and possibly price)

    1. For many purposes they are the same, sometimes with just different flavorings (cheddar v. parama etc).

      Potentially there are more differences. Apparently the preferred corn in the American South for grits is different than the preferred corn in Italy. One's flint, the other dent, or v.v. You might have to order your corn from Anson Mills to get a choice as to the type.

      Some grits may be hominy grits - that is, lye treated corn that is ground to the coarse meal stage.

      Alton Brown did a show playing on the difference and similarity of the two

      How about the difference between grits and cornmeal mush? Is the mush just the northerner's term?

      Some might claim there's a difference in grind, coarse v. fine. But that comes down to a preference in texture, which may vary as much with in the culture as between them.

      Another point, polenta, in Italy may be made with other grains and flour. The term was in use long before they got corn.

      16 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        As paulj says, grits and polenta are ideally made from different types of corn.
        Most people may not notice the difference unless you grew up eating one or the other and compare them side by side. If you're a confirmed grits-eater, you can tell the difference when you get real serious polenta - like the good stuff from Anson Mills.

        This is the difference as copied from Anson Mills' website:

        "Dent or Flint?
        Corn is classified by the type of starch (endosperm) in its kernels. The premier mill corn of the American South, known as dent (the name derives from the dent that forms on the top of each kernel as it dries), has a relatively soft, starchy center. Dent corn makes easy work of milling--it also makes phenomenal grits.

        "Flint corn, by contrast, has a hard, starchy endosperm and produces grittier, more granular meal that offers an outstanding mouthfeel when cooked. One type of American flint--indigenous to the Northeast--was, and remains, the traditional choice for Johnny cakes.
        In Italy, flint has been the preeminent polenta corn since the 16th century when Spanish and Portuguese treasure hunters brought Caribbean flint to the Piedmont on ships."

        The first corn was taken to Italy in the hold of ships to hide gold and other treasures from pirates on the high seas. However there were famines and the people used it for food. Finding that they liked it, they began to cultivate it in Italy and another New World crop became part of Italian cuisine.

        1. re: paulj

          Cornmeal mush is also made from the Northern kind of cornmeal, typically yellow. Polenta and mush are virtually the same thing, and often eaten in much the same way, though fried mush is usually served with syrup or honey, seldom with a savory sauce. I never cared for fried mush with sweet toppings, but I love fried polenta with a spicy tomato sauce.

          I had always assumed that grits were always made from hominy, and was disappointed in the more "corny" flavor of the Anson Mills kind I got (for lots of $$) from Surfas in Culver City. I just like that alkaline "whang" you get from hominy; the cheap supermarket Alber's quick grits (NOT instant!!) have that, so I'll stick with those for a while.

          1. re: Will Owen

            Alber's is my reference point for grits as well. And it is consistent with my limited experience with restaurant grits.

            More often than not, quick grits are what I make for breakfast when camping, while yellow polenta is prepared at home for dinner (such as with the batch of peposo that I made last week). I suppose the cooking time has a lot to do with the choice.

            1. re: paulj

              Ha! I so inspired myself with this thread that I went out and bought a box of Alber's, and made me some cheese grits for breakfast. Mmmmmm...

            2. re: Will Owen

              Where can I buy real Hominy Grits? All I ever see is the cornmeal version!

              1. re: jack Lawson

                Where do you live? I bought it in the supermarkets in Nashville, and I do the same in SoCal, the main difference being that Aunt Jemima was the most common brand there and Albers is here. Hominy grits is the standard mass-market product in the US, while the fancy stoneground corn grits is what's sold in specialty stores and on fancy-food websites.

                1. re: jack Lawson

                  Look for this Jack....Very common brand in My South...Ya might wanna cook them longer than 5 minutes...20-25 would be better....Stir often.

                  Enjoy!

                   
                  1. re: Uncle Bob

                    long cooking grits are a lot better than quick grits IMHO!

                      1. re: wyogal

                        amen I am a southern woman, and grew up on grits learned how to cook them as a child. not instant no way!

                        1. re: kf4ypf

                          So how long do you cook yours? What brand?

                  2. re: Will Owen

                    Does that mean I can make polenta/mush from the same cornmeal I use for cornbread? I'm a NYer, married to a Mississipian, but neither of us are a big fan of any thing 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: paulj

                        Thanks, paulj – I sure feel stupid for not checking out the Indian Head website. But your quick response is one of the reasons I love Chowhound and went there first! I'll let you know how it comes out...

                        1. re: paulj

                          Ok, a little followup. The Maxie’s Shrimp & Grits recipe is terrific: probably quicker than the recipe indicates, though cooking’s something I like to take my time over when I can; lots of ingredients, but mostly already in-house, and really, really delicious. The only downside (mostly for my spouse), is that it uses a LOT of dishes, especially once you count in the extra pan for the zucchini sautéed w/ garlic & a little Cajun spice. Thanks to this thread – and especially paulj – I braved the world of corn meal cooking. DH and I agreed that it’s the perfect complement to the recipe. The creaminess of the mush/polenta went perfectly with the sauce and I’ll definitely work with it again. Perhaps especially useful for my growing number of gluten-avoiding friends?

                      2. re: Will Owen

                        I think you nailed it though, Will. Cornmeal mush is made from regular cornmeal while grits are made from hominy, which is made by soaking corn in a weak lye solution. I don't think anyone in the South or Texas would consider grits, grits if they were made from anything but hominy.

                    1. There's yellow grits and white grits. There may be some small difference in the variety of corn, but yellow grits and polenta differ mainly in the grind, polenta being slightly coarser. Maybe I have it backward, but they are pretty much interchangeable for me. Hominy grits, or white grits, which is mostly what I grew up with in Louisiana, is made with "nixtamalized" corn (cooked in an alkaline solution before grinding, as paulj notes), just like what's used for tortillas and tamales.

                      The main difference between polenta and yellow grits is the preparation; if you stir yellow grits long enough you will have polenta. As for yellow vs white, the differences are subtle, although I recall way back a friend spent a few days in the the New Orleans jail (Central Lockup) and complained that they served only yellow grits. Degustibus non est disputandum.

                      1. Check out

                        gritgirl.com

                        she is in Mississippi and grinds her corn from local farmers on an antique mill every week. she supplies grits, cornmeal to many highend restaurants in the South..her grits...phenomonal..you truly taste CORN with every bite!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: sbacktalk

                          Ummm...please check/correct your link -- it goes to a porn site!

                          1. re: bizzwriter

                            I hate it when that happens, but then again from a comedy perspective I love it, too.

                          2. I hate grits, love polenta made from cornmeal. They are not the same thing.

                            1 Reply
                            1. Mrs. and I buy grits online from Anson Mills, and they are very different from polenta. For starters, they are much coarser, and so take a lot longer to cook. I also believe that they are made from a different corn. Finally, Anson Mills likes to brag that they let their corn for grits mature out in the field. Quite different from cornmeal, and it behaves as such.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: gilintx

                                What corn meal are you comparing them to? Quaker regular grind? Bobs Red Mill coarse grits/polenta? One way to get grits is to coarsely grind corn, and then sift it. Use the coarsest part as grits, and the finer part for cornbread.

                                In the American South a white dent corn was popular and used for their grits and cornmeal. The Italians adopted a harder flint corn. So a discerning person might notice a difference in the mush made from a traditional Italian corn, from a mush made with a traditional Southern corn (assuming the same grind). But most of us don't have the experience to reliably make such a distinction.

                                1. re: paulj

                                  Because of obsessive buying habits, I have both Quaker corn meal and Anson Mills. I also have both white and yellow grits. The white are our usual, but the yellow worked well for chile cheese grits.

                              2. I have two boxes, brand name ALBERS. One is corn meal for polenta, the other is HOMINY grits which taste very different.

                                7 Replies
                                1. re: escondido123

                                  Are the Albers grits quick? Cook them longer than specified on the box - at least 20 minutes.

                                  1. re: paulj

                                    paulj, I wonder why you and Uncle Bob are finding it necessary to cook them for so long? Not saying it's dead wrong, but I'm quite happy with them after maybe ten minutes, plus resting time on the hot tray (because I do the grits before I start the eggs; Mr. O does NOT multi-task well).

                                    1. re: Will Owen

                                      They thicken sooner, but become smoother (having absorbed more water) with longer cooking time.

                                      In particular if a person likes cornmeal mush (polenta) but not grits, I suspect it is because they have cooked quick grits for package time. Some people like them that way (loose, somewhat gritty), but if you want them creamy they need longer cooking.

                                      it was a revelation to cook BRM grits for 2 hrs in a double boiler arrangement. By the end I'd added close to a 5:1 water ratio.

                                      1. re: paulj

                                        Paulj,Thanks for the suggestion, but it's not the texture it's the flavor. I love cornmeal as mush, polenta, whatever you want to call it. But that hominy flavor, no thanks.

                                      2. re: Will Owen

                                        I can be happy with 10 minutes or so....Longer just makes them a little creamier ...You just get dem eggs ready!!! OK? :) ~~~ Then again, I love the gritty/courser texture of the stone ground I had for lunch today.....

                                        The way I got it figured is....I jes love grits!!!! ~~~~ Pass the biscuits!

                                        1. re: Uncle Bob

                                          Yes, in any form, any time. I love both corn flavor and hominy flavor - actually grew up eating canned hominy, because it had been a childhood food of my dad's. I think Mom ate it only because we had to eat everything whether we liked it or not, and she had to go along with that, but we really liked it. So I was primed for grits, and mush I've always liked.

                                          I did use some stone-ground whole-grain corn grits for the last batch of polenta I made, and that was superb. It was for a dish of canellini beans with black kale, and the polenta has shredded Fontina cheese stirred in. The polenta is put into each bowl and the beans and kale ladelled over. Slap-yer-Nonna good!

                                          1. re: Will Owen

                                            When the beans and cabbage (or kale) is cooked with the polenta it is called 'incatenata' - in chains.
                                            http://www.lunigiana.net/cucinamedite...

                                  2. I had Grits in 1976, when I worked for the Forest Service. I just recently had Polenta when it was served to me at a meal. They tasted the same and I couldn't detect much difference. I really didn't like either one - but I gave them a chance! Give me potatoes any old day.

                                      1. re: Kelli2006

                                        Exactly, there is ZERO difference between grits and polenta.

                                        Hominy grits are a different animal though as those are treated with lye!

                                        1. re: twyst

                                          There's a difference between grits ground from hominy, and 'hominy grits'. Not everything that is labeled 'hominy grits' is made from hominy.

                                          1. re: twyst

                                            Though there are many brands that sell "grits" when they are actually selling "hominy grits"--I had a box labeled grits when it was hominy girts--could not stand the taste so threw it out.

                                            1. re: escondido123

                                              Grinding hominy made sense when done with a hand mill on a subsistence farm because the treated corn was softer and easier to grind. But in commercial mills nixtamalization is just another step. It is simpler for them to just pass the whole corn through the grinding stones, and sift the results. The coarse component is sold as grits, the fine as cornmeal.

                                              When I dug around on various mill websites, I couldn't find any that claimed to use treated corn. That's especially true for ones that stone grind, including the 'gold standard', Anson mills. A Quaker box lists ingredients as 'white hominy grits made from corn', but even there I doubt if the corn was treated.

                                              1. re: paulj

                                                I have no idea what was done to it, but it tasted like sort of like pablum rather than cornmeal mush/polenta. Very disappointing.